This film is held by the BFI (ID: 470956).


ACTUALITY. A train arrives in a station.

A train arrives at Flemington station, Melbourne, coming from the distance left to right, viewed from a position level with the top of the train. The train halts with the last four coaches still in shot, and a large number of people, mostly male, get out and walk under and past the camera position (42ft).

Note: Filmed by Marius Sestier on 3 November 1896. The passengers were arriving for the Melbourne Cup horse race, and the film was one of a series on the Cup taken by Sestier. Lumière cat. no. 652.

Refs: Cinema Papers, August 1993, pp. 37 [illus.], 39. Jacques Rittaud-Hutinet, Auguste et Louis Lumière: Les 1000 Premier Films.



Arrivée d’un Train à Melbourne is one of the earliest films produced in Australia and is an example of the international coverage provided by the Lumière operators, unrivalled in its scope by comparison with that of other early cinematograph firms. Early Australian film historian Chris Long, who examined the history behind these earliest productions, described how, after the commercial premiere of the Lumière Cinematograph in Paris on 28 December 1895, the Lumière brothers ‘decided to exploit their invention’s portability by dispatching cameramen to every part of the world’. Marius Sestier (1865-1928), a professional chemist from Lyon, was the operator who came to Australia, producing the country’s earliest confirmed motion pictures at the end of October 1896 (Long, 1993, 35).

Sestier had initially travelled to India in June 1896, presenting the first movie show in the country at Watson’s hotel in Bombay in July. He showed a short series of Lumière films shot in France, before leaving Colombo, Ceylon for Sydney at the end of August. On arriving in Sydney (on 16 September), Sestier immediately arranged a private screening at the Lyceum Theatre, before opening the Salon Lumière – ‘Australia’s first all-film venue’ – at the end of September (Long, 1993, 36-37).

Sestier was partnered by H. Walter Barnett, a Sydney photographer, who had probably met Sestier on the steamer bound for India. Long credits Barnett with providing Sestier with ‘the promotional, technical and social contacts’ he needed. The pair continued to exhibit at the Salon Lumière until 27 October, when they showed their first local film depicting crowds disembarking from a ferry at Manly. A report in the Sydney Morning Herald explained that the pair was preparing a series of Australian films which would be exhibited in both Paris and London. The paper argued that these films ‘would thus put Sydney and Melbourne in touch with the great capitals named in a manner which could never have been approached but for the invention of this marvellous machine’ (Long, 1993, 38).

Sestier and Barnett left Sydney and opened at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre on 31 October, alongside the pantomime Djin-Djin. Hours before this first show, the pair filmed scenes of the VRC Derby at Flemington racecourse and then three days later, on 3 November 1896, shot a series of pictures of the Melbourne Cup. Arrivée d’un Train à Melbourne was one of approximately ten films shot on Melbourne Cup day. Chris Long recognises some of the common tropes across this series of short films. ‘Each of the surviving shots is superbly composed, concentrating on the people present, rather than on the race itself’, he notes. ‘Each of these was shot from a fixed view point… there were no cuts, pans or tilts’, while he further emphasised the role of Barnett in ‘stage-managing’ and organising the composition of the shots (Long, 1993, 39).

The Melbourne Cup films premiered at a charity performance at the Princess Theatre on 19 November, although Long suggests that Arrivée d’un Train à Melbourne was first shown in Sydney at the Criterion Theatre on 24 November (it was described in the Sydney Bulletin as ‘beautifully realistic’). He cites this performance as ‘the earliest programme to progress into some sense of continuity’, yet while the films collectively provided a narrative of the day’s events (from Arrivée d’un Train à Melbourne to the final film of ‘Cup Winner “Newhaven”’), they were usually presented in isolation (Long, 1993, 40). For example, at Ye Olde Englishe Fayre in Perth, the Melbourne Cup scenes were reproduced – ‘the recognition of familiar figures drew shouts of applause’ – alongside film of the Lumière factory in France, Algerian chiefs, military scenes, shots from Lyon and ‘sea bathers’ (West Australian, 5 February 1897, 5).

Sestier subsequently toured with the films. When the ‘Melbourne Cup Series’ was shown in Brisbane in May 1897, advertisements stated that the pictures had ‘brought crowded houses at the Princess, Melbourne and at the Royal, Adelaide’ (Brisbane Courier, 10 May 1897, 2). Barnett continued to exhibit the films in Sydney until March 1897. The Sydney Morning Herald stated that he intended to send some of these films to London. The paper added that this ‘would give Londoners a better idea of an antipodean city than they could possibly obtain in any other way’ (Long, 1993, 40). The Era in London commented that the Melbourne Cup pictures are ‘capitally done, and when taken to London will give some idea of the carnival which annually upsets the business routine of Australasia’ (The Era, 9 January 1897). The films were subsequently returned to the Lumières’ home base in Lyon for international sales and distribution.

Sestier left Australia in May 1897 when his contract to serve as the exclusive agent for Lumière ended. He returned to France and assumed directorship of the Lumière Patents Company until his death in 1928. 



The image of a train arriving at a station is one of the most familiar and widely repeated shots within early film. First seen in Lumière’s iconic Arrivée d’un Train à La Ciotat, the shot illustrated the possibilities of this new medium, as the ‘effect of depth produced by a framing that makes the train arrive towards the spectator’ was famously claimed to have generated panic and a physical response amongst the watching spectators (Burch, 1990, 35). Yet the ‘remaking’ of these shots, showing trains throughout the world (including Alexandria and Tokyo) served an additional function in disseminating a message of exploration and discovery. The train represented industrial progress and travel (‘the conquest of new spaces’) and the camera similarly served to change perceptions of space and time, as Lumière operators discovered new lands (on film) and brought these foreign lands back to viewers. The newspaper reports for the Melbourne Cup films emphasised that these films would connect Australia to London and Paris and bring an understanding of the city to London audiences. These (French-made) films thus immediately highlighted the ways in which film could connect – in this case – the British Empire while, in terms of representation, they implicitly endorsed a message of industrial progress and exploration.

The staging within the film highlights the movement both of the train, but also of the crowds leaving the train. Crowd scenes proved popular with local audiences, who sought to identify familiar figures on film. Arrivée d’un Train à Melbourne is also interesting within the context of the other films shot at the Melbourne Cup. Sestier and Barnett’s films chronicle the events of the day (with Arrivée d’un Train à Melbourne as a starting point), even though for the most part each film was presented as a self-contained item, rather than a part of this broader narrative.

Tom Rice (October 2009)


Works Cited

Brisbane Courier, 10 May 1897, 2.

Burch, Noel, Life to those Shadows, edited and translated by Ben Brewster (California: University of California Press, 1990).

‘Amusements in Australia’, The Era, 9 January 1897.

Kirby, Lynne, Parallel Tracks: The Railroad and Silent Cinema (Exeter: Exeter University Press, 1997).

Long, Chris, ‘Australia’s First Film: Facts and Fables. Part Three: Local production Begins’, Cinema Papers, May 1993, 34-41. 

Sabine, J, A Century of Australian Cinema (Melbourne: Mandarin, 1995).

‘Ye Olde Englishe Fayre’, West Australian, 5 February 1897, 5.




Technical Data

Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
42 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Production Company