The Evening Star, 7 November 1903

Vulcana and Atlas, the athletes who presented a unique and graceful weight lifting entertainment at the Miners’ Institute with the Rickards Co., are Welsh, and have always been strong. Vulcana is just out of her teens, is about 5ft. 4in. in height and weighs 10st. 10lb. Atlas, her brother, taught her scientific weight lifting, and she can lift any weight from half a hundred-weight to 250lbs. by what is known as the slow press, one handed lift. Vulcana is fond of home work, and has no particular form of diet or living, but is in all things like the average Englishwoman
The Sun (Kalgoorlie), 22 November 1903

Kate Roberts, formerly Williams was born in Wales in 1875 to a preacher’s wife. Her background, as given by a Sydney newspaper:

Miss Kate Roberts—Vulcana’s real name—is the daughter of a popular Welsh preacher. Coming of an athletic family, she, in childhood, was remarkably strong, and developed a tendency for daring performances, at an early age. She loved an open-air life, and no thing used to delight her more than a visit to a wood, in the neighbourhood of her home, where she could climb high trees to her heart’s content, or hang swinging by her arms from lofty boughs, risking her neck at almost every movement. At school she performed feats of strength that astonished her teachers and fellow-pupils. On one occasion, when it was necessary for a harmonium to be conveyed from one room to an other, she calmly volunteered to carry it single-handed— and succeeded in doing so, much to the amazement of the on-lookers. Although naturally strong, Vulcana. owes much of her present state of physical perfection to her brother, one of the strongest men in England. Under his tuition training became & matter of pleasure and delight to her. By an accident it was that Miss Roberts became a professional. Mr. Roberts had been engaged to carry out the management of a fete and gala at Pontypool. At the last moment a lady performer, who ought to have been in her place, failed to put in an appearance. Someone was necessary to fill the gap. What was to be done! Mr. Roberts decided to “fill the bill” with his little sister Kate. She duly appeared, before the Pontypool public, performing feats of strength, which so delighted them and herself that she there and then decided to become a professional. She was at that time a girl of fifteen.
Sydney Sportsman, 17 December 1902

wikipedia state-library-of-victoria
(From Wikiepedia Commons on left and State Library of Victoria on right)

She was soon the talk of the town, and overseas as well.

If Messrs. Sandow and Page! labour under the idea that strength is to be regarded as a monopoly of the male, sex, they are greatly mistaken. Woman still keeps advancing to claim men’s rights. There is at present in London a Welsh girl, Kate Roberts, who appears under the title of Vulcana, and who is the strongest woman in the world. She is the daughter of a clergyman ; she is graceful, pretty and only just out of her teens. She accomplishes all manner of feats, including the lifting of a 1201b. bar dumbbell, with a 12-stone man hanging on to it. Mr. H. Holmes tells the following story of Vulcana’s London experience. Miss Roberts was looking into a shop window in Waterloo-road a few months ago when an adventurous young gentleman summed her up as a quiet, inoffensive girl whose pockets he could easily “work.” He succeeded in getting his hand into her pocket and clutching her purse. Then thing began to happen. His reflection in the window the game away. His arm was held in an iron grip. He wrenched, but the girl was still there. The pickpocket tried the old dodge of diving under the arm whose grip held him so tightly; but as he came u on the other side Vulcana’s strong right clenched fist met him full in the face. He fell like a log.
Mount Alexander Mail, 9 December 1902

Vulcana’s partner on stage Atlas, presented as her brother, was William Roberts, her defacto husband. They never married, as he already had a wife and family. From BBC Bloodties archived web page, Vulcana and Atlas had six children who moved between relatives, boarding schools and orphanages before joining the troupe. Vulcana and Atlas finally retired in the late 1920s, but tragically, Vulcana was badly injured by a car in 1939 and suffered brain damage. She, Atlas and their daughter Mona all died within a few months of each other in 1946, Vulcana last of all.

In 1903, Vulcana and Atlas toured Australia with Rickards Company.

Truth, 21 November 1903

There is only one woman in Perth being talked about just now, and she is Vulcana, the lady muscular wonder performing at the Royal. -And she is worth raving about. In repose Vulcana is as beautifully round-limbed and proportioned as any woman ever made, but once her muscles are asked to come into play they stand out all over like the knots on the back of a sturgeon. Although not an abnormally big. woman Vulcana is a marvel at weight-lifting, and she proves conclusively that it is not size, hut muscular development, that is required to make strength. Her brother, Atlas, is also a splendid specimen of muscular development, and together the pair are well worth seeing. The Other items of the show are all good, as most of Richards’ combinations are, and it is satisfactory to know that they are drawing good houses.

Truth (Perth), 28 November 1903

Western Australian, 3 December 1903

Obviously the little lady was in a hurry when I called, and, as she explained, was packing up at very short notice having to be in Sydney the following day. Seeing Vulcana weight-lifting on the stage, one would naturally think that off it her muscular development might attract some attention. I had pictured a rather tall, massive woman, middle-aged, and with an aggressive manner. I was entirely wrong.

Mademoiselle Vulcana is just 21. Her weight is 10st. 10lb. ; her height about that of the Venus de Medici (the feminine standard), 5ft. 4in. She does not look more than eighteen as she sits chatting pleasantly and holding herself gracefully, and easily, head erect, shoulders well back, just as the average woman should. Her complexion is a pale olive, and beautifully clear ; her eyes hazel, very attractive eyes even to a woman. In them is a depth of meaning and a world of mischief. She has a pretty mouth and rather dark hair. Her figure is just sufficiently plump to be pleasing. In evening dress she would look charming, for her neck and shoulders are perfectly developed. Her limbs are soft in their normal condition, exactly as the limbs of all well-trained athletes should be until roused to the exercise they are specially needed to do. The lady is a good swimmer, fencer and boxer. She cycles a little and walks a great deal when she gets the opportunity. She comes of a strong, athletic family. Her father—a clergyman—is well developed and robust. Her mother, though not tall, is strong and healthy. Her elder sister is remarkable for her physical development, and Atlas (her brother) is a champion strong man.

“Tell me,”said I, “if before all a this physical culture you were a weakling?”

Vulcana laughed as merrily as Maud Mil?on does in “Twelfth Night.” “I never was weak. When eleven years old I lifted a 56bl weight without effort. My brother was delighted. ‘You’ll do,’ he said. Later on I tried swimming. It was at Scarborough, in the ? and at my first attempt I went quite a distance. Swimming, I think, is splendid for muscles, and everyone should practise it.”

“What about cycling?”

“It is certainly good in its way, but does not develop the body like swimming or fencing. The latter is good for women, as [?] grace to their movements.”
Punch, 28 January 1904

Elsewhere on the web:
There are plenty of pages on the web about Vulcana, although most of them repeat the same things, so I have tried for some variety.

The strongest woman n the world
BBC Radio 4: Hometruths (audio)
Vulcana Online (This blog by a great-granddaughter has a lot of extra information & pictures.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *