“Professor” James Elliott’s act consisted of himself and children Kate, Polly, Annie, Maggie, Thomas, and Mattie performing a “Parisian Quadrille” on bicycles and unicycles. They were given out to be from Portugal, though that hardly seems to be in accord with their names. On the other hand, it’s easy enough to make up a fake name, so it’s likely that, through whatever odd set of circumstances, they were from Portugal.
They performed with P.T. Barnum shows in 1883 and 1884, and Barnum, Elliott and others were busted by overzealous agents of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. They subsequently gave a private performance to a panel of doctors and other luminaries and beat the rap. The Elliotts also traveled with the circus of. W.C. Coup (a circus innovator and former associate of Barnum’s) in 1887. This is the same year Coup suffered a near-ruinous train wreck, which causes me to fear the worst about what happened to the family. I find no reference to them after that date, and would certainly be glad to hear otherwise!
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.