This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: IWM 1081f).


British fictional propaganda film on a Boer defeat in the Second Boer War, 27th February 1900.

The film depends for its effect on stop-action camera tricks. It opens with 'President Kruger' of the Transvaal Republic gloating over a bust of himself. Beside him, a large placard reads "On Majuba Day England Was Defeated" (a reference to the British defeat at the Battle of Majuba on 27th February 1881 in the First Boer War). The placard changes to a cartoon picture of Kruger being offered an Emperor's crown. Suddenly the bust changes to one of Queen Victoria, and the placard to the news "On Majuba Day Cronje Surrendered" (a reference to the surrender of the Boer general with his forces at Paardeberg Drift on 27th February 1900). As Kruger recoils from the sight, four British soldiers rush in and cover him with a Union Jack. As he struggles beneath the flag the soldiers line up as if they were a firing squad and shoot him. As the shot is fired Kruger turns into a figure of Britannia; the soldiers assemble round her in a tableau.


Summary: the identification of this film was made by James Barker, late of the Department of Information Retrieval, Imperial War Museum, in work for the television series 'Flashback'. According to the description reprinted in De Lange (see references) the figure offering Kruger the crown in his dream is supposed to be Joseph Chamberlain.

Technical: this item is currently held on a single reel with films IWM 1081a-g, the can is marked as IWM 1081



Robert Paul, a pioneer of British film as both inventor and then entrepreneur, produced a wide variety of films during the Boer War. Ian Christie argues that ‘a cursory examination of Paul’s catalogues shows that he produced at least five distinct kinds of film, all responding to different opportunities and needs as the war developed’. These included actuality material, dockside departures and arrivals, ‘reproductions of incidents’, multi-part documentary series – the most famous of which was Army Life – and finally what Christie refers to as ‘allegorical and sentimental pieces that offered opportunities for emotional engagement with the war and its consequences’ (Christie, 2007, 86-88). Kruger’s Dream of Empire, a live action political cartoon, fits within this final category.

The Optical Magical Lantern Journal described Kruger’s Dream of Empireas ‘one of the latest fakes’, further stating that ‘those who have had much experience in connection with taking pictures on cinematograph films, know that it is by no means a difficult task to produce the most absurd, yet realistic looking effects by means of judicious stops, rejoining and other devices’ (Optical Magic Lantern Journal, June 1900, 70). The film was advertised as a ‘Grand Patriotic Trick Film Tableau’ and, while stylistically the film embraced many techniques of early film, these trick sequences served not only as attractions but also to deliver the film’s patriotic message. Early film historian Simon Popple compared Kruger’s Dream of Empire with Warwick Trading Company’s The Set-to Between John Bull and Paul Kruger (1900), suggesting that ‘both use humour and technical devices to develop an imperial polemic’. Popple argued though that ‘Paul’s trick film is far more complex and indicative of the combination or pure entertainment and polemic evident in other contexts, especially the music hall and fairground’ (Popple, 2002, 20).

An advertisement for the film, with an extensive synopsis, appeared in The Era on 19 May 1900. The advertisement concluded that ‘the film is exceptionally clear and brilliant and strongly recommended as a final picture in a series of war subjects’ (The Era, 19 May 1900). Subsequent advertisements appeared weekly until the end of June claiming that the film – which was available for 50/- – ‘has proved a tremendous success wherever shown’ (The Era, 26 May 1900). The film played throughout the United Kingdom appearing, for example, at the Empire Theatre in Swansea from the end of May, along with The Ladysmith Heroes Marching through London as part of the ‘splendid new war pictures on the bioscope’ (Western Mail, 29 May 1900). A notice for the Gaiety Theatre in Nottingham at the beginning of June reported that ‘the American Biogram is this week showing a speciality in war pictures, entitled “Kruger’s Dream of Empire”, which provides an outlet for patriotic sentiment’ (The Era, 2 June 1900).

The film was also screened overseas: in New Zealand it played at the Exchange Hall as part of ‘Cooper and McDermott’s Patriotic Pictorial Concert’ from the end of May 1901 (Evening Post, 27 May 1901, 6.). A further report in the Evening Poststated that ‘The British and Colonial Bioscope Company gave an entertainment in St John’s Schoolroom last night under the auspices of the Mount Cook Boys’ School’ at which ‘a picture of a paperchase and another entitled “Kruger’s Dream Of Empire” were especially popular with the youthful audience, who voted the show a huge success’ (New Zealand Free Lance, 1 June 1901, 7). 

Paul Kruger – who was often known as Oom Paul (meaning Uncle Paul in Afrikaans) – had led the revolt of the Afrikaners in the Transvaal in December 1880, after the British had annexed the Transvaal and sought to create a federation of South African colonies. The film’s initial placard “On Majuba Day England Was Defeated” refers to the British defeat at the battle of Majuba on 27th February 1881, which brought about the end of the first Boer War and led to a short-lived peace. During the second Boer War ‘Remember Majuba!’ became a rallying call for the British and when the Boer General Piet Cronje surrendered to the British at Paardeberg Drift on the anniversary of the battle of Majuba in 1900, the significance of the date was widely noted. An editorial in The Timesexplained that ‘Lord Roberts draws attention in his first message to the coincidence that this great success of the British arms has been achieved on the anniversary of the mishap at Majuba, the political results of which have cost the Empire so dear’. The editorial added though that ‘the Commander in Chief, we may be sure had no desire to exult over a gallant foe by noting this circumstance, nor will any such desire, we are confident, be felt either in the British army or by the British people’ (The Times, 28 February 1900, 9). 



While Kruger’s Dream of Empire may appear symptomatic of much early cinema in its use of trick photography, the film is not merely displaying its attractions but rather using, as Simon Popple suggested, ‘humour and technical devices to develop an imperial polemic’. The film meshes style and message, highlighting the recognition by filmmakers of the possibilities of the developing film techniques within a form of narrative cinema.

The film, as a political cartoon played throughout the Empire, represents Kruger as a megalomaniac ‘conqueror’ – obviously presenting the Boers as the aggressors and the British as the defenders – driven by personal imperial ambitions. This personal ambition is highlighted in his dream sequence, as Kruger is shown standing over Lord Roberts, the commander of the British forces in South Africa and receiving the British crown from Joseph Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary. Yet, the film presents the battle of Paardeberg Drift – which occurred less than three months before the film’s release – as a turning point within the War. Through the changing placard the film emphasises the significance of Majuba Day – a day of defeat and then victory for the British – and thus presents this latest victory as a form of imperial redemption. The trick photography then serves to envisage a resolution to the War. Kruger, wrapped within the British flag, is shot and reappears as the figure of Britannia, as the film presents the transformation of Kruger and the Boers back into the British Empire.

Tom Rice (July 2008)


Works Cited

Barnes, John, Filming the Boer War in England: Volume 4 of the Beginnings of the Cinema in England, 1894-1901 (London: Bishopgate Press, 1992).

Christie, Ian, ‘The Anglo-Boer War in North London: A Micro Study’, Picture Perfect: Landscape, Place and Travel in British Cinema before 1930 edited by Laraine Porter and Bryony Dixon (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2007).

The Era, 19 May 1900, 27.

The Era, 26 May 1900.

‘Amusements in Nottingham’, The Era, 2 June 1900.

(Wellington) Evening Post, 27 May 1901, 6.

(Wellington) Evening Post, 11 June 1901, 5.

New Zealand Free Lance, 1 June 1901, 7.

‘Trick Film Tableau’, Optical Magic Lantern Journal, June 1900, 70.

Popple, Simon, ‘”But the Khaki-Covered Camera is the LatestThing”: The Boer War Cinema and Visual Culture in Britain’, Young and Innocent? The Cinema in Britain 1896-1930 edited by Andrew Higson (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2002).

‘Editorial’, The Times, 28 February 1900, 9.

Western Mail, 29 May 1900.




Technical Data

Running Time:
1 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
64 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Paul, Robert W