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Poster advertising the aquatic entertainer Charles Weightman

Date: early 20th century
Framed: 895 x 660 x 40 mm. D fini, glazed.
Overall: 526 x 407 mm
Medium: Lithograph
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Classification:Posters and postcards
Object Name: Poster
Object No: 00051367
Related Place:New Zealand,

User Terms

    An illustrated poster advertising the English born entertainer Charles Weightman who performed aquatic feats as part of popular stage entertainments from the 1860s to the 1880s in England, Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America.
    Titled 'Natator The Man-Fish', the poster features 5 illustrations, vignettes from the stage performance including 'Eating Underwater', 'Chas Weightman', 'Drinking Underwater', 'Smoking Underwater', 'The Egg Feat' and 'The Chair Act'.
    SignificanceThis poster is significant in documenting and illustrating the theatical aquatic performances of Charles Weightman in
    Australia and New Zealand in1he late ninteenth century. His performances were widely reviewed in contemporary
    newpapers with detailed accounts of his fish-scale inspired costume and bizarre underwater routines. This nirteenth
    century tradition was continued by dare-devil Australian swimmers and theatrical performers such as Annette
    Kellerman and Beatrice Kerr in the early 20th century.
    HistoryAquatic spectacles were a popular entertainment performed at theatres and pleasure gardens in England, Australia,
    New Zealand and the United States of America from the 1860s until the 1910s.
    Entertainers described as Natators performed aquatic feats at London's Cremorne Gardens in the 1 860s. A troupe
    called The Beckwith Frogs performed in an aquarium and were described in the Penny Illustrated Paper, 19 June
    1869, as 'human seals' who could glide into the water and perform a series of gyrations, startling goldfish and diving
    from one end of the tank to the other, somersaulting and walking on their hands. These marine acrobats also performed at Lambeth Swimming Bath with former champion swimmer Professor Beckwith. Their feats were seen as
    remarkable at a time when most people did not swim.
    Charles Weightman of Nottingham, first performed at London's Cremorne Gardens in 1867 when he was nineteen
    years old. He was given the name Natator by the Englisn naturalist Frank Buckland which was then used by others.
    During the Paris Exhibition in 1867, Weightman was visited by the Emperor Napoleon Ill, the Empress and Prince Imperial, the Sultan of Turkey, the Emperor of Austria, the Viceroy of Egypt and the Prince and Princess of Wales. He went onto visit America and California and performed in the presence of the President.
    After successes in Europe and North America, Weightman travelled to Australia and performed as 'Natator the Man-Fish' at the Queen's Theatre in York Street, Sydney, from August to September 1874, followed by a performance as part of a Christmas Festival at Sydney's Exhibition Building in December 1874. He also performed in Brisbane at the Queensland Theatre. He toured to New Zealand in 1875 performing at Grey River, Dunedin, Lyttelton, Otago, Hawkes Bay and other provincial towns until 1882.
    The North Otago Times described his performance in 1875 including details of his costume. He wore a tight fitting costume 'with the appearance of chain armour'. It also reported that members of the audience were invited to confirm that the tank held water before Weightman dived into the tank and swam to show his ease in the water. He then dived to the bottom of the tank where he sat and ate a plate of bread and butter and then drank a bottle of milk.
    His next feat was to smoke a pipe before performing the chair act which involved repeatedly swimming with fish-like ease between the legs of a chair secured to the bottom of the tank.
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