Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online

Lumière

The Lumière Collection includes over 30 actuality films made in 1899 by Frederick Charles Wills and Henry William Mobsby which record Queensland agricultural processes and daily life at the end of the 19th century.

Highlights of the collection include the only surviving footage of Australian Boer War troops departing for service – see Boer War Transvaal Contingent (1899). The collection also includes footage of the opening of Queensland Parliament (Opening of Queensland Parliament, 1899), and brief footage captured in the Torres Strait (Darnley Islanders Pay Tribute, 1899).

The Queensland Department of Agriculture funded the world’s first government film production project in October 1898. The official photographer for the project was Frederick Charles Wills who was assisted by Henry William Mobsby. Together they produced over 30 films using a Lumière Cinematographe, a camera which combined the functions of a moving image camera, printer and projector, invented by Louis and Auguste Lumière in the 1890s. An additional benefit of the Cinematographe was that the camera was hand-cranked and therefore was not dependent on electricity. These features allowed for flexbility where an operator could work independently in a 'foreign locale’ (see Cinema Papers, 1993, No. 96, p 35). Wills and Mobsby were appointed to film agricultural processes and national events to attract British farmers to settle in Australia.

Although most of the films are approximately one minute long, they illustrate the innovative film techniques of Frederick Charles Wills. The filmmakers used a moving viewpoint, a technique never seen before in Australia. Wills also used simple edits to construct a narrative. According to film historian Chris Long, the films had limited screenings in Britain in 1900 but, aside from a private screening inside the Queensland Department of Agriculture, were never shown publicly in Australia.

In 1955 after Wills’s death, the collection of films was transferred from the Queensland Department of Agriculture to the Queensland Museum. The Lumière Cinematographe used by Mobsby and Wills is held in the Museum’s collection. Copies of 27 of the surviving segments are held at the National Film and Sound Archive, and in 1999 were stretch-printed to achieve projection at close to real-time (resulting in the footage you see on this site).

Titles in this collection

Boer War Transvaal Contingent 1899

Using a hand-cranked Lumiere Cinematographe, photographer Frederick Charles Wills captured the Queensland contingents departing for the Boer War.

Building Construction 1899

The official photographer of the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Frederick Charles Wills, films a building construction site in 1899.

Darnley Islanders Pay Tribute 1899

Early footage documenting a visit to the Torres Strait by the Queensland Home Secretary, the Hon. Justin FG Foxton, and his wife.

Dipping Sheep 1899

This short clip shows sheep being dipped in arsenic on a Queensland farm in 1899.

Government Party Boards SS Lucinda 1899

In this actuality footage from 1899, Queensland politicians board the paddle steamer Lucinda, moored at a wharf on the Brisbane River.

Loading Horses on the SS Cornwall 1899

Horses board the SS Cornwall on 31 October 1899, prior to the ship’s departure for the Boer War.

Newtown Railway Station 1899

This actuality footage from 1899 shows a train arriving at Petersham or Newtown Railway Station in Sydney’s inner west.

North Shore Steam Ferry 1899

This short clip from 1899 shows a steam ferry docking at the Milsons Point Ferry Wharf in Sydney.

Opening of Queensland Parliament 1899

This short clip shows the Queensland Governor arriving by horse-drawn carriage to open Queensland Parliament on 18 May 1899.

Queen Street and Victoria Bridge 1899

Using an original Lumière Cinematographe, Frederick Charles Wills and his assistant, Henry William Mobsby, capture a busy Brisbane intersection in 1899.

Roma Street Station 1899

This short clip shows a train pulling up to Roma Street Station, Brisbane in 1899.

South Sea Islanders Cutting Cane 1899

Photographer Frederick Charles Wills and his assistant, Henry William Mobsby, capture Melanesian labourers cutting cane in Queensland in 1899.

SS Katoomba Unloading 1899

This actuality footage from 1899 shows the unloading of timber spars from the SS Katoomba at a busy wharf in Brisbane.

Sugar Mills, Nambour 1899

In this actuality footage from 1899, a horse drags a load of cane to a sugar mill where it is fed onto a conveyor belt for crushing.

Threshing at Allora 1899

This 1899 actuality footage shows workers tossing wheat sheaves into a threshing machine on a Queensland farm.

Wheat Harvesting with Reaper and Binder 1899

The official photographer of the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Frederick Charles Wills, films a farmer and his wheat harvest on a property in Jimbour.