The first projected motion pictures in New Caledonia

The first exhibitions

It was a long time after the first public exhibition of projected motion pictures in Paris that they made their way to the antipodal French colony of New Caledonia. And the initial showings there were over and done in just a week.

The first exhibition was originally advertised to take place on Thursday, 8 April 1897 at the Hôtel de Ville of Noumea. An advertisement1 was placed in the daily newspaper La France Australe on 7 April, which was the day after the exhibitor, Auguste Plane, had arrived in Noumea aboard the French mail steamer Ville de la Ciotat.2 But the following day, the first show was advertised3 for 9 April.

On Friday, 9 April there were two double-column advertisements4,5 for the cinematographe show that would take place that night. One of these5 included a list of the fourteen films that would be shown; these were:

  1. Arrivée du train en gare d'Asnières [Arrival of a train at Asnières station]
  2. Place de la République (Paris)
  3. Le jardinier [The gardener]
  4. Charge de dragons [Dragoon charge]
  5. Enfants au bois [? Children in the woods]
  6. La leçon de bicyclettes [Bicycle lesson]
  7. Plage de Trouville [Trouville beach]
  8. La Loïe Fuller, danse serpentine [La Loïe Fuller's serpentine dance] (coloured)
  9. La ferme [The farm]
  10. Régiment de hussards anglais [English hussar regiment]
  11. Jardin d'acclimation [sic] [Zoo in Paris]
  12. 36e régiment défilant [36th regiment defiling]
  13. Sortie de l'Eglise [Leaving church]
  14. Arrestation d'un ivrogne [Arrest of a drunkard]
These films would form the core of the exhibitions over the next nights. The following night, 10 April, the same programme was shown.6 On 12 April, two films were added to this group: Panorama, vue prise d'un train express [Travelling view from an express train] and Le Czar au Panthéon [The Czar (of Russia) at the Pantheon (in Paris)]. On 13 April La grande course des automobiles à Paris [Great motor car race at Paris] was added; there was a film of the Czar called Le Czar et la Czarine, sortie du Panthéon, which was probably the same film as on the previous night. Quadrille réaliste "du Moulin Rouge" was added on 14 April.

The final show was on Thursday, 15 April, and no new film was listed.7 It was pointed out that exhibitions were due to be started in Brisbane, Queensland on 1 May 1897.8 Plane left Noumea on 16 April on board the Tanaïs and arrived at Sydney on 20 April.9

Plane used a Joly Biographe, for which he claimed to be the Australasian representative, as his projector. He said he also had two Lumière cinématographes but would not use them until Marius Sestier's contract expired at the end of April 1897. (And from 1 May 1897 Lumière instruments became available worldwide to whoever wanted them.)

The following season

Plane returned to Noumea with Charles Lomet on 5 July 1897 with both the Joly Biographe and a Lumière cinématographe. The first show, at the Eden-Concert theatre, was to have been on 11 July, but there were delays in setting up the electricity generating equipment – a petrol motor with a 2000 watt Rechnienki dynamo – that was used for both the theatre lighting and the projector lamp; the season eventually got underway on 13 July.

Fifteen films ("views") were advertised to be shown, but only 3 named:
Attaque nocturne
Danse de genre de Miss de Vere de Parisiana
La tentation de saint-Antoine10

From Monday, 19 July the programme was changed, with a new set of 15 films. Again, only a few titles were given:
Duel entre femmes du monde
Le jeux [sic] d'écarté
La Loïe Fuller – danse serpentine

On Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, a special programme for families was offered, while on Mondays and Fridays, the great success at Paris shows, Le Bain d'une Parisienne, as performed by Yvette Guilbert was shown.

Originally, the last show was to have been on Wednesday, 28 July, but because the departure of the F.M.S. Ville de la Ciotat, which would take Plane and Lomet back to Sydney, New South Wales, was delayed, there were extra evenings of exhibitions, the last of which was on 2 August 1897. Plane and Lomet eventually left for Sydney on 6 August. From there they took the Joly Biographe on a tour of Australia.

Boivin's and Mitchell's yearly visits

Georges Boivin, a son of the secretary to the French consul in Sydney, was involved with motion picture exhibition at New Caledonia from the start: he is listed as L'agent général in advertisements, from 7 April 1897.

From 1898 Boivin teamed up with a J. Mitchell to take a Lumière cinématographe and films to New Caledonia. In 1898 they showed 6 scenes from the 1896 Melbourne Cup series: Arrival of Train, Hill Platform; Arrival of H.E. Lord Brassey and Suite; Finish of the Race; The Lawn near the Band Stand; Weighing-out for the Cup; and Lady Brassey placing the Blue Ribbon on "Newhaven"; and later, Passengers leaving s.s. Brighton at Manly, Sydney on Sunday afternoon and one of the New South Wales Horse Artillery at drill at Victoria Barracks, Sydney films. They left New Caledonia to go to Fiji, and presumably showed films there. [So this may have been the first time (projected) motion pictures were shown at Fiji.]

They returned to Noumea in 1899 with new films, and this time also travelled to country towns for exhibitions.

No record has been found of either Boivin or Mitchell visiting New Caledonia in 1900.

In 1901, they took with them films of the Boer war, about which there were doubts of their authenticity, and the complete series of films of the events of the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia (which had occurred on 1 January 1901). On this visit they made 2 trips to visit country towns.

Boivin visited France in 1902 and obtained new films, and, with Mitchell, took these to New Caledonia. And again, they did a tour in the country ("la brousse").

In mid-December 1903, Boivin and Mitchell (and Mitchell's wife) returned to New Caledonia with not only a Lumière cinematographe, but a troupe of entertainers. The rest of the troupe returned to Sydney at the end of the year, but Boivin and Mitchell stayed on and took the cinematographe into the country. Following their return to Noumea they went on a tour of the New Hebrides for a few days, but from newspaper reports were unlikely to have shown films. They returned to Sydney at the end of January 1904.

During this last trip Boivin is reported to have stated in Noumea that he was going to sell all his films and to get a new collection in France. Whether he did either is not known, but he did not return to show films in New Caledonia. Over the next few years others occasionally visited the country and presented films at the Eden-Théâtre.

Incidentally, Boivin was the Sydney agent for the Noumea newspaper La France Australe from late June 1903 to 22 September 1906, when Boivin's brother Eugène and his business partner Arthur W. Pratt took over. Boivin and Pratt were agents until 15 June 1907.

Other exhibitors

After Boivin and Mitchell, others brought motion pictures to New Caledonia. Late in 1904, there were shows, always at the Eden-Theatre. Early in 1905, A. E. Ward showed films in Noumea and the country. And in July 1905, the American prestidigitator Verto showed a cinematographe.

In mid-1906 a show in a large tent in place Courbet was presented by the "State Fair" troupe, under the management of Russel and Miller; they presented an Edison cinematographe and an Edison phonograph. Before leaving at the end of July they advertised both the cinematographe and the phonograph for sale; it is not known if anyone in New Caledonia bought either.

In 1907 there was an "American cinematographe" on show, which was soon followed by the ventriloquist Bryant and his small troupe, as ever with a cinematographe. They even advertised a film of the last Melbourne Cup.

Early in 1908 saw the start of a more permanent cinema. The Modern Theatre Company put on their first show at the town hall, although a ruptured valve caused lighting difficulties. The problem was soon fixed and they put on further exhibitions at the Eden-Theatre. But Bryant and his troupe returned, and claimed to have a Pathé cinematographe to show. This brought a prompt response from L. Chenevier who stated that his company (Modern Theatre) were the sole representatives of Pathé in Noumea. Bryant quickly dropped the "Pathé" from his advertisements, but he had managed to secure the Eden-Theatre as his venue. Two weeks later Chenevier was at the Casino of the Hôtel de France, presenting films that "could only be shown properly with their Pathé Frères equipment". And his shows, both evening and matinée, were on the same days and times as Bryant's shows at the Eden-Theatre. But the battle did not continue for long. Chenevier did not advertise again until Bryant and co. left at the end of April. The Modern Theatre's exhibitions were only occasional during the rest of the year, though they did get some new films.

The first motion pictures shot in New Caledonia

During their July 1897 visit Plane and Lomet said that they had intentions to take films in New Caledonia:

MM. Plane et Lomet ont à l'étude une série de vues à prendre pendant leur séjour à Nouméa. Pilou Pilou, Bains et plongeons canaques, etc., pour la maison de Paris.
Two weeks later, because their departure was delayed,
ils emploieront en même temps les derniers jours à la prise des differents sujets calédoniens qui doivent être reproduits à Paris.
Whether any film was shot and whether any was successfully produced is not known.

When Georges Boivin and J. Mitchell visited in 1901, they were reported to have made films in Noumea on two occasions:

And again, nothing further about these films is known. The least that might have been expected is that Boivin would have shown them in New Caledonia during his visit in 1902. Maybe it was all just for show, and Boivin and Mitchell were faking film-making. Or perhaps Boivin was completely inept and all his filming attempts were failures: he claimed to have taken films in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia in August and September 1897 but the outcome is unknown.

References and notes

[1] 7 April 1897, La France Australe (Noumea, New Caledonia), p.2ab, Hôtel de Ville de Nouméa.

[2] 7 April 1897, La France Australe, p.2e, Ville-de-la-Ciotat.

[3] 8 April 1897, La France Australe, p.1ab, Hôtel de Ville de Nouméa.

[4] 9 April 1897, La France Australe, p.1ab, Hôtel de Ville de Nouméa.

[5] 9 April 1897, La France Australe, p.3cd, Hôtel de Ville de Nouméa.

[6] 10 April 1897, La France Australe, p.1ab, Hôtel de Ville de Nouméa.

[7] I am grateful to Camille Blot-Wellens for verifying this. The advertisement for the show had been cut out from the copy of the newspaper on the microfilm that I viewed. (15 April 1897, La France Australe, p.1ab)

[8] 13 April 1897, La France Australe, p.2c, Le Cinematographe.

[9] 21 April 1897, The Sydney Morning Herald, p.6a, SHIPPING.

[10] This version of The temptation of St Anthony is the one made by Eugène Pirou, not the Georges Méliès film of the same name.

Copyright © 2011 - 2020 Tony Martin-Jones Edition 3  (2020-07-30)