Abstract: This paper will contrast the experiences of two groups of Indian show people who performed in Australia in the second half of the nineteenth century. The early entertainment circuits that Indians participated in were zones of contestation reflecting the complex relationship between performers and the local societies that variously accommodated or resisted their presence. These subaltern figures, who were marginalized in their own societies, endured racial prejudice and exploitation, but were not powerless. The case of Mahomet Cassim and his brother Mahomet Abdallah, two Indian jugglers who were subsequently arrested and found guilty of the murder of an Indian hawker, received considerable support from libertarians who believed the men were not given a fair trial and should be pardoned. In 1889, a troupe of jugglers, dancers and “human freaks” were recruited in India and displayed in Adelaide and Melbourne. The troupe’s mistreatment and exploitation was dismissed by the press and public, until the troupe staged what was described as a “mutiny.” Melbourne’s local Indian community rallied to their defence and the Victorian Government was forced to repatriate the troupe. The case would eventually lead to a review of laws covering the emigration of “spectacular performers” from India.

Keywords: India, popular culture, magic, ethnographic displays, emigration

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