Post 5. Australia and the train incident

A second sculpture is made and survives today but the whereabouts of the previous sculpture is unknown!

In the next two photographs you can see the second sculpture of her in a more relaxed pose. This is the bust of Vulcana which Atlas wrote a description of which is rather exaggerated. (see below)

Vulcana 032

Vulcana 031

The description Atlas wrote reads:

“ Vulcana

The world’s greatest athlete.The most beautiful, symmetrical and physically perfect woman on earth and the only known woman of absolutely correct measurements, who is able to demonstrate to modern times the beautiful proportions of the female form divine as depicted by the ancients”

Bust of Vulcana by Nelson Illingworth

(The well-known Sydney sculptor)

Photo by Rembrant Studio 482 George St, Sydney Australia.

Atlas was well used to flowery language in his promotion of Vulcana but I feel there is more than a hint of how he felt about her in this description.

The Sydney Morning Herald of 22nd June 1904 reports “ Mr Nelson Illingworth has just completed his studio bust of Vulcana the strongwoman who has attracted attention here during her engagement at the Tivoli Theatre. The sculptor has modelled in clay the handsome features of Vulcana with much success. The bust is intended for the vestibule of the London Pavillion Theatre” ( It is unclear if this theatre is in London, England or the name of an Australian theatre!)

I had no idea of what happened to the two sculptures or whether they still existed but recently someone showed me a link to an Australian art catalogue which shows the second sculpture which had been cast in bronze in a limited edition of fifteen. Each to be sold at $12,000 dollars in 2004.

The following is from the fine art catalogue showing sculptures for sale in a collectors list by “Australian Art”
Sculpture Sculpture2

117 Nelson Illingworth
(1862-1926). Vulcana, 1904/2002. Bronze, numbered 2/15, title incised on base, signature and date incised on base verso, edition and foundry name stamped into base verso, 46 x 37.5 x 32cm. JLG4286
Art Nouveau sculpture produced in Australia seldom appears in the Australian art market. This bronze was cast by Meridian in Melbourne from the artist’s original plaster in a traditional bronze patina. Issued by Josef Lebovic Gallery and Scheding-Berry Fine Art, the bronze will be cast on demand until the edition of 15 has been completed. “Vulcana” was created by one of the leading Australian sculptors working in the latter part of the 19th century. Illingworth, a colourful bohemian, was known mainly for his busts of prominent citizens including Henry Parkes and Sir Edmund Barton. We believe the inspiration for this bronze was Kate Roberts (“Vulcana”), a famous lightweight strongwoman who was performing feats of strength in London and Australian music halls during the early 1900s.

The photograph below appears to be a plaster cast of the sculpture which may have been bought by the above company who cast the bronzes from it. It is a shame that I have no record of the more ornate sculpture of her with her hair up but perhaps it exists somewhere and someone will contact me at a future date.


Nelson Illingworth (1862-1926), an Art Nouveau painted plaster bust of Vulcana, circa 1904, titled and signed and dated. Together with a composite stand, 108 cm high., weathered

Many of the photographs I have were taken in Australian studios in either Sydney or Melbourne some of which are below:

Vulcana 025

Vulcana 010

Vulcana 009

Vulcana 008

Vulcana 006

Vulcana 003

Vulcana 002

Vulcana 001









Atlas & Vulcana 001

Atlas & Vulcana 003

Sadly there are very few pictures of her doing any of the stage feats of strength. I have one which shows her lifting a female above her head and one from a magazine which shows her lifting a man.


Vulcana 042         Vulcana 019


This shows she was quite able to lift a man and makes her account of one episode where she “man handled” an obnoxious man in Melbourne believable! The account is in a column from the Weekly News of Saturday 11th June 1921 and is reported after a fire at the Garrick Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland. She is being interviewed about the fire but goes on to describe an episode in Australia as well as other incidents that have happened to her. She was taking the opportunity to do a bit of PR obviously after a close shave in the theatre fire.

This photograph is one of a copy I took of the cutting that a relative in London had but as it is difficult to read I will transcribe it for you.

News nn1



Thrilling Experiences of a Strong Lady

(Special to the Weekly News)

As a result of the disastrous fire in the Garrick Theatre, Edinburgh, several of the artistes who have been appearing there found themselves in an awkward plight. Not only were they left with nothing but their street clothes but they had lost treasures which money could not replace.

One of the sufferers was Miss Vulcana, the well-known strong lady, who in addition to her valuable dresses, barbell and other heavy-weight props, lost a collection of over 120 medals, representing world championships which she had won in various parts of the world for her feats of left, right and double- hand weight lifting.

“When I heard the shout of fire and heard most of the people outside my rooms, I at once thought of the theatre and my medals” remarked Miss Vulcana next morning as she was raking among the debris in her dressing room searching for her treasures.

“I jumped out of bed, dressed and rushed down to the theatre, intending if possible to make an attempt to secure my treasures. But the place was like a blazing furnace by the time I got down and I could do nothing. Perhaps it was as well. It might have been a case of another Lafayette, (an artist who died in a theatre fire) for my dressing room was at the far away side of the stage and the rapidity with which the fire spread might have been my undoing.

Short Shrift for Intruder

“I have had some queer adventures but this is my first experience of a theatre fire and I hope it will be my last. In most other plights in which I have found myself, thanks to my athletic training I have been quite capable of looking after myself even when it came to tackling an Australian digger. This incident happened in Western Australia. I was going from Melbourne to Brisbane and was travelling in a “Lady’s Own” with other female members of the company when this fellow came in and started to make himself obnoxious. I pointed out to him that it was a “Lady’s Own” and with considerable insolence he asked me if I was an American and if I had bought the train. I told him I had not but that I had paid for a seat in the compartment and that if he was a gentleman he would go out. He said he would do nothing of the kind. He added that I could call the guard or anybody else I liked but not one of them could put him out. Thereupon he started to smoke.

I told him I did not need the guard to put him out as I would do so myself He laughed, not without some excuse for he was a brawny sort of chap and I know I am not much to look at in ordinary street clothes. But he was not long in being disillusioned.

Catching him by the neck of the coat and the back of the pants I landed him right out before he knew where he was. The train was slowly on the move by this time and the guard seeing the figure jumping out through the door thought it was an attempt at suicide. The train was stopped and a search was made for the man but he had skulked away out of sight before the officials got back to the place he had made his exit.

“Once I was robbed of my purse I London. I was looking in a shop window when I saw in the glass the reflection of the movements of a man behind me and these aroused my suspicions. Turning around I caught the man with my purse in his hand. Snatching him by the hand I gave him a twist that he won’t forget in a hurry and as I took the purse out of his hand I remarked that I thought he had made a mistake. He quite probably thought so too but he didn’t wait to explain.

Trapping a Pickpocket

I had a somewhat similar experience in Birmingham. A man slipping my watch out of my waist whilst I was looking in a jeweller’s window. I felt th movement and turning around said ‘thank you’ giving him at the same time one on the jaw straight from the shoulder. He went down like a nine pin. A policeman came up to find out the reason for the hubbub and when he learned the man on the pavemnt had my watch in his hand he promptly arrested him.

“Although it was in weight lifting I won my medals I have also gone in for boxing, rowing, fencing wrestling and other sports. Carkeek was good enough to say I was the only woman he had ever seen who could wrestle”

This was written in 1921 long after the Australian trip but I thought it was best to read the account as a whole and in the context of her reminiscences. The Australian tour was obviously a great success and I have photographs of her with the Australian streets as a back drop but I will have to come back to those later when I have identified some of them.


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