Albert Oscar Segerberg and
the filming of the Melbourne Cup

Image of Albert Oscar Segerberg, 1927
Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia

On 20 October 1927, the Sydney morning newspapers reported an interview given the previous day in Sydney by Albert Oscar (Bert) Segerberg at the Royal Commission on the Moving Picture Industry in Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald stated that Segerberg "claimed that he took the first moving picture in Australia. It was of the Melbourne Cup in 1896, and was shown in the Opera House, Melbourne, on the night of the race."1 The Daily Telegraph said that he claimed "he took the first moving picture ever "shot" in Australia" and the historic occasion "was when Newhaven won the Melbourne Cup in 1896."2 Everyones magazine3 for that week repeats the Telegraph's story.

But the filming of the 1896 Melbourne Cup has long been credited to Marius Sestier and H. Walter Barnett, and the several short films taken by them then are some of the very first motion pictures made in Australia. So, what is to be made of Segerberg's reported claim?

Resolution of the problem

The first public showing of one of Sestier and Barnett's films of the (3 November) 1896 Melbourne Cup took place on 19 November 1896 at the Princess' Theatre, Melbourne,4,5 more than 2 weeks after the event. Further films were first shown publicly at the Criterion Theatre, Sydney on 24 November 1896.6,7

In his evidence to the Royal Commission, Bert Segerberg said that he had been photographing films since 1896 and that he "was associated with the first picture taken in Melbourne. It was a Melbourne Cup."8 [My emphasis.] He says nothing about the fact that it was Newhaven that won the 1896 Cup, nor that the film was shown on the same day at the Opera House. Presumably the journalists added these details, possibly following conversations with Segerberg. He goes on to say that "at that time I was doing the developing work with Mr. Harvey. [sic] ... The camera was built by Mr. Thwaites, of Melbourne."8

Both the Caulfield Cup and VRC (Victoria Racing Club) Derby of 1897 were filmed and produced by Ernest Jardine Thwaites and Robert William Harvie.9,10,11,12 The 1897 Melbourne Cup was on 2 November 1897 (when Gaulus won) and the film of the race, also made by Thwaites and Harvie, was shown at the Melbourne Opera House on the same night.13,14

Thus it appears that Segerberg mixed up his dates - understandably, considering the events he was remembering occurred 30 years earlier (or intentionally?) - and that his involvement with the filming of the Melbourne Cup actually happened in 1897.

References and notes

[1] The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 October 1927, p.12d, Cinematography. Australian Pioneer.

[2] The Daily Telegraph, 20 October 1927, p.15a, Our First Movie. (The photograph of Segerberg above is from this article.)

[3] Everyones, 26 October 1927, p.10b, Australia's First.

[4] The Age, 19 November 1896, p.8h, Amusements.

[5] The Age, 20 November 1896, p.6g, Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind. Lady Brassey's Appeal.

[6] The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 November 1896, p.2d.

[7] The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 November 1896, p.6d, Amusements. The Lumiere Cinematographe.

[8] National Archives of Australia: series number A11636, control symbol 4/1, p.809b, question no. 21853.

[9] The Argus, 18 October 1897, p.3h, Theatres and Entertainments.

[10] The Argus, 18 October 1897, p.8e, Amusements.

[11] Melbourne Punch, 21 October 1897, p.332c, The Playgoer.

[12] The Age, 1 November 1897, p.8g, Amusements.

[13] The Argus, 2 November 1897, p.8g, Amusements.

[14] The Argus, 3 November 1897, p.8g, Amusements.

Copyright © 2010 - 2012 Tony Martin-Jones Film history index Edition 2.2  (2012-07-07)