Georges BOIVIN

(Paris, 1859-1940)

boivingeorges 

Family photo c. 1893. Courtesy: Dyson Collection, NFSA

1

Sally JACKSON
National Film and Sound Archive of Australia

Georges Edouard Denis Boivin, second son of Eugene Denis Boivin (Paris, 1824 – Balmain, 1907) and Clémence Bercher (Paris, 1835 - Balmain, 1907) was born on 14 October 1859 at Rue St Denis, 130 Paris (6e). Georges arrived in Australia with his mother in 1882 settling in Sydney. The rest of the family arrived in Australia over the next few years. Georges returned to Paris around 1919 and married his second cousin, Marie Eugenie Costier (Paris, 1877 – Paris, 1947) in Paris on 31 December 1921. Georges died at his home at 105 boulevard Richard Lenoir, Paris (11e) on 11 March 1940.

With his extended family Georges lived in the Sydney suburbs of Glebe, Hunters Hill and Balmain in those days places of gracious homes and lifestyles. “Chambly”, the family’s home in Glebe, once the Wigram Allen’s “Lynwood”, offered select high class accommodation. During 1896-1897 the frères Lumière representative Marius Sestier and Marie-Rose Sestier stayed there. The Boivins were very well connected within Sydney high society and theatrical circles and were able to facilitate Sestier’s work. One of the factors in this was that Georges’ elder brother Cyr Eugene Boivin (Paris, 6e, 22/10/1856-Sydney, [|6]/09/1909) worked in the French Consulate and at the time of Sestier’s visit was the acting French Chancellor. This meant that the Boivin family were invited to everything of an official or high profile nature. Over the years Georges’ occupations in Australia were various including as a warehouseman, a language teacher, a poet and lecturer on historical events or social issues and a shipping agent. But it is his work in the global dissemination of the cinema which gives him an international significance.

Friends relate that he cut an elegant figure, not surprising as his family had once been a key fashion house, Boivin aîné and Boivin Jeune of Paris, but they also point out he had a hard time acclimatising to the Australian lifestyle. He split his time between Australia and Nouvelle Calédonie from 1883 onwards and of the many friends he made two are of significance here: master mechanics Auguste Plane (1867-1928) and Charles Lomet (1867-?). These three people, working together or separately, toured their cinematographes throughout Queensland, NSW and Victoria, and more significantly were the first in Nouvelle Calédonie.

Exactly when Georges began working with the cinematographe is not clear but may have been from 23 December 1896 onwards when Marius Sestier left Sydney for Adelaide. The Cinématographe Lumière continued to operate in Sydney during Sestier’s absence and Georges may have been involved. However, there is little doubt that from April 1897 Boivin and Plane were working together when they took a cinematographe to Nouvelle Calédonie under the name of Plane et Cie. Georges Boivin was listed as L’Agent General and the screenings which took place over a week were the first in Nouvelle Calédonie. Boivin and Plane returned to Queensland’s capital city Brisbane to present the Cinématographe Lumière, acquired from Sestier before he left Australia, during the Queensland International Exhibition organised by fellow Frenchman Louis Joubert. During this time Boivin and Plane parted ways to tour separately: Plane with Charles Lomet and Boivin with W.G. Pearse. The latter team travelled and worked together for 5 or 6 months throughout Queensland and New South Wales.

By March 1898 Boivin had new partners, Mr G Mitchell and Henry Schultz. Together these three men spent around 6 weeks in Nouvelle Calédonie before arriving in Fiji. Mitchell may have been an electrician or mechanic but details are sketchy. Schultz, based in Fiji and Samoa was an importer/exporter who travelled frequently between New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and Samoa. It was Schultz who facilitated the tour by Boivin and Mitchell, who were often referred to as the “two experts”. While not the first time a cinematographe was screened in Fiji, Boivin and Mitchell do appear to be the first to present a cinematographe in Samoa. They may also have screened in Tonga or other Polynesian islands during their trip which ended on 16 August 1898 when they embarked on their return journey via New Zealand

Boivin and Mitchell returned to Nouvelle Calédonie for several tours through 1902 to 1904 mainly situated at L’Eden Theatre in Nouméa but also touring through regional areas like La Foa and Thio. In 1904 accompanied by Mrs Mitchell they took passage on the first French ship from Nouméa for the New Hebrides. The journey was short and there’s no indication they showed films on the ship or at their destination, but it is possible. Georges Boivin is believed to have continued to visit Nouméa working with the L’Eden Theatre until 1907.

Possibly from his family’s prestigious position within the Parisian fashion industry Georges Boivin understood the value of marketing the excellent, the familiar and the desirable in this instance “Australian” films and the Cinématographe Lumière. Knowing that films with Australian content were sure drawcards he always headlined them. At this time those would have been the films made by Sestier and Barnett. After completing his stay in Brisbane, Boivin with his new business partner W.G. Pearse, headed south and in Bathurst, NSW a stay of a few nights saw Boivin take advantage of the distance between rural NSW and the rest of the country and adapt some of the titles swapping the original locations for Australian ones: Cyclists and Equestrians, Hyde Park became Cyclists and Equestrians, Macquarie Street Sydney; Breaking down a Wall became Breaking Down a Wall in Sydney; Balançoires became The Swings in Melbourne and so on. It is of course possible that these were Australian-filmed versions of the original films but this is easy to doubt and too hard to prove. However, it is in Bathurst that Boivin is recorded as having made a film, the first time his filmmaking ventures are reported. At Bathurst’s inaugural Ball held in the School of Arts Hall it was described that a film of a waltz was taken, but there was never a report it was screened. If we take into account the fact that the film was made indoors with perhaps only gas lighting and not electric then the result may have been underexposed.

Other than Nouvelle Calédonie Boivin’s longest seasons were in Brisbane. With one season completed he embarked on a second season this time with W.G. Pearse, at the end of August 1897 including making some films. This second season centres around the Queen Victoria Jubilee Record Reign series and with the patronage of Queensland’s Governor Lord Lamington Boivin may have been perceived as somehow an official reporter. Still looking for the local connection Boivin in this instance isolates the Australian political, vice regal and military contingents in the films especially the Queensland Infantry Escorting Sir Hugh Nelson in the Procession. He promotes these heavily and is rewarded with continued good audiences and sell out sessions. A few days before he reopened in Brisbane Boivin gave an interview in which he claims he would make some films in Brisbane. True to his word around 7 September the Cinématographe Lumière is set up on the corner of Queen Street and films of Brisbane street life are taken but as to their success little is known despite claims they would be seen the following year on a return visit. As Boivin moved up the coast to Rockhampton his marketing strategy and programming reflected what he had learned in Bathurst and in Brisbane. Although much reduced he combined the substitute titling with a heavy presence of truly Australian produced films, those of Sestier and Barnett and those with the Australian-connection in the Jubilee films. He created a rich and engaging program and although only a short season the inhabitants of Rockhampton, of which there was a strong French émigré presence, were enthusiastic.

Returning to Sydney Boivin and Pearse parted ways and a month or so later Boivin presented the Cinématographe Lumière again in a long return season in Sydney. Filmmaking was again on Boivin’s agenda with his announcement at the end of his Brisbane season that he would film the 1897 Melbourne Cup Carnival. Only part of this series is believed to have survived and was filmed for Boivin by his colleague the photographer and French émigré, Albert James Perier. However, there is a strong likelihood that the Boivin Perier collaboration was responsible for the films of the English Cricket team at the Sydney Cricket Ground late in 1897. Although only the 1897 Melbourne Cup Carnival film may exist the films which Boivin purchased from Sestier with the Cinématographe Lumière were passed down through his descendants in Australia and a remnant collection of these original films is held at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

It is difficult to establish Boivin’s continued engagement with the cinema beyond 1907 as indicated in New Caledonia’s cinema history. That particular year saw great change within his family life and it is understandable that he remained close by. He established a career in educational public lectures and literary publishing until late 1919 when it is believed he returned to France. Once back in Paris he married Marie Eugenie Costier in 1921 and he died at his home in 1940.

In an act which goes a long way to the modernisation of remote and comparatively technologically primitive regions, Australian and Pacific cinema history owes much to Boivin and his partners. Boivin, who saw benefit in touring the cinematograph across international borders for a decade on the cusp of two centuries, has earned a secure place in the global dissemination of the phenomenon known as the cinema.

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1897

  • [Waltz at the Bathurst Ball] 15 July
  • [Traffic at Queen and Edward Streets, Brisbane] 25 August
  • [Telegraph Building, Queen Street, Brisbane] 7 September
  • Melbourne Cup 30 October - 2 November

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21.12.1896- 6.3.1897

Australia, NSW

Sydney

478 George Street

8.4.1897 – 15.4.1897

France, Nouvelle Calédonie

Nouméa

Hotel de Ville

1.5.1897 – 26.6.1897

Australia, Qld

Brisbane

Queen Street

15.7.1897-17.7.1897

Australia, NSW

Bathurst

School of Arts

6.8.1897 – 10.8.1897

Australia, Qld

Gympie

Theatre Royal

20.8.1897

Australia, Qld

Bundaberg

Queen’s Theatre

31.8.1897 – 18.9.1897

Australia, Qld

Brisbane

Queen Street

30.9.1897 – 2.10.1897

Australia, Qld

Rockhampton

Theatre Royal

29.11.1897-16.02.1898

Australia, NSW

Sydney

182 Pitt Street

11.05.1898-25.05.1898

Fiji

Suva

Mechanics Hall

26.05.1898-27.05.1898

Fiji

Navua

Company’s Mill

   30.05.1898

Fiji

Suva

Mechanics Hall

 01.06.1898-03.06.1898

Fiji

Nausori

 

07.06.1898-?

Fiji

Levuka

 

14.07.1898 – 26.07.1898

Samoa

Apia

Apia Public Hall

02.2.1900-03.02.1900

Australia, NSW

Gladesville

Temperance Hall

22.10.1902 – 8.11.1902

France, Nouvelle Calédonie

Nouméa

L’Eden Theatre

10.11.1902-13.11.1902

France, Nouvelle Calédonie

La Foa

 

14.11.1902-15.11.1902

France, Nouvelle Calédonie

Moindu

 

18.11.1902-22.11.1902

France, Nouvelle Calédonie

Bourail

 

[27.11.1902-5.12.1902]

France, Nouvelle Calédonie

Kone

 

6.12.1902-31.12.1902

France, Nouvelle Calédonie

Nouméa

L’Eden Theatre

6.1.1904 – 19.1.1904

France, Nouvelle Calédonie

Thio

 

References

Newspapers include

The Brisbane Courier; Bulletin des salons, des arts, de la littérature et des théâtres; The Bundaberg Mail; Fiji Times; La Calédonie; La Courrier Australien ; La France Australe ; Moniteur de la Nouvelle-Calédonie ; The Morning Bulletin ; Samoa Weekly Herald ; Sydney Morning Herald.

Manuscripts

Dyson Family; Perier Family

Books

Barko, Ivan and Angus Martin. "A Short History of the Teaching of French in Australian Universities", in Philippe Lane and John West-Sooby (eds),  Traditions and Mutations in French Studies — The Australian Scene,  Mount Nebo, Boombana Publications, 1997, pp. 19-92.

Chisholm, A.R. The Familiar Presence and other Reminiscences. Melbourne University Press. 1966. pps 58-61.

Clark, Axel. Christopher Brennan, a critical biography. Melbourne University Press. 1980.

Godard, Philip. Le Mémorial Calédonien Vol. 3. Nouméa. Éditions d’Srt Calédoniennes, 1979.

O’Reilly, Patrick. Calédoniens : répertoire bio-bibliographique de la Nouvelle-Calédonie. Société des océanistes. Paris, 1980. pg 73.

Yanno, Gaël. Geneviève Laufatte and Véronique Defrance. Il Était une Fois, Le Cinéma à Nouméa. Hôtel de Ville, Nouméa, 2006, 16 pps.

Essays. Articles and Papers:

Barko, Ivan. "The French Presence in Sydney and the Establishment of the French Chamber of Commerce", Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. 85, part 1, 1999, pp. 47-64.

Barko, Ivan. "The Foundation and Early History of the Alliance Française of Sydney", Explorations, nº 26, June 1999, pp.3-42.

Laughren, Pat. "Picturing Queensland: The Local, the National and the Global in Early Queensland Film". In Placing the Moving Image (2004) Conference, Griffith University Nathan.

Jackson, Sally. "Like Boils the Cinematographe Tends to Break Out. Issue 39, Screening the Past, 2015.

Long, Chris and Pat Laughren. "Australia's first films: facts and fables: Part 6: Surprising survivals from colonial Queensland".  nº 96, Cinema Papers, December 1993.

Blogs

Jackson, Sally. Do Frenchmen play cricket? 3 July 2014 http://nfsa.gov.au/blog/2014/07/03/do-frenchmen-play-cricket/

Marius Sestier Collection, March 2010 http://nfsa.gov.au/collection/film/marius-sestier-collection/?play_video=flowplayer118

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