Story: Newham, Charles Frederick

Page 1 - Biography

Newham, Charles Frederick

1880–1960

Photographer, film-maker

This biography was written by Clive Sowry and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 3, 1996

Charles Frederick Newham was born at Christchurch, New Zealand, on 21 June 1880, the son of Ann Martin and her husband, Enoch Newham, a mechanic. Nothing is known of his early life or education, but by 1900 he was working as a photographer in Wellington. In 1901 he moved to Wanganui where he set up business, contributing photographs of local social and sporting occasions to the Auckland Weekly News. He was in partnership with photographer John Brady from July 1901, but by mid 1904 was continuing the business on his own account, specialising in enlargements and photographing children. On 6 October 1904 at St Paul's Presbyterian Church, Wanganui, he married Elsie Roberta Gerrie, a saleswoman. The couple were to have two children.

His purchase of a cinematograph camera in 1910 marked the beginning of a new career. His first film, taken on 3 September 1910, was a simple moving panorama of Victoria Avenue, the main thoroughfare of Wanganui, with local people easily recognisable. This film was screened at a local picture theatre, and was soon followed by other local films: The Wanganui races, The opening of the rowing season, The Wanganui Show, and Lord Islington's visit to Feilding. During 1911 filming of local events in Wanganui continued, but using Wanganui as his base for processing, printing, and titling his films he also ventured further afield. He made topical and scenic films in Manawatu, Wellington, Hawke's Bay and Taranaki, by this time trading under the name Dominion (NZ) Film Manufacturing Company. Many of the films were made at the request of managers of picture theatres, either for local screening or for general release by the Hayward's or Fuller's theatre chains. The negatives of a number of his films were sent on to film distributors in Britain where there was a market for films of distant countries. Such was the demand for his services that in May 1912 he sold his photo studio and became one of a very small number of New Zealanders making a living from film-making full time.

Charles Newham moved to Auckland by 1914. While continuing to make scenic and topical films, he was associated with George Tarr in producing a lengthy dramatised film, Hinemoa, that year. Tarr wrote the script and produced the film with financial backing from Edward Anderson of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce. Newham operated the camera and was responsible for the technical aspects of the production: processing, printing, titling and tinting. Hinemoa was filmed at Rotorua with an all-Maori cast drawn from the Reverend F. A. Bennett's Maori choir. The production was New Zealand's first story film and, with a length of 2,500 feet (a running time of about 42 minutes), its earliest dramatic feature film. After a première season at the Lyric Theatre, Auckland, the film received a very good distribution through the principal picture theatre circuits of New Zealand, and was later screened overseas.

In 1916 Newham was cameraman for two further feature films. The first of these, The test, based on William Satchell's ‘The ballad of Stuttering Jim’, was produced by Rawdon Blandford, who also starred in the film. The other feature was The mutiny of the Bounty, produced by Australian film director Raymond Longford, under whose direction Newham filmed a number of sequences at Rotorua using local Maori actors to represent the Tahitians encountered by the crew of the Bounty.

The short news and scenic films which continued to be his principal productions as a film-maker were occasionally of unusual interest. One such film was Auckland from aloft (1918), showing aviators in training at the New Zealand Flying School at Kohimarama. Advertised as 'the first and only picture taken from the air in New Zealand', the film ran for 43 minutes.

In 1921, having returned to Wanganui the previous year, he made two films for a short-lived company in Otaki: the scenic Historic Otaki and the comic Charlie's capers, the latter starring Chaplin impersonator Leonard Doogood. Newham undertook other film-making commissions from the managers of local picture theatres, and from such bodies as the Department of Internal Affairs Publicity Office for the British Empire Exhibition of 1924–25. He also began business again as a still photographer, some of his shots being published in the Wanganui Chronicle and the Auckland Weekly News. As his still photography activities expanded, his film-making became more sporadic, especially after the arrival of talking pictures in 1929. He contributed to the newsreel New Zealand Soundscenes (1933) and filmed the local news production So this is Wanganui (1934), which was probably his last film.

After his retirement in the late 1940s, his develop-and-print business, Newham's Photo Service, was carried on for some years by E. H. Jones. Charles Newham died at Wanganui on 11 July 1960 survived by his son and daughter; his wife had died two months earlier.