Louis Bertolotto, the "Andrew Lloyd Webber of flea-biz"

Bertolotto grave markers These three monuments (left to right) in Port Hope Union Cemetery mark the graves of Ida Bertolotto (1859-1925), Emily Julia Bertolotto Masters Robertson (1829-1916), and Louis Bertolotto (1802-1887). The three plots are part of a ten-grave lot purchased by Emily c1887. The other plots are occupied by Joseph Henry Hugh (1856-1916), Emily's daughter, Emily Louise Hugh (1853-1925), Edward William Hugh (1878-1949), and Joseph Hugh (1892-1892).

Port Hope newspaper obituary As shown in his obituary, Louis was born in Genoa and emigrated to Canada in 1856, as steward to Sir Edmund Head, Governor-General of Canada. According to the cemetery records, Louis' daughter, Ida, was born in Quebec during this time (c1860).

Louis is listed, living with his widowed daughter, Emily Julia Masters, and three of her children in the 1881 Port Hope census returns.

  • Emily Masters (47) born England, widow
  • Kate Masters (20) born Ontario
  • Harry Masters (17) born Ontario, printer
  • William Masters (15) born Ontario, photographer
  • Louis Bertolotto (80) born Italy, gentleman, widower

In 1886, a year prior to Louis' death, Emily married widower Peter Robertson, whose wife, Sarah Whitt, had passed away in 1861, leaving him with at least three children.

In 1886, a year prior to Louis' death, Emily married widower Peter Robertson, whose wife, Sarah Whitt, had passed away in 1861, leaving him with at least three children.

From the 1891 Port Hope census returns, it would appear that Emily's mother - Julia McGraft - was of Irish origin.

  • Robertson, Peter (68) born Ontario, father born England, mother born Scotland
  • Robertson, Emily (57) born England, father born Italy, mother born Ireland
  • Robertson, Peter (38) born Ontario, father born Ontario, mother born England

In the 1901 Port Hope census returns, Ida appears for the first time, living with her sister and family.

  • Robertson, Peter (78) Head of household, married, born May 16, 1822
  • Robertson, Emily J. (68) Wife, married, born Mar 24, 1833, Eng., emigrated 1856
  • Robertson, Peter J. (48) Son, single, born Jan 10, 1853
  • Bertolotto, Ida (42) Sister, single, born Mar 7, 1859
[Incorrectly has her as sister of Peter, born Ontario, but emigrating in 1856!]

And then the fun began!
On 04 May 2005, we received a rather unusual e-mail request from Andy Clark.

I am researching the history of the Flea Circus and a Mr. L. Bertolotto, who is said to be the first performer of a flea circus in the world. I spotted a reference to a Mr. Bertolotto at the following site of yours and the age would be about right, as Mr. Bertolotto has been recorded as performing in London (1833), New York (1835) and Toronto (1844).
Could you point me at any resources that would allow me to confirm that your Bertolotto is the Flea Circus performer?

Relishing a challenge, we began corresponding with Andy, gleaning further information - and vastly enriching our previously-scanty knowledge of flea circuses!

Unfortunately, the flea circus magnate only seems to appear as L. Bertolotto, with no full given name nor personal history. This creates a problem, but it helps that the surname isn't a common one. There are only two Bertolottos listed in CemSearch (Ida and Louis) and only one in the online 1880-'81 census returns for Britain, the US, and Canada (Louis).

Andy provided an important item in the form of a marriage registration. On 05 Mar 1850, in the Parish Church, Parish of St. George, Hanover Square (London), widower Louis Bertolotto, servant, on Eaton Square, married Mary Ann Stringer, spinster, on Eaton Square. Hanover Square is located just around the corner from Regent Street where his shows were held.
While it might have been a different Louis (occupation as a 'servant' and also the couple have the same address), Eaton Square mentioned on the certificate is also not too far away - just around the corner from Buckingham Palace.

Here is what we now know:

  • 1802: Louis was born in Genoa
  • 1828: He was in England when daughter, Emily, was born
  • c1829: Daughter Elise was born in Genoa
  • Early 1830s: L. Bertolotto was involved in flea circus activities, attracting royalty and influential audiences in Regent Street; to NY (1835) and Toronto (1844)
  • c1830s: Louis also had a son. The New York Historic Society has a book called, The Curious and Amusing Exhibition of the Educated Fleas, with Notes, Observations and Interesting Anecdotes, by L. Bertolotto, The Origional Inventor. Fifth Edition, Revised, published in 1876, in which the author mentions that his son, H. Bertolotto, will exhibit while he stays in New York
  • 1845: Wife, Julia, died, as well as daughter, Rosa, in London
  • 1850-'51: Married Mary Ann Stringer; working/living in a prestigious part of London in the area where L. Bertolotto performed. Louis' father is listed as John, French Navy captain
  • 1851: Son, Louis Bertolotto born in London
  • 1852: Daughter, Emily, married James Masters in Chelsea. Eliza Bertolotto signs as witness. Father, 'Luigi' Bertolotto, is a Professor of Music
  • 1856: Elise Bertolotto, daughter of Louis (occupation: tutor) married watchmaker William Henry Griffiths, son of Edward. Of full age, it was a first marriage for both, who remained in England
  • c1856: Louis emigrated to Canada to serve as steward to the Governor-General, Sir Edmund Walker Head
  • 1859: Louis performed in NY
  • c1860: While living in Quebec, daughter Ida was born. The Masters family moved to Port Hope. James seems to have disappeared; with Emily marrying Peter Robertson in 1886
  • c1861: Louis became butler to Lord Monck on Sir Edmund's retirement
  • c1875-1880: Louis moved to Port Hope to live with daughter, Emily
  • 1887: Louis died in Port Hope
  • 1916: Emily twice mentions Ida as her 'half-sister', adding credence to Louis' second marriage
  • 1925: Ida leaves money to her aunt, Bessie Stringer, and states she wants to be buried with "L. Bertolotto" [quotation marks hers]
  • 2006: At descendant Thelma Lomas' funeral, Betty Hugh remarked that her father (s/o Henry Bertolotto Hugh) claimed flea circus & navy ancestors
  • 2006: Gggggrandaughter Marcia produced an Ellisson & Co. photograph of Louis with daughter, Ida and son, Harry, taken in Quebec City c1875
  • 2006: Andy sends an engraving of L. Bertolotto, appearing in his 1876 book. We are now convinced that our Louis is the L. Bertolotto.
Photograph of Louis with Ida and Henry Engraving of Louis

Another item of interest
The 1851 Chertsey, Surrey (England), census lists an Emily Louisa Bertolotto (22); unmarried; born Datchet, Bucks. c1929; employed as a governess at the home of Isabella Norton. Is this another daughter of Louis, or perhaps an error in reporting Emily Julia?

How you can help
Emily's Will gave her children's names and locations.

  • Eldest daughter, Emily Louise Hugh - wife of Joseph of Port Hope
  • Second daughter, Marion Elizabeth Hugh
  • Youngest daughter, Kate Helen Foster - wife of Frank of Rochester - to whom she gave three enlarged pictures of Louis
  • Sons, Harry and Edward
  • Son, William J. Masters of San Francisco

While some remained in the area others are widely-scattered
If you have any knowledge as to the present location of the enlarged pictures mentioned above, please get in touch!

Should you be interested in learning more about the fascinating world of flea circuses, a visit to Walt Noon's amazing site, www.noonco.com/flea is a must!

Peter and Barbara Bolton - Port Hope, Ontario