This film is held by the BFI (ID: 375689).


Aspects of nature and industrial life on Honduras.

Opening with scenes from Swan Island, the film shows two Europeans offloading supplies from a small motorboat with the help of a Honduran. Shots of fish and crabs are followed by glimpses of the Honduras beach and coastline. Next, a local climbs a tree and uses a large stick to catch an iguana - a title explains 'they taste better than they look' - as the iguana is shown in close-up in the man's hands. The man indicates the 'third eye' of the iguana with a stick, before another local climbs a tree and collects another iguana, which he displays to the camera. A title introduces the water-vine as 'a life-saver to hot and thirsty explorers' while a European man chops down a vine and lets the sap drip into a glass before drinking it. After shots of deer wandering in the open savanna, a title introduces a Manganese mine in the interior of Honduras. The film shows cleared vegetation, before hand trucks travel past on the railway tracks. A title explains that 'the American steel interests use the output of these mines'. Two Hondurans use picks against the rocks while a white man, dressed all in white, watches them and smokes. The camera pans up to reveal further men working on the rocks. Two men split the rocks with a wedge and sledgehammer - the tools and pieces of wood are displayed - before a further shot of two men driving a stave into a rock with a sledgehammer. Finally, the camera reveals a small wooden bridge, followed by various shots of the mining centre, including railway tracks, workers loading the hand carts, debris by the track and in the background the superstructure of a ship.



While the origins of this film are unconfirmed, it is likely that Honduras contains footage filmed by the explorer and filmmaker Edward A. Salisbury during a year-long expedition down the east coast of the United States, through the Caribbean and the Panama Canal, and up the western coast of Central America (Ruoff, 2006, 75). An article in Moving Picture World in January 1917 explained that Salisbury had brought back 65,000 feet of film, from which ‘there will be 25,000 feet of exceptional film’ (Moving Picture World, 27 January 1917, 502).

Salisbury was accompanied on parts of his 12,000 mile trip by film star William S. Hart, the author Mary Roberts Rinehart, and for several months, the author Rex Beach, who fitted the films with titles (Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, 7 October 1917). The first of the ‘Salisbury-Beach’ pictures was shown at the Rialto in New York in March 1917, with their footage from Honduras featuring in the film On the Spanish Main, which played at the Rialto ‘to a capacity house every day for eight weeks’ (Richard, 1992, 204). Details of the film suggest very close parallels with Honduras. For example, a report in the New Zealand press for ‘the third of the famous Rex Beach travel series, “With Rex Beach on the Spanish Main”, noted that ‘Swan Island takes up a large part of the film’ and then quoted from the film’s intertitles. ‘It is the quietest place in the world… there are no women there’ is almost identical to the opening title in Honduras– ‘Swan Island, one of the quietest places in the world. There are no women here’ (Grey River Argus, 16 April 1918, 4).

Salisbury explained that ‘he would probably select five or six or seven thousand feet of the finest stuff for a feature, while much of the remainder will be cut for division between scientific bodies and educational institutions’ (Moving Picture World, 27 January 1917, 502). A subsequent report stated that there were a series of sixteen ‘one-reel educational pictures’ and certainly the scientific photography and detail within Honduras suggests that the footage came from this series (Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, 7 October 1917). Moving Picture World noted that the other men on the expedition included ‘one of the most expert exponents of microcinematography’ – George Stone from the University of California – and Charles Dahl and Stephen Hutt, ‘animal specialists who had previously worked with Mr Salisbury in obtaining motion photographs of wild animals’ (Moving Picture World, 27 January 1917, 502).

The film contains footage of Swan Island, which was until 1972 claimed by both the United States and Honduras, and which is found approximately ninety miles off mainland Honduras. The subsequent footage shows the ‘interior of Honduras’ and in particular a manganese mine. In 1918 a rich deposit of manganese was found in Spanish Honduras, and it is therefore possible that the location of the film has been erroneously identified as British Honduras (New York Times, 1 September 1918). The principal exports of British Honduras were mahogany, cedar and chicle, which was used in the production of chewing gum. These were predominantly exported to the United States, as government reports in 1918 indicated that 92% of exports went to the USA.  



On closer inspection, it may appear that Honduras was previously misidentified and, as with a number of films within the collection – for example Brick Making in Africa (1912) – may, in fact, relate to areas outside of the British Empire. This is significant in itself, as an indication of the difficulties of identifying largely unmarked film material, in terms of production history, geographical location and date. Yet, while Honduras may not appear directly relevant in the context of colonial history – for example, there is no footage of the urban areas, which would be beset by rioting in 1919 – this still offers rare, early footage of the Honduran islands on film. The second half of the film shows local industrial work, related to the ‘American steel interests’, highlighting both the rigorous physical work performed by the locals and the clearly racist separation of work practices, as a white supervisor watches on while smoking.

It is evident from the close-ups of local creatures, such as the fish underwater and the identification of the ‘third eye’ on the iguana, and from the use of scientific language within the titles (‘phytocrene’) that this footage was intended, in part, for scientific and educational purposes. Yet, the titles also contain light-hearted, flippant remarks – the iguanas ‘taste better than they look’ – which illustrate the filmmaker’s commercial sensibilities. The familiar ethnographic shots of locals climbing trees are also common within commercial travelogues. The film also exploits a popular interest in exploration. For example a title explains that the water vine is a ‘life saver to hot and thirsty explorers’, as it presents these areas as still largely undiscovered lands – ‘Swan Island, one of the quietest places in the world’ – now captured on film.

Tom Rice (January 2009)


Works Cited

Colonial Office, Annual Report of British Honduras, 1918 (London: H.M.S.O., 1918).

‘William S. Hart, Mary Roberts Rinehart and Rex Beach seen on Transfer Screen’, Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, 7 October 1917, section 4, 5.

‘Peerless Pictures’, Grey River Argus, 16 April 1918, 4.

‘Salisbury Back After Remarkable Trip’, Moving Picture World, 27 January 1917, 502-503.

‘Salisbury-Beach Pictures at Rialto’, Moving Picture World, 24 March 1917, 1927.

‘Graphite Found in Honduras’, New York Times, 1 September 1918, Business and Finance section, 23.

Richard, Alfred Charles, The Hispanic Image on the Silver Screen: An Interpretive Filmography from Silents Into Sound, 1898-1935 (New York: Greenwood Press, 1992).

Ruoff, Jeffrey ed., Virtual Voyages: Cinema and Travel (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006).



  • HONDURAS <> (Alternative)
  • HONDURAS (Archive)

Technical Data

Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain