Post 8. Still “brother and sister”


Still working as brother and sister through the First World War to the twenties.

Here is more of the publicity from that time!

poster nn1a 1906  magazine cover


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The above 1906 article following their return contains press notices from cities all over Australia.

My father has always maintained that Vulcana could not read or write. I guess this cannot be confirmed now but apparently my Dad remembers “Grandad Atlas” reading to Vulcana from the newspapers. I like to think that perhaps she was dyslexic and of course in those days this was not recognized. She was after all the daughter of a Baptist Minister so I am sure they would have had a fairly good education, at least being taught to read and write. Maybe this was the reason she concentrated on other skills such as fitness! Who knows! Any of the photographs that were signed as Atlas and Vulcana  (there are a few) have the same writing for both names so it looks like he signed for both of them. Atlas may have designed the publicity and we have some in my collection. As well as publicity posters and flyers like the below there were also articles in books and magazines.

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The above is the Haggars Theatre flyer stating that Vulcana is the Champion Strong Woman of the World and holder of all World’s records in Weightlifting by women. It contains the challenge to any woman to lift Vulcana’s bar-bell and  £50 was the prize for any woman doing so!

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The above advert from later in her career states she is the Champion Lady Athlete of the World and says she is the originator of the late Posing Craze. Proclaiming her the most perfect woman ever known whose teaching in Physical Culture and demonstrations of muscular control, in the principle cities of the civilized world, the women of all countries have so vainly endeavored to imitate!!   PRAISE INDEED!!

It goes on to list all her measurements as follows:

Height – 5ft 4  in.

Head 21 in.

Neck 12 1/8 in. Flexed 14 in.

Upper Arm 12 1/8 in. Flexed 14 in.

Chest 33 in. Expanded 39 in.

Fore Arm 9 1/4 in. Flexed 11 in.

Wrist 5 3/4 in.

Waist 25 in.

Thigh 25 in.

Knee 13 1/4 in.

Calf 14 in.

Ankle 7 3/4 in.

It also introduces EVE the most Juvenile Athlete of all time! (this was Mona Eve my grandmother)

Atlas was not reticent in his publicity praise of Vulcana as we can see. The poster above also states that their permanent residence at that time was Gosford Lodge, London. I would love to know where that was and if it is still there.

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Above: This is a hand painted design to surround her picture for publicity.

News nn2Sunday Times article from 2000 taken from the above design.

The article above comes from the Times newspaper that featured her story as it was due to be aired on BBC 2 in March 2000. This was a Bloodties series which explored family history. My sister Sue and I took part in the episode that featured Vulcana and her fascinating story. It was a wonderful experience as they flew us to Glasgow for the weekend to meet a weightlifting historian called David Webster who gave us more information to put to my research. He thought they were brother and sister as they were always noted as such in books and articles of the time that he had in his possession. Of course during their entire career together they were known in the press as “brother and sister” as Atlas was in charge of the publicity. Anyone who knew them was not fooled by this as children had been arriving at regular intervals! Being pregnant, giving birth and nursing babies is not something I would imagine was very easy for Vulcana who continued to travel through all this time. I am amazed and impressed that she managed to stay a star in this very taxing profession whilst having so many children. It is difficult to be absolutely sure of the number of their children as the two families had merged. We believe that as well as Nora and Mona who we know to be Vulcana’s that William, Arthur, Hedley and Gus (Ernest Augustus) were also hers. Because some were registered as Roberts it is difficult to prove. Birth records and census records vary as sometimes they are Williams and sometimes Roberts!  Vulcana had been known to the public as Kate Roberts of course as she was supposed to be William’s sister but of course her real name was Kate Williams. We know that Alice had children to, some of which were Alice junior, Maud, Grace and Winifred. However it is a tangled web of offspring and needs more research through the  records to clarify it!


Above is Vulcana with the two girls Winifred and Nora.

My father remembers that Vulcana had said she was never allowed to be a proper mother which gives the impression that she would have liked to have had more time with them when they were young but her career got in the way.  She was the star and without her the bookings may have trickled away to nothing! With a large family to support this couldn’t be allowed to happen.

The following are pictures of some of the children as they grow up.

As I mentioned she managed to continue her career whilst having children. As far as we are aware she had six children, two girls and four boys. Nora, Mona, William, Arthur, Hedley and Augustus (Gus)

Here are some photographs of the children starting from the early 1900’s.

IMAGE108     IMAGE104

The tall girl above may be from Alice his wife, if so it shows how the two families came together. The younger girls could be Winifred and Nora who were the same age but from two different mothers.


IMAGE107       This is Mona my Grandmother.


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IMAGE103                                                       IMAGE101


IMAGE109 IMAGE10 IMAGE110 Girls02p

I believe their last child Hedley was born in 1909 and Vulcana’s career was still going strong as we know they were still appearing in many places in Britain and on the continent. I have recorded some of the places they appeared below.

To North Africa!

What the troupe did during the First World War is not clear but there are photographs of Vulcana in what looks like North Africa among native people and Mosques. Could it be that they entertained the troupes in these places? There are street scenes with men and boys in long garments and wearing the fez. Some show her outside mosques and another show a camel train in the background. I cannot think they would be in this area for any other reason than performing to either British or French troupes. She is still wearing Victorian dress styles so these pictures are not so likely to be from after WW1!











I am not sure which member of the troupe this is but obviously Atlas is the photographer!

In 1916 They appear in the Cork Palace Theatre in Ireland.

In 1920 the Edmonton Empire hosts the Masonic Show on September 13th at which they appear. The publicity says “Introducing VULCANA, the strongest lady living who has created New World’s records in France, Holland and Spain. Together with MONA EVE the World’s Champion Strong girl”. Also appearing was NORA ROBERTS Comedienne.Mona Eve was the second daughter born to Vulcana and Nora was the first daughter. So Mona my Grandmother had followed in Vulcana’s footsteps and Nora had chosen to become a comedienne. My Grandmother Mona would have been 19 years old at the time.

This performance is part of a Masonic entertainment as all the artistes and directors, stage furnishers and secretary are Masons. Atlas is listed as being the founder of many Masonic Lodges and Master of at least one.


Atlas in his Masonic regalia

Following this in 1921 the appear at the Garrick Theatre in Edinburgh which burnt down on June 4th. I have recorded previously a newspaper report of the experiences of Vulcana at that time. It is said by the older members of the family that she risked her life to rescue the horses of another act and that she burnt her long hair. They say she won a commendation for this and an award but how true this is remains a mystery unless we can find some proof!


In 1922 they pick themselves up from the losses in the fire and start to tour again. I have a copy of a diary from a lady called Katrina who felt I would like to see the entries of when her mother travelled with Atlas and Vulcana. In the diary it states they appeared at Music Halls and Theatres in London, France,(Paris, Marseille, Nice) Gibraltar, Spain (Barcelona) and Africa (Algiers)

Here are two programs from Ireland for around that time.

Vulcana 043                 Vulcana 044


Vulcana 029Vulcana 030

The family have some programmes (below) from the 1920’s which were from tours in France. Petit Casino, Monmartre – Paris 1925,Le Kursaal, Paris 1926, Casino de la Cigale 1926, Casino Des Fluers, Vichy, France and the Eden Theatre, Strasbourg.

Vulcana 028Vulcana 027Montmartre

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I was contacted some years ago by a lady called Katrina from Surrey who allowed me to have copies of her mothers diary which contained references to Atlas and Vulcana. Apparently her mother had talked a lot about them as they had traveled together in Africa and other places. In October 1925  she was in Paris at the same theatres as Atlas and Vulcana. Then in November she is in North Africa. She states that she “started a wonderful tour through Africa” and on the same page mentions Atlas and Vulcana. She writes “N and myself nearly kidnapped by African woman”. I believe N to be Nora. She next moves on to France and she goes on to say ” Spent Christmas here at Aix-En-Provence, had rotten time in hotel over A&V” Obviously some row or other had upset her as she was travelling with them at that time” I have a photograph of her together with Vulcana and Nora.


Actually this girl was a dancer called Catherine Violet Styan who called herself Katrina (Kathie to Vulcana) She is the girl on the right and Nora on the left. Another entry from 1926 says she is in Morocco in April appearing at eight theatres, she says “Had mouth cut here by A” what the circumstances were I can’t imagine.

In an earlier entry  (1924) she says “Saved N. from the water in Dunoon” and then later that year “left for Paris without N. Brokenhearted, spent hours in the Louvre” It is unusual for her to identify Atlas, Vulcana and Nora only by their initials but it appears to me that Katrina and Nora had a strong bond!

Her diary lists 116 theatres between the years 1924-25 so this gives us an idea of how much music hall artistes traveled in those years. I imagine Atlas and Vulcana would have done the same or similar venues.I would love to know more about this period if anyone out there has any knowledge of this time in their career.

As I have mentioned Nora and later Mona, daughters of Atlas and Vulcana were performing with them at this time

.Vulcana04p Vulcana showing off her long hair in a plait.

Vulcana02p    Nora top, Vulcana middle, Mona cross legged.

I have below a few photographs that show Vulcana’s travels and her two grown up daughters which would likely be from war time or early twenties. The first is in a village setting with camels also mud and straw thatched huts. In the background are enormous temples similar to those at Angkor Wat in Cambodia which is the largest religious building in the world. If it is not there they are likely to be in Indo China somewhere! I think it would have been somewhere they were performing as they did not take holidays. My husband seems to think they may have been entertaining the French troupes in that area towards the end of the war or following it.


It is possible to see huge temples in the near and far distance!



Her they are wearing the same outfits for this picture by the fountain.  We saw this fountain in earlier photographs when Vulcana had a baby and nanny with her. It may be in Spain or France. With the bulls around the fountain it maybe more likely to be Spain but if anyone recognizes it please let me know.

Then there are two pictures with what appears to be a wreath laying ceremony in what looks like a Russian territory as the names of the areas carved on the wall are all Russian cities or areas. It looks like a memorial to the Russian dead from the Great War





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