Yarmouth Fishing Boats Leaving Harbour (partially found early British actuality films; 1896-1897)

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Screenshot of the 1896 film.

Status: 1896 film - Found / 1897 film - Lost

Yarmouth Fishing Boats Leaving Harbour (alternatively titled Yarmouth Trawlers) refers to two early British actuality films produced by film pioneer Birt Acres in 1896 and 1897. The first known films set in East Anglia, the 1896 film showcases fishing smack boats leaving Great Yarmouth's harbour, while the 1897 counterpart focuses on passengers boarding or disembarking a pleasure boat at the town's beach. While the 1896 film was eventually recovered almost 100 years after its production, the 1897 documentary remains missing.


Birt Acres was a British film pioneer best known for filming and projecting the first 35 mm film in England.[1] Alongside Robert Paul, Acres would establish and patent a camera incorporating aspects from Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope.[1] He is regarded for many film firsts, including the first British sports film The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, which provided footage of the 1895 Boat Race.[2][1] Additionally, he is considered the first to have produced a commercial, with the 1896 film Bryant & May Matches.[3] Rather than focusing on entertainment, Acres felt producing educational and actuality films would ensure cinematography's continual rapid development and growth.[1]

Among his actuality films included two recorded in Great Yarmouth in 1896 and 1897.[4][5][6] The first, titled Yarmouth Fishing Boats Leaving Harbour or Yarmouth Trawlers was filmed somewhere between June and July 1896, becoming one of 21 films Acres showcased in what would become the first ever royal film performances.[5][6] Occurring a day prior to Princess Maud marrying Prince Charles of Denmark, Acres impressed the Royal Family enough that he was actually invited to film the wedding too.[5] Acres shot the film at Gorleston Pier, which showcased three fishing smack boats leaving Great Yarmouth's harbour.[4][5][6] The 32-second film, about 20 feet in total, begins with a boat, visible only from its stern-side, leaving the harbour.[4][6] Later, a tugboat is shown pulling a large fishing smack boat called Thrive, designated as YH 120.[4][6] Finally, a fishing boat called I Will and designated as YH 723 sailing close to the camera, with two people seen hoisting its sails.[4][6]

Little is known regarding the 1897 film, including its title.[4] However, research from the East Anglian Film Archive found that it was showcased on 11th January 1897 for Gilbert's Modern Circus at the Agricultural Hall in Norwich.[4] The film depicted a pleasure boat moored at Great Yarmouth's beach, where passengers are shown either embarking or disembarking the boat.[4] The films are culturally significant in East Anglia, as they are deemed to have provided the earliest recordings of the region.[4]


Yarmouth Fishing Boats Leaving Harbour was considered a lost film nearly a century after its production.[7][4] In fact, due to the film's age, it was given a considerably low chance of being recovered.[7] However, in 1995, radio and film collector Ray Henville sent a photograph of a boating film to a sailing magazine, requesting for it to be identified.[7] Bill Barnes, a film historian, contacted the British Film Institute (BFI) upon seeing the photograph, with the corporation receiving the films donated by Henvile.[7][4] Among films in the collection included a recording of the 1895 Epsom Derby, and a verified copy of Yarmouth Fishing Boats Leaving Harbour.[7][4] While the film was in a significantly decayed state, it was nevertheless considered an attractive Victorian film by BFI's Christian Hayes.[5][7] Its rediscovery proved timely, as 1996 would also mark a century of British projected films.[7] In contrast, the 1897 film remains missing, with its existence only confirmed thanks to its 11th January 1897 premiere.[4]



Yarmouth Fishing Boats Leaving Harbour.