The Joly-Normandin Biographe in Australia
and South Africa

In the second half of 1897 a Joly-Normandin Biographe was shown at various places in the Australian colonies by two Frenchmen, Auguste Plane and Charles Lomet.1 There were two models of this type of cinematographe, which both used 35 mm film: one with 5 sprocket holes per side per frame and another with 4 sprocket holes, to be compatible with Edison films; which model was used in Australia is not known, but it was probably the 4-hole model which could also show Lumière films if these had "American" performations. Plane and Lomet also exhibited a Lumière cinématographe, which has confused matters in trying to determine which films were shown with which projector.

The time and place of Plane's first arrival in Australia have not been determined. On 19 May 1896 a Mr. Plane arrived at Sydney from Noumea, New Caledonia on board the Tanaïs;2 in all likelihood this was Auguste Plane. He later claimed to have been an assistant of Marius Sestier during the latter's exhibitions of a Lumière cinematographe in "Sud Australien" [sic].3 He departed from Sydney on 3 April 1897 on board the steamer Ville de la Ciotat to go to Noumea4 to present the first motion pictures in New Caledonia, using (so he said) a Joly machine.

Charles Lomet arrived at Sydney, New South Wales on 30 April 1897 on board the French mail steamer Polynésien5 (which, coincidentally, on its return voyage would take Marius Sestier and wife back to France). He brought with him some recent films for the Joly Biographe.6

On 1 July 1897 Plane and Lomet left Sydney on board the Tanaïs to give further exhibitions in New Caledonia. On this visit, it was stated that Plane had made films in Australia (with which cinematographe is not noted) and was planning to shoot films in New Caledonia, all to be sent to Paris. It was also reported that Plane and Lomet were organising a very long tour of Australia.7 They left on 6 August 1897 on board the French mail steamer Ville de la Ciotat, arriving back in Sydney on 9 August.8

Exhibitions in Australia

For the next 2 weeks their activities are not known. On 23 and 24 August 1897 they presented films at the School of Arts hall in Nowra, on the south coast of New South Wales.9 Although both a Joly biographe and Lumière cinematographe were advertised to be used, it appears that only the Lumière machine was put to work. Their advertisements had stressed that the Joly projector would be shown, and special mention was given to the two films Criminal Assault in Paris and The Temptation of St. Anthony.10 For whatever reasons, and in spite of enthusiasm from the local press, the attendances at these shows were not good.11

For 25 and 26 August they moved up the coast to Kiama, showing at the Oddfellows' Hall.12 The review in the Kiama newspaper13 repeats that from the Nowra paper, in which only Lumière films are mentioned, so it is not known if the Joly-Normandin machine was in fact used, or if the Kiama reviewer even attended, and simply repeated the earlier review in the expectation that the show would be the same!

They again moved north, to Wollongong, showing at the Town Hall there on 27 and 28 August.14 This time biographe films are mentioned in the review; and it was noted that Lumière's cinematograph would be exhibited on the night of Saturday, 28 August.15 But on the first night two pictures were shown "which aroused much enthusiasm": Scene at corner of King and Elizabeth-streets and Manly beach:
The turn-out for the Saturday show was reported to be "of miserable proportions".16

There is another gap, of about a week, when Plane and Lomet's movements aren't known. In The Sydney Morning Herald of 1 September, two advertisements were published:

TO Theatrical Managers - Biographe, latest patent; accept Partnership, Variety Comp'y. Biographe, Herald.
FOR SALE, Lumiere's Cinematographe, 50 films, entirely new, last subjects. Lumiere, Herald Office.
Were these submitted by Plane and Lomet? If so, they didn't sell the Lumière machine, because it was used in later shows. And whether or not this advertisement attracted a partner is not known.

From 3 September they started advertising for shows at the Masonic Hall, Newcastle, New South Wales.17 On 8 September there was a private showing of the biographe18; the public season commenced the following night.19 Their final showing in Newcastle was on 14 September, on which date they claimed they had a "Special Engagement in Sydney" to attend20 – despite having announced the day before shows several days in advance. Nothing has been found about this supposed Sydney show.

From 2 to 16 October 1897 they showed at the "Biographe Hall", 187 Collins Street, Melbourne, Victoria. They advertised that they would show the "late great bull fight at Madrid" along with 14 other pictures. Initially, and this seems to have been a regular problem, there were difficulties in getting the Biographe operating properly, and so at first only the Lumière films were shown. (This fact was remarked upon by the reviewer for Melbourne's The Age newspaper, but escaped the attention of The Argus' reviewer.) It was not until a week later, on 9 October, that the Joly films were to have been shown, with the claim that they were "The Longest Pictures yet Shown in Australia"; but nearly all, if not all, the films named in the following review in The Age were Lumière titles.

On 20 October, Plane and Lomet left Melbourne on board the steamer Wollowra, with "5 pkgs cinematographe" listed amongst the exports, for Fremantle, Western Australia, which port they reached late on 29 October. They were due to show films the following night at the Cremorne Theatre, Perth as part of Charles Harper's Biographe Vaudeville Company's entertainment, but there were delays in getting the equipment off the ship; the first show took place on 1 November.

They next showed at the Bijou Theatre, Fremantle, Western Australia from 8 – 13 November 1897. Then followed country visits to York, Northam, and, on 19 November, at Southern Cross, Western Australia. The goldfields town of Coolgardie had shows at Cremorne Gardens from 20 – 26 November. Following this the Miners' Institute at Kalgoorlie was to have its opening show on 1 December, but whether or not the company performed on this night is not known: the following day their advertisement stated:

OWING to the ILLNESS of SEVERAL MEMBERS of the Company, and being
Unable to PROCURE other ARTISTS at once, the MANAGEMENT has been
Compelled to
A month later a Western Australian reviewer noted that "The Biographe lately brought out by Mr. Harper entailed a loss upon that gentleman, ..."20·2

The West Australian newspaper carried, on 6 and 7 December, advertisements for the sale of a "biograph machine" - cheap, owner leaving colonies.20·3

Plane and Lomet left Fremantle on board the Innamincka on 8 December 1897,20·4 arriving in Melbourne on 15 December.20·5

Shows in South Africa

What became of Charles Lomet is not known, but Auguste Plane, on 22 December, left Melbourne for South Africa on the steamer Bungaree,21 which reached Durban on 24 January 189822 and Cape Town on 27 January.23 (Plane may have disembarked at Durban, and taken the mail steamer Roslin Castle to Cape Town, arriving on 31 January.24) At Cape Town he teamed up with the showman and circus manager Frank E. Fillis, who incorporated the Lumière and Joly cinematographes into his show.

On 2 February, Fillis advertised "THE ORIGINAL JOLY'S CINEMATOGRAPH, Direct from the Empire Theatre, London",25 and on the following day, "LUMERE'S [sic] & JOLY'S CINEMATOGRAPHS ... under the supervision of Mons. PLANE", promising

Realistic and Lifelike Representations of Paris, London, St. Petersburg, Berlin, Madrid, Melbourne, Sydney, New York, The Klondyke Gold-fields.26

On 4 February, the first night of the showing of the cinematograph(s), a list of films is advertised, which includes The Caulfield Cup, Melbourne and The Principal Streets of Melbourne.27 It appears that only the Lumière machine was shown on that and subsequent nights, for on 12 February, the advertisement promises "To-Night, for the First Time, JOLY'S FAMOUS CINEMATOGRAPH", showing "The Melbourne Caulfield Cup! The Australian Electric Starting Machine! "Amberite" Winning the Cup!", amongst others.28

The cinematograph(s) were included in Fillis' Cape Town shows until, at least, 9 March,29 but were not mentioned in advertisements from 10 March on. The last show was on 19 March, after which they went to Johannesburg,30 opening there on 25 March.31 No cinematograph is advertised there until 15 April,32 when both are mentioned; but soon after only the Lumière machine is referred to.33 But The Caulfield Cup was advertised to be shown with this cinematograph34 (though it may not have been), so it is not clear exactly what was in use.

After Johannesburg, Fillis and co. went to Pretoria35 and presumably elsewhere in (South) Africa. Following the few mentions at the beginning of February 1898, Plane's name does not appear in Fillis' advertisements, so it is not known what happened to him. And what became of his Lumière and Joly-Normandin cinematographes and their films is equally a mystery.

References and notes

I am much indebted to film historian Camille Blot-Wellens for information about the Joly-Normandin cinematographes. She has been engaged in a thorough study of these machines and the films for them, and their use around the world. See her El cinematógrafo Joly-Normandin (1896-1897); Dos colecciones: João Anacleto Rodrigues y Antonino Sagarminaga for a detailed analysis of two sets of Joly-Normandin films.

[1] Little is known about Plane and Lomet. Even confirming Plane's forename took considerable research. He was born in 1867 at Clermont-Ferrand, central France, and died in 1929. Plane wrote the books L'Amazonie (Paris, Plon-Nourrit, 1903) and A Travers l'Amérique Equatoriale: Le Pérou (Paris, Plon-Nourrit, 1903), in which he is referred to as a "Chargé de missions commerciales" (though for whom is not stated). Lomet was born c.1866, most likely in France.

[2] 1896-05-20, The Sydney Morning Herald, p.6a, SHIPPING.
(See 1896-05-15, La France australe (Noumea, New Caledonia), p.3a for departure.)

[3] 1897-04-13, La France australe, p.2c, CORRESPONDANCE.
An entry dated 1896-11-21 in Sestier's book of accounts for his Indian and Australian tour notes "Plane elect" with a cost of £2/10/0. This date was immediately after Sestier finished showing his Lumière cinématographe in Melbourne, and appears to represent a payment to Plane for electrical work. (There is no other reference to Plane in Sestier's accounts.)
The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) details for the copy of Sestier's account book are:
I am greatly indebted to Mme. Dominique Petitbois and M. Robert Sestier, great-grandchildren of Marius Sestier, for allowing me to consult (the copy of) this invaluable document.

[4] 1897-04-07, La France australe, p.2e, VILLE-DE-LA-CIOTAT.

[5] 1897-04-30, Sydney, New South Wales shipping master's reports, Polynésien.

[6] 1897-07-08, La France australe, p.2d, Cinematographe.

[7] 1897-07-15, La France australe, p.2b,c, LE CINEMATOGRAPHE
1897-07-31, La France australe, p.2b, Cinematographe.

[8] 1897-08-09, Shipping Master's Reports, Sydney, Ville de la Ciotat.

[9] 1897-08-21, Shoalhaven Telegraph (Nowra, NSW), p.3de, School of Arts, Nowra.

[10] 1897-08-21, Shoalhaven Telegraph, p.2b, Local and General.

[11] 1897-08-25, Shoalhaven Telegraph, p.2c, The Cinematographe;
1897-08-25, Shoalhaven Telegraph, p.2f, Reverberations.

[12] 1897-08-24, Kiama Independent (Kiama, NSW), p.3cd, Oddfellows' Hall, Kiama.

[13] 1897-08-26, Kiama Independent, p.3a, The Biograph.

[14] 1897-08-24, Illawarra Mercury (Wollongong, NSW), p.3fg, Town Hall, Wollongong;
1897-08-24, Illawarra Mercury, p.2g, The Biograph.

[15] 1897-08-28, Illawarra Mercury, p.2b, The Biograph.

[16] 1897-08-31, Illawarra Mercury, p.2g.

[17] 1897-09-03, The Newcastle Morning Herald, p.1d, AMUSEMENTS.

[18] 1897-09-07, The Newcastle Morning Herald, p.4g, CURRENT EVENTS.
1897-09-09, The Newcastle Morning Herald, p.5g, Last Night's Entertainments., THE MASONIC HALL.
1897-09-09, The Sydney Morning Herald, p.8d, NEWCASTLE.

[19] 1897-09-09, The Newcastle Morning Herald, p.1e, AMUSEMENTS., MASONIC HALL.
1897-09-10, The Newcastle Morning Herald, p.4f, CURRENT EVENTS., THE BIOGRAPH

[20] 1897-09-14, The Newcastle Morning Herald, p.1e, AMUSEMENTS., MASONIC HALL.

[20·1] 1897-12-02, Kalgoorlie Miner, p.6b, Amusements., MINERS' INSTITUTE.

[20·2] 1898-01-09, West Australian Sunday Times, p.7, Evenings from Home.

[20·3] 1897-12-07, The West Australian, p.3, Wanted to Sell.

[20·4] 1897-12-09, The West Australian, p.4a, SHIPPING INTELLIGENCE.

[20·5] 1897-12-16, Argus, p.4a, SHIPPING INTELLIGENCE.

[21] Victoria (Australia), outwards passengers index.

[22] 1898-01-25, Standard and Diggers’ News (Johannesburg, South Africa), p.5a, Special Shipping News, Port Natal.

[23] 1898-01-28, Cape Times (Capetown, South Africa), p.2j, Shipping Intelligence.

[24] 1898-01-31, Cape Times, Shipping Intelligence.

[25] 1898-02-02, Cape Times, p.4c, Fillis' Amphitheatre.
It was claimed that the cinematographe was a "European Engagement" and had arrived by the Roslin Castle, which suggests that Plane took this ship from Durban to Capetown.

[26] 1898-02-03, Cape Times, p.4b, Fillis' Amphitheatre.

[27] 1898-02-04, Cape Times, p.4b, Fillis' Amphitheatre.

[28] 1898-02-12, Cape Times, p.4b, Fillis' Amphitheatre.
(Every title finished with an exclamation mark.)

[29] 1898-03-09, Cape Times, p.4b, Fillis' Amphitheatre.

[30] 1898-03-19, Cape Times.

[31] 1898-03-25, Standard and Diggers’ News, p.2.

[32] 1898-04-15, Standard and Diggers’ News, p.3b, Amusements, Fillis' Amphitheatre.

[33] 1898-04-18, Standard and Diggers’ News, p.3b, Amusements, Fillis' Amphitheatre.

[34] 1898-04-23, Standard and Diggers’ News, p.3b, Amusements, Fillis' Amphitheatre.

[35] 1898-06-08, Referee (Sydney), p.7, Notes from South Africa.

Copyright © 2018 Tony Martin-Jones Edition 1  (2018-10-02)