Moving Panoramas and Dioramas in South Australia.

Although not photographic in nature, the 19th century moving panorama was a form of entertainment that was similar in some respects to the magic lantern show, and in many newspaper reports it is difficult to know whether the reporter was describing a moving panorama painted on a canvas roll or a series of lantern slides projected on a canvas sheet.

The moving panorama, or diorama, consisted of a series of paintings on canvas which were then joined together to form one very long canvas sheet that was wound onto a vertical roller. From this roller the canvas was moved across the stage and wound up on a similar roller on the other side. The canvas could be illuminated from behind, from the front, or by a combination of both, using oil or gas lamps.

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Above: Diagram showing a typical arrangement for unrolling the canvas of a moving panorama. Dotted lines show the position of the framework that concealed the mechanism. The picture represents the first scene of the Burke and Wills panorama.

Some panoramas were very large. Charles’s panorama (1871) occupied 10,000 square feet of canvas, and each painting was 17 feet by 8 feet. Mankiewicz’s Pantascope used paintings that were 18 feet wide by 9 feet high, and Riseley and Humphrey’s Mirror of England had 120 paintings that were 25 feet long by 14 feet high, making a canvas that was 3,000 feet long and took two hours to unroll.

Panoramas seen in South Australia

(Black indicates a file still under construction.)

1864 - Cressy and Ayers’ "Pantecnatheca"
1865 - The Burke and Wills Exploring Expedition.
1867 - Batchelder’s Panorama of the Civil War
1869 - Guerard’s "Cynoglyorama"
1871 - Charles’s "Panorama of the Franco-Prussian War"
1872 - Mankiewicz’s Pantoscope of the Franco-Prussian War
1875 - Riselys & Humphrey’s "Mirror of England"
1877 - Batchelder’s "Pantascope"
1881 - Thompson’s Diorama of the Zulu War
1883 - Rainsford’s Panorama of the Egyptian War
1886 - "Royal Diorama of Scotland"
1891 - "New Panorama of Australia" (included S.A.)

1870 - Gus Peirce’s ‘Voyage Around the World.’
1890 - Adelaide Cyclorama - Jerusalem (not moving)


Cressy & Ayers Pantecnatheca (1864).
In his written recollections an eminent Adelaide medical practioner, Sir Joseph Verco, has described his impressions of when, as a boy of thirteen, he saw Cressy & Ayers Pantecnatheca at Whites Rooms, Adelaide, in May 1864. Sir Joseph wrote ---

The Panorama of a Voyage across the Atlantic.
Public amusements were very few in the early days, or else they did not receive paternal patronage for very few can be recalled. One however is remembered, "The Grand Panorama of a Voyage across the Atlantic", almost certainly an American production. It was displayed in White's Rooms in King William Street. It was a great painting which moved across the platform at the end of the building, sometimes in the light and at times in semidarkness, giving an idea of the experiences at sea of a voyage from America to England. It was, of course, in a sailing vessel.

The "piece de resistance" was the storm at sea in semidarkness. The roaring thunder was produced by twisting sheets of iron, the pelting rain by falling shot, the lightning flashes by squibs across the picture with almost alarming effect. They were greatly impressed with the danger of so immense a voyage across the wide Atlantic Ocean.

Of course, as a finale, something to amuse the elders, and to educate the youngsters, the panorama concluded with a visit to the doctor’s garden. Here they saw the Yankee physician in his black frock coat and upstanding collar and stock necktie and long black hair, attended by his negro servant with his curly wig, and carrying a spade, inspecting the garden beds, in which were rows of babies’ heads projecting above the ground, with a bunch of turnip-tops of various sizes growing upon each one. Some were white babies and some were black, some were large and some were small, some had woolley hair and others straight and the question was which of them should Sambo dig up so that the doctor might take them to his patients who had ordered a baby boy or girl, and were waiting for him to bring it. The mothers and fathers burst into peals of laughter at the delusion and the children into exclamations of satisfaction and delight, for now they knew where the babies came from, for they had seen them growing in the doctor’s garden and they went home in ecstacies of glee.’ Sir Joseph’s memory failed him in one respect -- the vessel depicted in the storm was a steamer, not a sailing ship.

When Cressy and Ayer’s Pantecnatheca was advertised in the Register it was billed as having been shown in London on 280 consecutive nights, which in the 1860s would have been a recommendation of the highest order. Advertising said it was ‘the largest and most splendid Exhibition ever brought to this colony, on which 3,000 people can look and see the most gorgeous and beautiful scenery in the World -- 150 magnificent Dioramic Views, the whole covering a surface of 14,750 (square) feet of canvas unrolled each evening, showing the City of Washington, Falls of Niagara, White Mountains, Mammoth Cave, Voyage to Europe, City of London, River Rhine, Germany, Ruins of Pompei, and Eruption of Mount Vesuvius.’ Mr C.H. Ayers was the ‘delineator’ and Mr Linly Norman was the  Musical Director, whose function was to play ‘appropriate’ music as the canvas was rolled across the stage.

A report of the opening night, which was not very well attended because of torrential rain, said the pictures representing the crossing of the Atlantic were the highlight of the evening. ‘Leaving New York and passing through a merchant fleet, the steamer is out at sea when twilight wanes and is followed by evening. The moon rises, and for a time speeds on her way, till day dawns, the sun appears, and reveals icebergs floating by in stately grandeur. The indications of a coming storm appear. The sky becomes overcast, the wind whistles, and is accompanied by pelting rain. The low murmur of the thunder is now heard, and is followed by flashes of lightning (introduced with excellent effect) and the "rising of the waters." The steamer, however, weathers the tempest and the day of storm is ended by a tranquil sunset. Her passage up the Mersey and the final arrival of the steamer at Liverpool concludes a panorama which of itself is worth the price of admission. The views were explained by Mr Ayers, one of the proprietors, while Mr Linly Norman played the piano with excellent taste. The entertainment concluded with a distribution of a number of gifts.’

A later report also spoke of the panorama in glowing terms. ‘The gorgeousness, number, and variety of the scenes which in succession pass before the spectators for something like two hours’ duration cannot fail to interest all who have a taste for the fine arts, and can appreciate the sublime and beautiful in nature. Some of the paintings appear to be highly finished works of art, and all are worth inspection as paintings and representations of scenery in Europe and America.’

At the close of each session a number of gifts, between 30 and 40, was distributed to patrons who had lucky numbers on their programmes, a practice also followed by some other travelling entertainments to encourage attendance. The gifts distributed by Mr Ayers on one Friday evening included a lady’s gold watch, gold locket, photograph album, set of silver forks and spoons, ivory knife, card-case, steel engraving, cruet-stand, and a book of Shakespeare’s plays. A special exhibition for ‘the accommodation of Ladies and schoolchildren’ was arranged for a Saturday afternoon, with the promise of ‘fifty beautiful gifts for the little folk. Children from the Orphan Asylum admitted free.’

The Pantecnatheca was moved to the theatre at Port Adelaide for a few nights, then returned to White’s Rooms where the absence of the pianist brought some criticism, even though Mr Ayers tried to offset this by increasing the distribution of prizes. One reporter noted, ‘We would suggest to the management the propriety of securing the services of musicians, as the entertainment becomes excessively dull without this agreeable adjunct.’

After a few weeks Cressy and Ayers introduced a new series of paintings to their programme. These illustrated the civil war in America, including the bombardment of Fort Sunter, the riot at Baltimore, the burning of Gosport navy yard, the battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg, and the siege of Vicksburg. ‘Most of them are spirited pictures, and their effect was aided in some instances by the mimic sound and flash of artillery... The exhibition wound up with the most ingenious representation of the destruction of the Cumberland by the Merimac (ships-of-war).’ When the panorama was shown at Gawler the local reporter thought that the paintings of the American Civil War were inferior to the rest of the programme, and that the ‘mechanical set scene’ of the fight between the ships-of-war was ‘a very childish concern.’

After being shown in the Oddfellows Hall at Gawler, where the usual distribution of free gifts took place, the Pantecnatheca was taken to Tanunda, where the large room at the Tanunda Hotel was ‘crammed to the doors’ by locals wanting to see the exhibition. From Tanunda Cressy and Ayers moved to Kooringa (Burra) where the locals were urged to attend because, it was said, it could be many years before another panorama was brought to Kooringa.


The Grand Diorama of the Burke and Wills Exploring Expedition (1865).
This diorama was first exhibited in Melbourne and Sydney in 1862, taken to Hobart in 1863, then taken on a tour of Australian country centres. After being exhibited at Portland and Warrnambool in Victoria the diorama was advertised to appear at the Mount Gambier Hotel in November 1865, after which it was to be shown at Port MacDonnell. An advertisement in the Border Watch said: ‘The Moving Diorama of the Burke and Wills Exploring Expedition... painted by the best artists in the colonies, occupies upwards of 2,500 feet of canvas, and is the original and only diorama of the subject in Australia. During its tour through the colonies it has been patronised by the Governors, Clergy, and elite of Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and New Zealand. Carriages may be ordered for 10 o’clock.’

By the end of November the Diorama had reached Adelaide, and was being exhibited at Port Adelaide, from where it was moved to White’s Rooms in King William Street. The programme commenced with a lecture on ‘all the explorers of Australia and their separate routes, illustrated by a mammoth map of the continent. Music-- appropriate selections by the Concordia Band.’ However, when the diorama reached Kapunda the Kapunda Herald noted that the map should have shown the ‘late tracks of Stuart and McKinlay.’

The Diorama consisted of twelve painted scenes which were apparently illuminated from behind the canvas as the Herald said, ‘After the close of the introductory lecture the lights were turned down and the moving diorama was exhibited.’ Painted scene Number 4, "The Stony Desert," was described on the printed programme as having ‘some novel dioramic and automatic effects.’ These effects were noted by the Register which said, ‘the audience were equally surprised and delighted by an automatic representation of the passage of the party across the Stony Desert.’

When the Concordia Band could not be present due to other commitments the lecturer, Mr J.B. Walker, played appropriate tunes on the piano while each new scene was being wound onto the stage. One evening, after a ‘somewhat profuse distribution of vases, brooches, fans, dolls, albums, draught boards, etc.’ the lecturer informed the audience that due to the low attendance the proprietor, Mr Hunter, could not afford to give away the sewing machine as advertised, but would do so when he returned from touring the townships north of Adelaide.


Guerard’s Cynoglyorama of 1869.
This exhibition of painted views was seen at Echuca in July 1869 and was advertised to appear at Mount Gambier in December 1869. An item and advertisement in the Mount Gambier Standard said that the Cynoglyorama was being taken on tour by Mr William Evans, a former manager of Burton’s circus, and that it was a series of panoramic views of life and scenery, with narrative and music, which told the story of the wrecks of the ill-fated Duncan Dunbar and Peruvian, and of the life of one of the survivors, James Morrell, who became known as ‘Australian Wild Man,’ after living amongst the aborigines at Cleveland Bay. The pictures were said to illustrate the life and adventures of Morrell ‘during seventeen years captivity amongst the aboriginals of Northern Australia, showing the privations and hardships during his eventful life, painted on canvas.’


Thompson’s Diorama of the Zulu War (1881)
Mr W.H. Thompson’s "Colossal Mirror of the Zulu War in South Africa" was shown at Garner’s Theatre (formerly White’s Rooms) in King William Street, Adelaide, in May 1881. The Advertiser reported: ‘The diorama consists of many well-executed pictures representing scenes that occurred during the bloody war in South Africa in 1879, during the course of which the brave Prince Imperial fell victim to the murderous assegais of the Zulu warriors.’ The views were said to faithfully represent the different scenes, and after each view was wound on to the stage it was explained by Mr Thompson. The scenes were said to occupy 30,000 (square) feet of canvas.

One part of the programme was advertised as ‘The mechanical marvel showing 8,000 figures on the march,’ and a quotation from the Sydney Daily Telegraph included in the advertisement said, ‘The mechanical portion of the diorama is constructed with marvellous cunning, and far excels anything of the kind shown in this city.’ The ‘8,000 figures’ were miniature wooden representations of soldiers en route to the battlefield. However, the Advertiser reported a small hitch in the operation of the mechanical marvel. ‘The figures are worked by persons underneath the stage, and owing to some trifling imperfection in the arrangements one or two regiments stuck fast and refused to proceed on the warpath. One troop of marines was especially obstinate and, to the great delight of the "gods," instead of advancing the insubordinate soldiers fell down flat, and only moved on after a little gentle persuasion had been brought to bear on them by a human head and arm that appeared from the depths beneath and administered the necessary progressive push.’

Another problem arose when it was time to distribute the ‘gold watch, silver watch, and 100 other beautiful gifts,’ which were to be given away ‘at the discretion of the proprietor,’ not by lucky numbers marked on a programme, which was the usual practice at most entertainments of that kind. When Mr Thompson began his haphazard distribution of gifts the audience became very noisy and disorderly. ‘Persons located in the back seats of the pit and gallery crushed forward in order to bring themselves into prominence, and so secure one of the gifts. The people in the front seats were considerably inconvenienced, and a by no means creditable scene ensued. The rush from behind, the general disorder, the whooping and catcalls being the reverse of enjoyable to orderly disposed persons.’

Advertisments in the Adelaide papers said the paintings were the work of the eminent London artists Telbin, Walter Hann, Ballard, Rogers, Gordon and Harford, and that the diorama had been seen by over 200,000 persons in the past 6 months. The description of incidents portrayed on the canvas were described in advertisements as thrilling, and contained some stirring patriotic statements --

‘The Battle of Isandula, the last order given was -- Fix bayonets, Men, and die like English Soldiers; and so they did.
‘The Buffalo River - Saving the Colours. They lost their lives, but they saved the colours.’


The New Panorama of Australia (1891)
In February 1891 "The New Panorama of Australia" was presented at Garner’s Rooms (formerly White’s Rooms) in King William Street, Adelaide. The panorama was different from others seen in Adelaide in that it contained pictures of Australian scenery painted by Australian artists.

A report in the Adelaide Observer said: ‘The first series of views comprise scenes in our own colony and New South Wales. Sydney and its harbour (by day and night) is followed by a view of the great fire in Argent Street, Broken Hill, just over two years ago, and the lurid light which is thrown behind the canvas makes the scenes very realistic. Then follow in order Block 14 Mine, The Proprietary Mine looking from the south, Port Pirie Wharf with stacks of bullion from the "big mine" ready to be shipped, another view of the original Broken Hill and the town, the South, Central, Umberumberka, and Alma and Victoria Mines. As these pictures pass across the stage the points of interest attaching to each particular one are graphically described by Mr Neebe. The champion boat race between Searle and O’Connor on the Thames and Searle’s funeral are the closing items of the first part. The latter scene is very solemn, and the musical accompaniment heightens the effect.

‘After the interval three views of Mount Gambier scenery are shown, including the Blue Lake, and reference is made by the lecturer to the poet, Adam Lindsay Gordon, and his wonderful feat on the road immediately above its waters. The scene of the wreck of the Admella is followed by Port Adelaide, and the Torrens Lake and Adelaide. These two are excellent paintings, and residents of Port Adelaide should see this "portrait" of their flourishing town.

‘Port Darwin is next on the programme, and then follow Perth, Brisbane, and Melbourne. In the latter view, which is taken from the Yarra, the tall tower of Scots Church shows up very prominently. Hobart is seen under the shadow of Mount Wellington, which is capped by snow, and then we pass on to New Zealand. First is a view of Auckland, generally acknowledged as the leading city in Maoriland. And then the White-terrace and Pink-terrace follow. These celebrated terraces were destroyed in the great volcanic eruption a few years ago. The last view of New Zealand is Queenstown, and the whole entertainment closes with an effective picture of "Black Thursday." As in the scene of the Broken Hill fire the red glare of the flames shown by the aid of lights behind depicts the work of the artist in a wonderful manner.’


A Voyage Around the World (1869+).
Augustus Baker Peirce was a man of many parts -- photographer, riverboat captain, sailor, theatrical performer, scene-painter. In the early 1860s he worked in Adelaide for a short time colouring photographs for Anson & Francis, and claimed he had worked in Townsend Duryea’s studio in King William Street. In 1869 he painted 24 six by nine-foot canvases which were stitched together to make a single sheet that was about 212 feet long. A newspaper report of the panorama said that in the Australian scenes there was ‘a capital sketch of Murrundi Reach in South Australia which is said by those who have been on the spot to be a true representation. A peep of a remarkable portion of the Lower Murray and a view of a tributary of the same stream are interesting and in both the water and foliage of the trees and bushes are capitally painted.’

Gus Peirce toured Victoria and New South Wales with his panorama during 1870-71, but apparently did not bring it to South Australia. It has been included here because of his association with South Australia and also the fact that at least one South Australian scene was shown on his canvas.