Before she took the surname Cann, Beatrice Thelma Bradley (otherwise known as Essie Bradley) was was snake handler known as Cleopatra. Born in Tasmania in 1907, she started performing shows when she was 13 - after she moved to Hobart to live with her mother's brother, Tasman Bradley.
From the age of 13 she performed shows as Cleopatra, and by the age of 16 she began performing with venomous snakes.
The above photo was taken when Essie was 16 years old. One year later she met George Cann in Queensland at a showground performance. George joined Tasman Bradley's troupe to perform, but initially refused to work with Essie on the grounds of her youth and gender. She gradually wore away his misgivings, and soon after they started performing together in 1923-1924. The poster below depicts them together in 'The Snake Pit of Death'.
They married the following year in 1925, when she was 18 and George was 27.
Unlike other Cleopatras of the time who mostly performed with pythons, Essie performed with venomous snakes, "with enough care and respect to ensure she was never bitten," her son John adds. Even though she officially retired in 1927 after the birth of George, Essie didn't give the game away entirely. The photo below shows Essie handling what appears to be a black snake or tiger snake.
Tasman Bradley was a well-known Tasmanian showman and entrepreneur. It was inevitable that when Essie moved in with her mother's brother's family, she'd become part of the travelling show.