This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005
William (Billy) Jones (c.1842-1906),
Travelling the goldfields and the backblocks of south-eastern Australia, Billy spent his youth with Jones's company, and adopted his mentor's surname. In outback towns, he drew the attention of the public by ascending and descending a rope stretched from a tree stump to the centre pole of the circus. Visiting Hobart Town with W. H. Foley's Californian Circus in 1866, he walked a rope stretched from the top of the circus pole to the Theatre Royal on the other side of Argyle Street, at a height of about fifty feet (15 m) to the cheers of people below. His marvellous versatility and agility remained undiminished despite advancing age and weight that reached as much as fifteen stone (95 kg). In 1873 with Bird & Taylor's Great American Circus at Kapunda, South Australia, he somersaulted his 'aldermanic corporation' so rapidly it was 'almost impossible to tell his head from his feet'. With St Leon's Circus in Brisbane in 1882 he gave 'a very neat display . . . with balls and knives with great rapidity, and without the slightest mistake'.
The last years of his circus career were spent with the FitzGerald brothers' circus as a horse-trainer and ringmaster. He could still captivate audiences as late as 1896 with his leap over twenty horses. Dan FitzGerald wrote that Jones possessed the mind and energy to plan and execute the organization of a great circus. He knew every bit of harness and property, every strap and buckle, rope, seat and pole in the FitzGerald circus, and could train both its horses and its human performers in their various circus tricks. He possessed an 'extensive and peculiar' knowledge of Australia and its roads and an enormous store of anecdotes of Australian circus life. A 'stout, dark man with curly black hair', and 'very smart', he retired from his circus career in the early 1900s to become a coach-driver on the Mount Morgan road, Queensland. He was brought out of retirement in 1905 to appear one last time with FitzGeralds' in Sydney as 'Old William Jones'.
Jones had a son Frederick by his first wife Mary. In Sydney on 21 July 1893, describing himself as a widower, William Edwin Jones married with Congregational forms 21-year-old Maggie Long. They had no children. Jones spent the last months of his life as a watchman at Redfern. In straitened circumstances, he died of endocarditis on 4 July 1906 at Sydney Hospital. His wife and son survived him.
Mark Valentine St Leon, 'Jones, William (Billy) (1842–1906)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jones-william-billy-13014/text23529, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 25 March 2017.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005