This film is held by the BFI (ID: 139161).


INTEREST. Fishing with dynamite in the Solomon Islands.

Main title and intertitle (10). A European throws dynamite into a river, it explodes, 'natives' jump in and retrieve the fish (nitrate damage) (48). The action is repeated and the 'natives' jump into the river from a rowing boat named 'Lola'. They throw the fish into the boat (140). The locals pose holding the captured fish for the camera (155). CS of the 'natives' on the beach where they spear the fish onto sticks in order to carry them (182). The 'natives' get into the rowing boat and paddle away (209). They arrive at a pier off a beach, disembark, and walk along the pier to camera (256). Cooking the fish in a large pot over an open fire in the village (259-277ft).

Note: German titles.



In April 1909, Bioscope reported that Mr Leopold Sutto, ‘the representative in Australia of Messrs. Pathé Frères, London and Paris’, was on his way back to Paris with a ‘fine batch of negatives’ after an expedition to the Solomon Islands, New Guinea and other South Sea Islands (Bioscope, 29 April 1909, 21). The Oxford Companion to Australian Film offers further information on this trip, explaining that Pathé had informed the Australian Government in June 1908 of its plan to send out a ‘South Seas and Australian Expedition’. The crew comprised Sutto, and cameramen Herault and Hans Theyer (McFarlane, Mayer and Bertrand, 1999, 112).

Sutto described the ‘hardships’ that he and his party experienced in the Solomons. ‘People who stay at home can have no idea of the difficulties which an expedition such as ours had to encounter. Remember’, he continued, ‘we had first of all to persuade the Solomon Islanders, who are practically savages, that we did not mean to harm them, and this was no easy task. It was the first time in the history of the cinematograph that such an expedition had been attempted. We were amongst cannibals yet we went further than any white man had been before’ (Bioscope, 29 April 1909, 21). Sutto reiterated to the press the dangers that they faced – ‘the natives were always a factor to be reckoned with’ – while newspaper reports told of previous massacres (one involving an Austrian baron in 1896 and another shortly before the crew’s arrival). ‘The worst’ Sutto concluded, ‘was that no good road exists, and we had to walk for days in the rivers. The banks were so thickly covered with trees that they were impassable’ (Bioscope, 29 April 1909, 21).

The Pathé expedition to the Solomon Islands coincided with the much-publicised voyage of the American author, Jack London, who visited as part of a two-year expedition. Indeed, London met with the film crew and even featured in one of their pictures, as ‘one of the fakirs who defended the hut’ during a ‘fake attack on a white man’s camp’. Newspaper reports provide a synopsis for this film. ‘The natives creep in the hut, fire it and though the inmates make a gallant defence they are all speared to death in the course of a demoniacal scene. M. Sutto was assured by the natives that the method adopted was just how they do perform such deeds in reality’ (Feilding Star, 16 January 1909, 2). A further report explained that in the film, London was ‘speared as he gallantly faces a murderous horde of blacks’ (Taranaki Herald, 10 December 1908, 4).

Also on board London’s boat, the Snark, was Martin Johnson, whose films of exploration in Africa and the South Pacific would become hugely popular and influential over the next three decades. Johnson wrote about the experiences in his 1913 book Through the South Seas with Jack London. He explained that on arriving back at Penduffryn ‘we found the traders organising to make a trip into the interior of the island, to make moving pictures among the real cannibals’ (Johnson, 1913, 329). The three filmmakers had been sent from Paris to ‘make pictures of the American fleet in Sydney’ – which had arrived on 20 August 1908 – and then set off to the Solomon Islands. ‘We went up the Balesuna River six miles’, Johnson added, ‘to a village named Charley after a native who had once worked on the Penduffryn plantation. This was the first time a white man had ever set foot in the interior of the island of Guadalcanar. We were gone some time, and secured some very unique and interesting pictures’ (Johnson, 1913, 330, 331). Film historian Kevin Brownlow suggested that Johnson learnt a lot about filmmaking during this expedition – ‘the Frenchmen showed him how to thread and how to crank, and when all three were stricken with fever [malaria], Martin took over’ (Brownlow, 1979, 467). Johnson bought a print of the footage filmed in the Solomon Islands and in 1912 presented it as part of Jack London’s Adventure’s in the South Seas.

Jack London’s experiences in the South Seas fuelled much of his subsequent writing, most notably Adventure(1911), which tells the story of an English plantation owner and the only white man on the Solomon Islands, as he faces rebellion from the local slave workers. London presented the Solomon Islands as a land of cannibals, head-hunters and white pirates seeking slave labour on the Australian copra plantations. His views on the islands are neatly summarised in The Cruise of the Snark. ‘If I were a king’, he wrote, ‘the worst punishment I could inflict on my enemies would be to banish them to the Solomons. On second thought, king or no king, I don’t think I’d have the heart to do it’ (London, 1913, 282-283).

On returning to Australia, Sutto told the press that ‘we only took five pictures in all, and it was terrible work. The public thinks a picture is easily taken. We have to think out every detail; but I venture to say that these five pictures will be found to be of unique interest’ (Bioscope, 29 April 1909, 21). Catching Fish with the Aid of Dynamite in the Solomon Isles was reviewed in Bioscope in July 1909, where it was praised for its ‘charming scenes of Melanese life’ (Bioscope, 29 July 1909, 26). The film was listed under its French title in the Pathé catalogue in August 1909 and featured in Kinema (Bousquet, 1993, 200). It also played in Australia and New Zealand. For example, the Poverty Bay Herald in Gisborne, New Zealand, listed the film as part of a programme of Pathé pictures playing locally at His Majesty’s Theatre. The paper described it as ‘a beautiful coloured film’ (Poverty Bay Herald, 10 February 1910, 7). 



Reports of both the Pathé expedition and Jack London’s concurrent visit to the Solomon Islands emphasised the ‘uncivilised’ nature of the area and the dangers faced by both London’s crew and the filmmakers. They boasted of their exploration – ‘we were amongst cannibals yet we went further than any white man had been before’ – and, as both London’s writing and Sutto’s staged film of a ‘native attack’ reveal, extolled a tale of colonial adventure amongst cannibals.

This imagery of exploration, racial division and danger is neatly presented within the Pathé stencil-coloured film, Catching Fish with the Aid of Dynamite. First, in its framing, the film highlights the division between the white explorers and the locals. As the white man stands alone on one side throwing dynamite into the water, the camera pans to the left, showing the locals all standing on a boat ready to dive in. The white man looks on, as the locals await his command, collecting the fish. The locals’ relationship to the camera is also significant as they both perform to and interact with it. They throw fish over the camera, hold their catches up to it, while some stand with fish in their mouths. In the next sequence, the locals approach the camera, allowing it to highlight their distinctive appearance (in colour, barely clothed and with their ear- and nose-rings on show). In keeping with much early ethnographic film, Catching Fish with the Aid of Dynamite seeks to display and emphasise the physical differences and ‘uncivilised’ nature of the locals to western audiences. It also responds to the images and tales of cannibals lodged in colonial discourse. Indeed, the final shot shows the locals around a cauldron, although on this occasion they are cooking fish.

Tom Rice (September 2009)


Works Cited

‘Bioscope Enterprise: Difficulties of an Expedition to Southern Seas’, Bioscope, 29 April 1909, 21.

‘Catching Fish with the Aid of Dynamite in the Solomon Isles’, Bioscope, 29 July 1909, 26.

Bousquet, Henri, Catalogue Pathé des Années 1894 à 1914: 1907-1909 (Paris: Henri Bousquet, 1993).

Brownlow, Kevin, The War, the West and the Wilderness (London: Secker and Warburg, 1979).

Feilding Star, 16 January 1909, 2.

Johnson, Martin, Through the South Seas with Jack London (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1913).

London, Jack, The Cruise of the Snark (London: Mills and Boon, 1913).

McFarlane, Brian, Geoff Mayer and Ina Bertrand eds., The Oxford Companion to Australian Film (South Melbourne; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

‘Pathé Pictures’, Poverty Bay Herald, 10 February 1910, 7.

Taranaki Herald, 10 December 1908, 4.




Technical Data

Running Time:
4 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
277 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Camera Operator
THEYER, Hans Heinz
Camera Operator
Theyer, Herault
Production Company
Pathé Frères
Production Manager
Sutto, Leopold