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Perry, Joseph Henry (1863–1943)

by Ina Bertrand

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Joseph Henry Perry (1863-1943), Salvationist and showman, was born on 5 August 1863 at Birmingham, England, son of Joseph Perry, shoemaker, and his wife Eliza, née Hall. His three sons all joined him in the film business: Orizaba George (1888-1950), Reginald Harry (1890-1981) and Stanley Wesley (1893-1975).

Joseph Perry arrived in New Zealand aged 11 with his parents. In 1883 he joined the new Salvation Army, and on 15 January 1885 married Annie Margaret Laurenson (d.1891) at Christchurch. In answer to the army's call, the young couple arrived in Sydney in October 1885 where their daughter Eva was born. Their evangelical work then took them around New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria. Their first son, Orrie, was born at Sandhurst (Bendigo), on 14 September 1888, and their second, Reg, on 29 June 1890 at Ballarat.

Hoping both to augment the army's finances and to further its evangelical aims, Perry purchased a camera and magic lantern. His photographic work was so successful that he was called to Melbourne to take part in the new limelight department which presented its first magic lantern show at South Melbourne Town Hall on Boxing night 1891.

On 18 April 1893 Joseph Perry married, at Allandale, Julia Elizabeth Lear, who on 31 December at Richmond bore him another son, Stan, and later four daughters. She also assisted him on his evangelistic tours, which were outstandingly successful, both in providing funds and recruits to the Salvation Army and in introducing the magic lantern to outlying areas of Australia. Between tours, the limelight department used premises at the rear of the army's new Bourke Street headquarters for a primitive studio and laboratory.

Within a year of the arrival of moving pictures in Australia in 1896, Perry had, with the encouragement of Commandant Herbert Booth, added this new technology to his arsenal, and soon after began to produce short films himself, both documentary scenes of the social work of the Salvation Army and narrative recreations of Bible stories. Their success led to the production of Soldiers of the Cross—a programme of thirteen one-reel films and 200 lantern slides, introduced by prayers and accompanied by hymns, clapping and a stirring exhortation by Booth. First presented to the public at the Melbourne Town Hall on 13 September 1900 before an audience of 4000, it toured all States with equal success.

The limelight department had become one of the foremost general film producers of the time. Perry accepted government and commercial commissions, including the filming of the inauguration of the Commonwealth in 1901 and the arrival in Melbourne in 1908 of the American 'Great White Fleet'. In 1909 a modern studio was built in Malvern and production began there on two new films. Heroes of the Cross told a similar story to the earlier film, but as a connected narrative. The Scottish Covenanters was released in New Zealand but not in Australia. None of these moving pictures, so important in contributing to the progress of both the Salvation Army and the infant Australian film industry, survives. A few slides from Soldiers of the Cross are now held by the National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra.

In 1910 a new commissioner, doubtful of the moral effects of recent films, closed the limelight department. Faced with a choice between a medium which he knew and loved and a career in an organization which would no longer allow him to use his special talents, Perry left the Salvation Army, soon after his sons had done so. After a short period with Co-operative Films, he joined Johnson & Gibson as general manager, and stayed with the firm through various amalgamations, finally becoming eastern representative for Australasian Films. He lived in Sourabaya, Dutch East Indies, from his appointment in 1918 till his retirement in 1930, then moved to Sydney where he died on 29 April 1943, and was cremated.

Orrie and Reg became cameraman and assistant for Johnson & Gibson, starting with the 1910 remake of The Story of the Kelly Gang. After one film (It is Never too Late to Mend) for the Tait Bros, the two firms combined into Amalgamated Films, and the brothers photographed for the new company six more feature films in 1911 and a further two in 1912. Thereafter the family connexion with film production was severed.

The sons all entered cinema management, starting at the Melbourne Majestic, which was opened by Amalgamated Pictures in 1912, with Orrie as manager, and Reg and Stan as operators. In 1915 Orrie moved to Sydney, where he managed such major theatres as the Capitol and State, before entering radio production. He died at Petersham on 29 December 1950. Reg stayed in Melbourne, acting as entertainments officer for the Armed Forces during World War I and then managing several suburban theatres, before moving to South Australia as State manager for Universal Pictures (1920-62). He died at Campbelltown on 13 June 1981. Stan rose through the ranks at Hoyts Theatres Ltd to become resident manager for Western Australia, where he stayed until retirement. He was appointed O.B.E. in 1937 and died on 15 October 1975 at Walkerville, Adelaide. All three sons married, and Reg and Stan had children.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Pike and R. Cooper, Australian Film, 1900-1977 (Melb, 1980)
  • G. Shirley and B. Adams, Australian Cinema (Syd, 1983)
  • Full Salvation, 1 June 1892, p 189, 1 Sept 1894, p 290
  • Victory, Aug 1898, p 300, Sept 1901, p 440
  • War Cry, 18 Aug 1900, 10 Apr 1909
  • Everyone's, 13 Dec 1933, p 44, 48
  • West Australian, 17 Oct 1975
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 15 June 1981
  • R. F. Cooper, ‘And the Villain Still Pursued Her’. Origins of Film in Australia, 1896-1913 (M.A. thesis, Australian National University, 1971)
  • R. Perry reminiscences (typescript, privately held).

Citation details

Ina Bertrand, 'Perry, Joseph Henry (1863–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/perry-joseph-henry-8024/text13987, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 29 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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