A Knight’s Tale (6: Spanish Flu)

John Richard Evans was the brother of Annie Hunter, nee Evans, my maternal grandmother.  He was therefore my great uncle, and the grandfather of Audrey and Roy, who appear in the street party image featured in “A Knight’s Tale” (5: That Heady, Optimistic, Summer)

As a high wire and trapeze artist, John adopted the stage name Jack Riskit.  Among the countries graced by his presence was Australia, where he met and married a young woman who was to join his act.  This was Holly King, my great aunt by marriage.  Taking the stage name The Dental Riskits, they were famous throughout the Antipodes for a particular line in daredevilry.  I am not sure to which part of Holly’s anatomy the strong wire from which she hung was attached, but the other end was firmly held in Jack’s teeth high above the ring. Given that her husband suspended Holly from his teeth, their stage name was most apt. The views of Jack’s dentists are not recorded

This image from the 20th February 1915 issue of The New Zealand Free Lance newspaper, shows a flyer advertising The Dental Riskits appearing at His Majesty’s Theatre. From the addresses of other advertisers on page 31 I believe this to be the one now termed St James Theatre, Wellington.

Shortly before the end of World War I, the couple came to England. Before then Holly had borne 2 children both of whom died. Their daughter, Ivy, named after Holly’s twin sister was born here but, not long after, Holly succumbed to the dreadful Spanish flu of 1918 – 1920. Following the devastation of World War I, this killer wiped out 100,000,000 more lives across the globe. The great aunt I never knew was then aged 28 years and 9 months. The disease was contracted while performing at Rotherham in Yorkshire and she is buried at Harrogate cemetery. Ivy, brought up by her grandmother, married Jim. They were the parents of the aforementioned Audrey and Roy.

September 1925: Trapeze artists Jack and Betty Riskit perform a gymnastic feat. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Having lost a wife and two children, John later married Betty, seen here performing a different act. Perhaps his dentist had had a word.

These photographs were e-mailed to me by my cousin Yvonne, who knew Jack and Betty well. Performances came to an end when the couple fell 20′ when equipment failed in 1925 at London’s Victoria Palace, resulting in serious injuries. Jack went into theatre management and died in 1955.


      1. Yes, his is very interesting, but yours is credited with making you! So, your family did at least one thing right!! 👍😉

  1. My father was born in Calcutta, where his father (a tea planter) died of the Spanish ‘flu only a few months later. How strange that we are in another pandemic that has swept around the globe.

    1. 🙂 My brother Chris has dug out some juicy ones on the Knight side, including a surgeon who bought bodies. I’ll leave that one alone on the grounds that it was too long ago. Thanks a lot, Quercus.

    1. When he came round after the fall, Jack said it was the same as one they had had in Valencia the year before. Betty did survive, but I don’t know anything of her later.

  2. What a story! Both sad and exciting. As she died so young—too young!—poor Holly never had to worry about her teeth. An excellent reminder of how people in past times have both thrived and suffered.

  3. Sometimes, I really do wonder what it was that impelled someone to embark on one of these quirky careers. I can come up with several theories, but I’d bet that no a single one would approach the truth!

    1. Yes. I think it was an era for such live entertainment. His brother, Fred was due to play cricket for Lancashire, but, it seems, was killed on the Somme in 1916. Thanks very much, Linda.

  4. What a great tale of daredevilry! 100,000 were a lot of people back then, but I have a feeling that most were a lot more sensible in those days, in terms of believing in science, at least. We’re up to more than 600K in the US alone, and some STILL doubt it’s real. Sheesh…

  5. There was a His Majesty Theatre in Auckland as well – probably similar in all the big cities of that era. Ours was demolished at some point, it was rumoured to be a new theatre to be built – a carpark instead rose from the majestic grounds!

    1. Thanks very much, Catherine. Ah,the advance of the ubiquitous car park. You probably know that the bones of our King Richard III were found under one in Leicester.

  6. So much sadness and such great hardship. 🙁 But it is encouraging how those left here on earth persevered and went on to live life. 🙂 When I read stories like these in your family, other people’s families, my own family I am so grateful for the lessons they taught us, and how they help us, if we will pay attention to their lives, their attitudes, their work ethics, etc. Thank you for sharing these beloved ones in your family with us, Derrick!
    (((HUGS))) 🙂
    PS…Growing up I always loved gymnastics in school, and playing on the playground equipment…we were pretty daring…but I can’t imagine doing any of this so high up in the air! 😮 🙂

  7. I was glued to the story of your daredevil and industrious ancestors. I remember having read some of that earlier too on your blog. It’s sad that she succumbed to the pandemic after having lost two of her issues. I enjoyed the crisp narration interspersed with humour and wit.

  8. Gosh – a lot to take in here as a reader and it must have been even more so for the people involved. I’m glad they decided not to risk a third fall.

  9. I recall your writing about them, Derrick. I like the structure of your narrative, where every significant event in the life of your country and the world is reflected in the microcosm of your family.

  10. Hi Derrick, its rather dreadful that Jack and Betty fell due to equipment failure. I’ve never really liked watching trapeze artists because I’m scared one day I’ll witness a fall. An exciting relation to be sure.

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