An advertisement for A Trip through British North Borneo in The Erain January 1907 offered some insights into the production history of the film. It referred to this new series ‘by courtesy of the British North Borneo Company’ and reported that ‘this unique and beautiful subject contains the best photographic results of two expeditions organised and conducted by the Charles Urban Trading Co. Ltd., and illustrates the quaint manners and strange customs of the natives of British North Borneo’. A number of the scenes listed within this film – for example ‘Panorama of the Padas River’ and ‘First Trading of Natives with White Man’ – had also appeared in an earlier Urban series released in 1904, and A Trip through British North Borneo appears largely, if not exclusively, to reuse this earlier material (The Era, 19 January 1907, 35).
In 1903 Harold Mease Lomas, a chemist-turned-amateur photographer, had led the ‘Urban Bioscope Expedition through Borneo’, which then travelled through Malay in 1904 (Iversen, 2001, 71). The Urban Films catalogue of June 1905 explained that ‘this expedition was started and equipped by us for the purpose of securing bioscopic records of native life and scenes in the interior of North Borneo’. It noted that the ‘unparalleled idea of taking the bioscope into an almost unknown district of the tropics’ was ‘enthusiastically supported by the Government’ and indeed the trip was financed by the British North Borneo Company, the imperial charter company that administered rule in the country between 1882 and 1946 (Herbert, 2000, 257). A report in the Daily Mail described this as an ‘excellent investment’, as, according to the Company’s managing director in 1904, the photographs and moving pictures ‘had been instrumental in helping the company to raise during the last few years over £500,000’ (The Times, 7 December 1904, 12).
Some of the films were shown at the annual dinner of the British North Borneo Company in December 1903 and again in 1904 (at which ‘guests smoke North Borneo cigars and drink North Borneo coffee’).The Era noted that the films were ‘extremely instructive’ in introducing and explaining the company’s work in an ‘entertaining’ way, while one of the speakers at the dinner in 1904 praised them for highlighting the beautiful scenery and commercial value of the country without ‘the boredom attaching [sic] to long speeches’ (Herbert, 2000, 264). Commenting in January 1904 on the films, The Straits Times noted their appeal to ‘stay at home folk’ who now had the opportunity to behold ‘the descendants of ferocious pirates walking along the iron way’. ‘In the cut-throat days of not long ago they would either have run away or tried to wreck that train’, it continued, ‘Experience has taught them that the native shares in the benefits of British enterprise’. The paper further noted the scenes of local labour ‘under the eyes of Europeans’, which it suggested showed that ‘the natives are eager to work for the British, and when allowed to do so are most zealous’ (Straits Times, 5 January 1904, 5).
Read more and watch the film here: http://colonialfilm.org.uk/node/1419