The 1897-1898 cricket test match films

Late in October 1897 an English test cricket team, captained by Andrew Ernest Stoddart, arrived in Australia. They would play five test matches with the all-Australia test cricket team, several matches with various colonial teams, as well as games with local cricketers around the south-east of the continent. All these matches were, of course, international, but it is important in the following to distinguish between the matches between England and all-Australia, and those between England and a colonial team.

At some of these games motion pictures were taken by various operators. There is little mention of these filming activities in the newspapers of the time, and in no case is a cinematographer identified. Even in Prince Ranjitsinhji's book about the tour, With Stoddart's Team in Australia,1 there is no mention of any cricket activity being filmed (although there are several descriptions of still photographs being taken). Nonetheless, comparisons of the few reports of filming that were published with reviews of the content of the films enable identification of the games at which the filming took place.

The Lever and Nestlé films

In fact, there was more press attention given in Britain to one group of films than was given to any in Australia. The films in question were advertised to have been taken at the first England-Australia test match, which was played from 13 to 17 December 1897 at the Sydney Cricket Ground (which until 1894 had been known as the Association Cricket Ground). There were four films in this set:
  1. Prince Ranjitsinhji practising batting at the nets, Association Cricket Ground Sydney Australia Decr 1897
  2. Prince Ranjitsinhji and Hayward batting, running at the wickets, McKibbin bowling on occasion of test match between England and Australia at Sydney Australia Decr. 10th etc 1897
  3. English Cricket team leaving the field on occasion of test match Decr 10 etc 1897 Association Cricket Ground Sydney Australia
  4. New South Wales Cricket team leaving the field - test match Decr 10th etc 1897 Association Cricket Ground Sydney Australia
(The "titles" are from the copyright registrations of the films.)

A report in The Times2 (of London) states that the scenes were filmed on 16 December. In The British Australasian3 two days later, 16 December is also given as the date, and the English team is said to have won the day. The special correspondent for The Advertiser4 (of Adelaide) gives a date of 10 December for the film of Ranjitsinhji and Hayward. And this date is repeated in the report in The Era5 of 12 February.

The photograph on the right is of Prince (Kumar Shri) Ranjitsinhji, who was an amateur player with the English team and who was an extremely popular figure in his cricket career, enough so to be featured in two of the films. The picture is a detail from a portrait6 taken especially for "Ranji" by Falk and Co., H. Walter Barnett's photo­graphic studios.

Photograph of Prince Ranjitsinhji by Falk, 1897

Prince Ranjitsinhji
Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia

Some points regarding the first England-Australia test match are as follows.

Also, no cinematographer would have been allowed on the field during test match play, both for his safety's sake and so as not to interfere with the game. So, without a telephoto (long) lens, any filming of play would have to have been done during practice or a mock game.

The copyright records7 for the second, third, and fourth films give their dates as 10 December 1897, and for the fourth film says that it is of the New South Wales team leaving the field. But the 13 to17 December match was with the all-Australia team (which nonetheless did include several New South Wales players).

So the newspaper reports and the copyright records of the films are at odds with the details of the match that was supposedly filmed. When and where were the films shot?

From 12 to 16 November 1897, the English cricket team played the New South Wales colonial team at the Sydney Cricket Ground. On the afternoon of 11 November, i.e. prior to the match, Ranjitsinhji was practising batting. The last day of the match was 16 November, and England won. And there were reports of filming the players on this last day:

Some amusement was caused at the conclusion of the match yesterday by a number of the players going on to the field again and putting in some imaginary cricket for the special benefit of the cinematograph, the batsmen being Ranjitsinhji and Hayward, and the bowlers M'Kibbin and Richardson. About a dozen runs were scored, and then the players returned.8
A cinematographic picture was taken of the Prince and Hayward batting, Richardson and M'Kibbin bowling, Kelly keeping the wickets, and [Iredale] and Gregory in the field. Two pictures were taken, one while "Ranji" was batting and the other when Hayward was striking.9

These match well this report in The Era of the second film:

The moment chosen for photographing our men batting is when Hayward and Prince Ranjitsinjhi [sic] are in together. Both seem to be playing a very free game, and apparently are doing what they like with the bowling.10

Both Ranji and Hayward had been batting (and were not out) at the end of the match and thus had their pads on, so it would have been little trouble to them to return to the field for filming. It can thus be concluded that the film of them batting was made on this occasion - on 16 November 1897. Also, the English side were fielding at the start of the day's play, and the remaining New South Wales batsmen were dismissed in the first half-hour. So the English team leaving the field (film no. 3) could well have been taken at this point, with the New South Welshmen being filmed leaving at the end of the match (no. 4).

The only one of these films (known to be) still in existence is that of Ranjitsinhji practising (no. 1), and it is not obvious when this was taken: if not on the same day as the other 3 films then presumably at some other time during this particular match. (Note that no specific date is given on the copyright record.) Further details of this film are below.

Who shot these films? In the copyright record7 for each of them, "Henry Walter Barnett, Falk Studios, Melbourne [, Australia]" is named as the "Author of Work".24 But H. Walter Barnett was not the cinematographer, because he was not in Australia at the time. He had departed for London on 1 February 189711 and did not return to Australia until 3 March 1903.12 A letter from his friend, the painter Arthur Streeton to him in London can be dated to the last months of 1897,25 thus implying that Barnett was in London (or not far therefrom) at least some of this time. And a note from London with date 10 December 1897 in Melbourne's Punch26 newspaper tells us:

H. W. Barnett (Falk, of Melbourne) has been ill with rheumatism. His many friends will be glad to know he is better and goes to the south of France shortly for the winter.
He could not have filmed in Sydney on 16 November and been back in London by 10 December.27

H. Walter's younger brother, Charles Barnett and their younger (and only) sister, Phoebe Barnett, were also photographers, and apparently working for Falk Studios at the time. Falk's did produce still photographs of some of the English players, including the one of Ranji shown above, so it is quite possible that the cinematographer of the cricket films is Charles or Phoebe. Or it might have been another member of the Falk staff.

On 20 August 1898 at the Melbourne Town Hall as part of a variety show in aid of the East Melbourne Cricket Club, local motion pictures were "exhibited by Messrs. Falk and Co.", whose operator was Stephen Bond.29 Possibly Bond had taken these pictures, and maybe the cricket films 9 months earlier.

To sum up, contrary to how the films were advertised and were identified in their copyright records, numbers 2, 3, and 4 were taken on 16 November 1897 at the Sydney Cricket Ground, when the visiting English team were playing the New South Wales colonial team. And the cinematographer was not Henry Walter Barnett.

Notes on these films

The four films were sponsored by a combination (for advertising purposes) of the companies Lever Brothers, of Sunlight soap fame, and Nestlé, of infant food celebrity, and were first shown publicly on 7 February 1898 at the Alhambra Theatre, London, England. As test cricket matches were then still in progress in Australia and were very much in the news in England, the films were a major success.

There appears to have been a limited showing of these films in Australia. Philip Newbury presented them as part of his "Saturday Shilling Pops" shows in Melbourne at the end of May 1898, and in Sydney in October of that year. One may have been shown in Adelaide in July 1899. There are references to other showings of films with Ranji, but it is sometimes not possible to determine if any such film is from the Lever and Nestlé set or is one of the other films mentioned below.

The films were made with a Lumière cinématographe, as is evidenced by the one-per-frame-side circular sprocket holes visible in the copyright proof strips. The inside edge of one of these sprocket holes is just visible in the frame image below.

Prince Ranjitsinhji practising batting at the nets

This is the only one of the four films of which a copy survives.

The image on the right is of a frame from about 12.5 seconds into the film and shows Ranji in position waiting for the next ball.
It is a detail taken from a videotape copy of the actual film.

In the near background behind the practice nets is a light-coloured wall surmounted by a short picket fence. Behind this is a section of upward-sloping, open land before a high picket fence, one section of which is missing. And behind this is a small group of trees. Nothing but sky is visible beyond this.

The man wearing a bowler hat standing behind the net behind the stumps remains almost immobile throughout the film.

No bowler is in frame, and the only time the ball is obviously visible is as a blur on one frame before Ranji's fifth stroke.28

The inside edge of one of the sprocket holes is just visible as a black mark on the left edge of the frame near the feet of the behind-the-net observer.

The frame images provided for copyright registration are laterally inverted: Ranji was a right-handed batsman, as seen in the adjacent image.

Some of the following notes are taken from the British Film Institute's Film and TV Database entry for the film (with amendments).

The original film is 11.3 m (37 ft) in length [How many frames are there?], and plays for about 47 seconds.
The camera is positioned in the silly mid-off area, behind the side netting.

Ranjitsinhji plays the following strokes:
a drive towards extra cover,
a push on the leg side off the front foot,
a pull over mid-wicket,
a drive to extra cover,
a drive to extra cover.
A man comes into the picture to retrieve the ball.
Ranjitsinhji then plays to leg off the back foot,
a square drive,
a pull over mid-on,
a drive to extra cover,
and then moves into position for another drive.

Ranjitsinhji practising batting at the nets

Prince Ranjitsinhji practising batting at the nets
Image courtesy of the
National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA)

Prince Ranjitsinhji and Hayward batting and running at the wickets, McKibbin bowling

The Advertiser4 says of this film that "Ranji and Hayward are batting, and the former makes a splendid hit for four. We see them run it out, [...]". As one of the newspaper reports of the filming (above) states that two films were taken, one of Ranji batting and another of Hayward striking, does this imply that the film of Hayward was not successfully produced or not worth presenting?

The example frame images for copyright are negatives. The camera is positioned not far behind the wicket at the bowling end, with a clear view to Ranji at the other wicket.

English cricket team leaving the field

New South Wales cricket team leaving the field

The image on the right is from a photograph by Kerry and Co., entitled "The Englishmen take the field", on page 1073 of the 20 November 1897 issue of The Sydney Mail newspaper. Access to the playing field of the Sydney Cricket Ground was by the steps to the top, outside edge of the cycle track that was around the inside periphery of the field. In the copyright proof strips for the "leaving the field" films (no's 3 and 4), these steps and the short paling fence around the outside of the cycle track are clearly visible in the foreground.

The copyright frame images are taken from similar points-of-view, though the camera is somewhat higher so more of the playing field is visible in each.

The Englishmen take the field

The Englishmen take the field
Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia

Other films taken at this series of cricket matches

(1) The English and Victorian teams played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground from 6 to 10 November 1897. In the following month in north-west Tasmania, Colonel Lumare's Cinematographe and Variety Company showed a film (supposedly) taken at this match.13 In January 1898, in Hobart, Tasmania and nearby, this film was on show.14 From 23 to 25 February, at the Academy of Music, Launceston, Tasmania, "the test match, England v. Australia, taken on the Melbourne Cricket Ground"15 [my emphasis] was part of the programme, but the film was from the England-Victoria match, as reported in the local paper:

Some very fine scenes were shown by the cinematographe, including [...], also a clear view of the English cricket eleven at present visiting the colonies, which was taken on the Melbourne Cricket Ground on November 9 last. The cricketers were taken as they were proceeding from the pavilion to the reserve.16

On 9 November 1897 the English cricket team went on the field 3 times during the day's play, at the start of their innings, after the lunch break, and after the afternoon break, so the filming could have been done on any one of these occasions. Unfortunately, there is no record of it in the major Melbourne newspapers. The cinematographer, whoever he was, could have positioned himself with a view of the way to the field and filmed unobtrusively.

This film is the first film with a cricket theme shot in Australia.

(2) Mark Blow, of the Crown Studios and the (Sydney) Polytechnic, made a film at one of the matches against England. The first mention of it was on 24 January 1898, when it is referred to in advertisements as "COLONIAL CRICKETERS. FIRST TEST MATCH.",17 but on the next and subsequent days it is called "AUSTRALIAN CRICKETERS. First Test Match.".18 On 1 February the advertisement in The Sydney Morning Herald gives considerable detail:

during the First Test Match.
Messrs. Darling, Iredale, M'Leod, Hill, Gregory, Trumble,
Lyons, Trott, Kelly, Jones, and M'Kibbin.
Ranjitsinhji and M'Laren.19
And a review on 5 February states:
The newest cinematographe pictures comprise one of the first test cricket match, showing the Australians, Ranjitsinhji, M’Laren, and the umpires going off the field.20

The first England v. all-Australia match finished on 17 December 1897, and the Australian players listed above were those of the Australian team at that match. Also, Ranjitsinhji and McLaren were batting when the score reached a winning value (for the English team) and play stopped. There is no mention of a cinematographe being used at (the end of) the game, but this would appear to be when Blow filmed. If the film simply showed the players and umpires leaving the field, then Blow could have stationed himself with a clear view of the steps to the field and cranked away without being noticed.

(3) The second England v. Australia match was played from 1 to 5 January 1898 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. On the morning of the first day, advertisements21 proclaimed that on that evening at an entertainment at the Exhibition Building, Melbourne, Ranjitsinhji and A.E. Johns, a Victorian wicketkeeper, would be shown in play by an "Edison cinematographe". Later newspaper reports22,23 mentioned that the tossing of the coin (to decide which team would be first to bat) by Harry Trott and A.C. (Archie) Maclaren, the Australian captain and acting English captain, respectively, had been filmed, as well as Trott batting (though only to demonstrate his technique and not during the match). There was no report of Johns at the wicket and Ranji was still ill and did not want to expend more energy than necessary, so wasn't filmed. The films were presented by Alex. Gunn,23 but it is not known who shot them.

References and notes

[1] Prince Ranjitsinhji: With Stoddart's Team in Australia;
James Bowden, London, 1898 (various editions).

[2] The Times (London), 8 February 1898, p.6b, The Alhambra Theatre.

[3] The British Australasian (London), 10 February 1898, p.309a, Colonial Gossip.

[4] The Advertiser (Adelaide), 15 March 1898, p.6c, English Sporting Notes (dated 11 February 1898).

[5] The Era (London), 12 February 1898, Music Hall Gossip.

[6] The Australasian (Melbourne), 1 January 1898, p.28 and p.30b, Cricket Pictures.

[7] The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO) COPY 1/434 Copyright Office: Entry Forms, etc.
The copyright records are dated 1 February 1898, and Fuerst Brothers of London are the "Proprietor of Copyright".
I have only seen digital images of the copyright records, as shown on the NFSA's Web site:
No. 1,   No. 2,   No. 3,   No. 4.

[8] The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 November 1897, p.8d, International Cricket.

[9] The Australian Star (Sydney), 17 November 1897, p.5c, The Cricket Match; Some Chatty Notes.

[10] The Era, 19 February 1898, p.20a, The London Music Halls.

[11] Letters from Smike: the letters of Arthur Streeton, 1890-1943, pp.70-72;
compiled and edited by Ann Galbally and Anne Gray;
Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1989.
In a letter to Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton gives some detail of how he travelled with Barnett by rail from Melbourne to Adelaide, where they boarded the ship F.M.S. Polynésien.

[12] The Argus (Melbourne), 3 March 1903, p.5b (news item):
"[...] Mr. Barnett has been in London for some six years past, [...]"

[13] The North-West Post (Hobart), 9 December 1897, p.2e and p.3b.

[14] The Mercury (Hobart), 25 January 1898, p.2h, The Lumare Combination.

[15] Launceston Examiner (Launceston, Tasmania), 22 February 1898, p.6f, Amusements, Cinematographe Company.

[16] Launceston Examiner, 24 February 1898, p.5a, Current Topics, Cinematographe Company.

[17] The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 January 1898, p.2d, Amusements, Polytechnic.

[18] e.g. The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 January 1898, p.2f, Amusements, Polytechnic.

[19] The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 February 1898, p.2a, Amusements, Polytechnic.

[20] The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 February 1898, p.12g, Amusements, Polytechnic.

[21] The Age (Melbourne), 1 January 1898, p.10f, Amusements;
ibid., p.9d, Amusements.

[22] The Argus, 3 January 1898, p.5f, The Test Match;
The Age, 3 January 1898, p.5g, International Cricket.

[23] The Age, 3 January 1898, p.3h, Amusements.

[24] Intriguingly, on each form Barnett's name was added later, and in two stages: first "H W Barnett" was written above "Falk Studios"; then "enry" was added (obliquely) to the "H" and "alter" to the "W", because names were required to be written in full. Presumably the legal requirement was that the author's name had to be that of a person and unambiguous. And if this is the case, was H.W. Barnett the only person from Falk Studios whose name was known to whoever filled in the forms? In other words, a name was needed regardless of the veracity of its application.

[25] Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney: W.H. Gill papers, vol.14 (Z ML MSS.285/14), frame 69.
Streeton told Barnett not to miss the play The Children of the King at the Court Theatre, London. This production ran from 13 October 1897 to early November, and again, in a revised form, at various dates in December. (The datestamp is not legible on the microfilm copy of the letter's envelope.)

[26] Punch (Melbourne), 20 January 1898, p.57d, Our London Letter.
The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia drew attention to this item in mid-2014.

[27] The information in the Punch note does not preclude the (very slight) possibility of Barnett having his bout of rheumatism while on a ship returning from Australia!

[28] I am told by Dr Luke McKernan, Curator of Moving Image at the British Library that on the film copy the ball can just be discerned on more than one occasion.

[29] The Argus, 20 August 1898, p.16d, Amusements.

Copyright © 2010 - 2015 Tony Martin-Jones Edition 3.1  (2015-03-17)