This film is held by the BFI (ID: 20116).


Reception at Rotorua, June 1901. Prime Minister Seddon welcomes the Duke and Duchess of York.

Opening with a crowd scene at Rotorua on 14 June 1901, the camera displays the pageant and shows Maori groups dancing. The next shot shows the official party and guides at the Pohutu and Wairoa geysers. They walk towards the camera. This is followed by a shot of horses of the Police Royal Body Guard. The camera is fixed as people, including Premier R.J. Seddon, continue to walk past, often staring at the camera. The crowd is addressed and watches the geyser as steam continues to rise. The film concludes with a shot at a train station.



The two minutes of footage from Visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York to New Zealand preserved at the BFI National Archive represent a small fragment of a 56-minute film produced in June 1901 by Melbourne’s Salvation Army Limelight Department. Described by film historians Chris Long and Clive Sowry as the ‘longest and most important production of New Zealand’s colonial period’, the film recorded the Royal visit from arrival by ship in Auckland on 11 June 1901 to departure from the Dunedin railway station on 27 June (Long and Sowry, 1995, 36).

The reasons behind the Royal tour can be explained, in part, by the ongoing war in South Africa. Historian Judith Bassett argued that the war had ‘made the colonies a matter of more immediate concern in London’ and suggested that ‘the power and the extent of Britain’s empire was an aspect to be emphasised to other European powers in the jingoistic mood of the turn of the century’ (Bassett, 1987, 126). The tour, with its frequent military parades and receptions, emphasised this imperial military strength, while the Duke spoke of the New Zealanders’ ‘unflinching loyalty’ as they ‘sprang to the assistance of the struggle still, unhappily, proceeding in South Africa’. ‘Your action in that matter’, the Duke continued, ‘has proved to the world that your appreciation of the benefits you enjoy as citizens of the British Empire will, whenever the occasion arises, be shown by deeds, not words, and that you are prepared to share in the responsibility of maintaining the glorious traditions and heritage which are your birthright as much as that of the people of the Motherland’ (Evening Post, 12 June 1901, 5). For the British government, the tour thus served both to ‘reward and stimulate loyalty to the Crown’ (Bassett, 1987, 126). For the New Zealand Premier Richard Seddon and his liberal government, it provided an opportunity to advertise New Zealand within the British press and, by accompanying the Duke throughout, to bask in the celebrations.

However, the tour also offered an opportunity to project an image of New Zealand to the world. Bassett described the visit as ‘New Zealand’s first nation-wide extravaganza’. ‘Earlier celebrations had been local or at most regional’, Bassett wrote, ‘The Royal tour of 1901 drew the whole country together in a celebration of New Zealand as New Zealanders wished it to be seen at the time’ (Bassett, 1987, 138). This image emphasised New Zealanders’ loyalty – the official ‘historiographer’ of the tour, R. A. Loughnan, described the tour as a ‘thousand miles of loyalty’ – yet this image was, Bassett argued, ‘tempered by independence’. ‘New Zealanders considered they had earned an honourable place in the empire by their service in South Africa’, she wrote, while the tour celebrated the achievements of the pioneers, the development of New Zealand’s export industry, and the fertility of its soil (Bassett, 1987, 136). Most significantly though, it projected an image of a unified country in which the Maoris lived harmoniously alongside the colonists.

In March 1901, the Minister of Native Affairs, James Carroll, had called upon the Maori chiefs of the North and South islands to meet at Rotorua for the Royal visit. The choice of Rotorua was met with some opposition (the locals of Rotorua, the Arawa, had sided with the Europeans in the Maori-European wars in the 1860s). Christopher B. Balme argued that, given the fears of Maori division and tension, ‘it is perhaps not surprising that Maori participation was almost entirely in one place’ (Balme, 1998, 51). The Maoris also though helped to project an image of a modern nation, in which the old and the new lived together. Robert Loughnan, who wrote the official history of the tour, noted this ‘curious mingling of the old and new… It was one huge fancy ball, full of fantastic anachronisms, characteristic of a time of transition. The past was revived, and mingled with stately dignity in the whirl of the present, seeking to grasp the bewildering changes that a century of contact with civilisation had effected’. The filmmakers also afforded particular emphasis on the Maori displays. Reports noted that ‘all the Maori functions will be taken with great completeness’, as the tribes were filmed performing hakas, poi dances and presenting gifts (Evening Post, 24 May 1901). The footage here comes from the Royal visit in Rotorua on 14 June.

In producing the film, the Salvation Army worked closely with the New Zealand government. On 5 March 1901, three months before the Royal visit, it offered Seddon its film facilities to produce ‘some permanent memorial of the festivities’. The Salvation Army had already made similar arrangements with colonial governments in Australia, filming The Inauguration of the Commonwealth for the New South Wales Government in January 1901 and would shortly (in May 1901) film the Royal visit for the Victorian Government (Long and Sowry, 1995, 36).

The New Zealand cabinet approved the filming on 20 April 1901 and working details were then negotiated between the Salvation Army Limelight Department’s chief, Major Joseph Parry and Hugh Pollen of the New Zealand Colonial Secretary’s Department (Long and Sowry, August 1995, 36). Although based in Australia, Perry had toured New Zealand in 1896 and 1898 as head of the Limelight Department, and spent the few weeks leading up the Royal Tour travelling across New Zealand with Commandant Booth, the head of the Salvation Army in Australasia, showing their famous visual lecture Soldiers of the Cross. Newspaper reports explained that Perry ‘had received a free hand from the government’ and had platforms set up to film from at each location (Evening Post, 28 May 1901, 5).

The total budget for the film was a ‘massive’ £729/15/- although included in this cost was the price of two projectors, sold to the New Zealand government to enable it to screen the film. The negatives, two prints and two projectors didn’t arrive in New Zealand until 20 December 1901 and remained unopened until February 1902. However, by now the film had been screened by private enterprise. A Wellington syndicate, The Royal Tour Bioscope Company, first showed footage from the tour at Wellington’s Opera House on 30 July 1901, and touring exhibitors Cooper and Macdermott began exhibiting its print of the Rotorua films at Wanganui immediately afterwards. A report for one of their screenings emphasised that ‘the most interesting portion… is the Maori gathering at Rotorua, which attracted most attention’ (Bay of Plenty Times, 9 October 1901, 2). The government’s copy of the film was privately screened on 2 April 1902 to an audience invited by Premier Seddon. Long and Sowry report that a second print was dispatched by the government to London for the Coronation festivities, ‘but no reports of London screenings are known’ (Long and Sowry, 1995, 39). 



Visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York to New Zealand offers one of the earliest pictorial records of New Zealand. It is also an early example of a colonial government commissioning film. The film, as with the tour itself, projects an idealised image of New Zealand, which is defined through its imperial ties. It highlights New Zealand’s loyalty to the Empire – following and performing for the Duke and Duchess as the crowds cheer them on – but it also celebrates her emergence as a modern nation, in which the old and new can live together harmoniously.

The film placed particular emphasis on the visit to Rotorua and on the Maori displays there. Christopher Balme argued that Rotorua providing an ‘aesthetically controlled environment’ in which the Maoris were on display to the Europeans, the Royal party were on display to the Maoris and the Maori tribes were on display to each other (Balme, 1998, 51). The film, in showing the Maoris performing within this carefully staged framework, sought both to preserve an ethnographic record of the Maoris, and to celebrate their regeneration within a new national identity.

Tom Rice (October 2009)


Works Cited

Balme, Christopher, B., ‘Hula and Haka: Performance, Metonymy and Identity Formation in Colonial Hawaii and New Zealand’, Humanities Research No. 3 (1998).

Bassett, Judith, ‘“A Thousand Miles of Loyalty”: The Royal Tour of 1901’, New Zealand Journal of History 21, 1987, 125- 138.

‘Maori Gathering at Rotorua: Living Pictures’, Bay of Plenty Times, 9 October 1901, 2.

‘New Zealand’s Share in the Royal Visit’, Evening Post, 24 May 1901, 5.

‘New Zealand’s Share in the Royal Visit’, Evening Post, 28 May 1901, 5.

‘Our Visitors in the North’, Evening Post, 12 June 1901, 5.

‘The Royal Tour’, Fielding Star, 24 July 1901, 3.

Long, Chris and Clive Sowry, ‘Australia’s First Films: Our First Producers Abroad’, Cinema Papers, August 1995, 36-39, 57-58.




Technical Data

Running Time:
2 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
194 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
New Zealand
PERRY, Joseph
New Zealand Government
Production Company
Salvation Army Limelight Department