The zoetrope as shared public entertainment

The advertisements by the London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company claimed 'a child may exhibit it to a party of 100 or more...'.1 This suggests a possibility not previously explored; that the standard commercial zoetrope could be used outside the domestic drawing-room environment, as a public entertainment for a fairly large audience.2 The zoetrope is listed with a magic lantern and Punch & Judy exhibition as entertainments for 800 children at a tea in Ipswich Town Hall.3 Digital newspaper searches have recently revealed some use of this kind for charity fund raising, in New Zealand. Although optical attractions such as the Cosmorama peepshow and magic lantern presentations were a feature of permanent arcades, optical instruments were shown at conversaziones, and 19th-century visual attractions were a feature of charity bazaars4 in Britain, Ireland, and the Empire, I am not aware of any directly comparable examples of animated picture devices at bazaars being noted in modern research accounts; e.g. Science in the Marketplace.5 As these New Zealand newspaper reports and advertisements seem to be almost the only known records of zoetrope 'shows' being given for public entertainment to an audience paying for the privilege (sometimes as a separate attraction and sometimes as one of a number of attractions included in the entrance fee), perhaps it's worth examining this phenomenon in some detail.

The zoetrope in New Zealand's community fetes and charity bazaars

The residents of New Zealand would have read about the zoetrope in their newspapers. As early as 29 February 1868, the Nelson Examiner included a description: 'A New Optical Toy', quoting a 'clip from the London correspondence of the Sydney Morning Herald' concerning 'a curious optical toy which has lately been invented. It is called 'The Wheel of Life'. [The name zoetrope is not mentioned.] [It] ... holds the juvenile world in awe, and elderly people regard it with interest. It comes from America'. The figures are described as '... going through the most wonderful antics as ever a nightmare invented to puzzle the brain.' The original writer also notes, cynically but perhaps perceptively: 'To secure for this novelty a wider notoriety, legal proceedings have been instigated against an imitator, and an exhibition has taken place of the marvellous toy in the presence of her Majesty's Judges.'6

Auckland: Presbyterian church

Several examples were imported into New Zealand during the year. On 22 October 1868, Auckland's newspaper the Daily Southern Cross included a report on the St James's Bazaar (in the Presbyterian Church), which was:

below: No.19. A PAIR OF DONKEYS [Detail],
both by the LS&P Co.     
No.19. has 12 donkeys and 12 riders, so the riders stay seated and the pairs progress forward. No.39 has 13 donkeys, so the kicking donkeys remain static, and 12 riders, so the riders are thrown from one donkey to the next, as described in the text.
(The Projection Box)
... visited by a very large number of people. There are four stalls, two on either side, with a refreshment stall at the further end, where a small space is enclosed so as to form the department in which the zoetrope is exhibited. This ingenious and interesting invention was most extensively patronised during the course of the day, and during the evening was very ably presided over by Mr. Stewart. Many of the slips depicted scenes that were provocative of the greatest merriment, and were in high favour with the youngsters. Amongst the most interesting scenes we may mention a row of men who, using their hands as bats, were apparently playing a game of shuttle-cock with each others' heads, passing them round the circle with the most utter disregard of all consequences. There was also a row of men over whose heads and under whose legs a double row of rats jumped and ran with great rapidity; a lot of donkeys who were as regardless of the fate of their riders as the first row of men had been as to their heads, kicking them from one to the other in that playful style for which the long-eared quadruped is so remarkable. A whole host of patent crushing machines, constructed on a strikingly new and novel principle...' [etc - concluding text is lost].7

Bazaar, Auckland. The zoetrope was   
"sax bawbees" (bawbee: a Scottish coin) extra.   
New Zealand Herald, 22 October 1868   
(Papers Past. Creative Commons)

An advertisement noted a separate evening charge for viewing the new attraction: 'St. James's Presbyterian Church Bazaar ... Admission, One Shilling. The "Zoëtrope" will be exhibited this evening. Charge, 6d.'8 From a report the following day, we learn that the zoetrope brought in three pounds and seven shillings - so 134 people paid 6d.9

Avondale: Public Hall

In December, the Daily Southern Cross reported on the 'Second annual concert and soiree, Whau Hall'. This was at Avondale, which had received its first known settler in 1843. The account noted the new attraction. 'Mr David Henderson then exhibited his wonderful zoetrope, which, with the proceeds of the entertainment, will result in clearing off the debt on the hall.'10 Whau Public Hall had officially opened on 13 November 1867, to provide a venue for dances, etc. A Mr. D. Henderson was one of the original 'subscribers and contributors', so was evidently a local inhabitant - trade not known - rather than a travelling showman.11 Clearly, the proceeds for these zoetrope presentations went towards the particular church, charity, or local facility.

Auckland: Primitive Methodist; and Odd Fellows

Auckland was hit by a depression at this time, but there were nevertheless those who were prepared to pay to see the zoetrope. On 31 December 1868 the Daily Southern Cross reported: 'We observe that the zoetrope will be exhibited today at the Primitive Methodist Bazaar, Edwardes street [Auckland].... the affair will not be attended by that amount of success that could be wished; the many counter-attractions presented having, no doubt, contributed towards the result.'12 It appears that there was a rival. A bazaar at the Odd Fellows' Hall in aid of the Catholic Institute, to help pay off the debt incurred in constructing the building, was also showing a zoetrope that same day 13 and the next: 'To-day, a large zoetrope will be exhibited; and as this is the finest instrument of the description ever, we believe, brought to the colony, we anticipate it will be well patronised.'14

Auckland: Smith's Store

Four months later, the zoetrope was still sufficiently novel to be an attraction, as indicated by a notice in May for a bazaar 'in aid of the Refuge for Destitute Old Women and the Lying-in Hospital'. It was 'held at Mr S.H. Smith's new store, Queen-street yesterday, and will be continued today ... Among the other attractions too, we noticed one of those remarkable toys known as [the] zoetrope, which, presided over by Mr. Montague, created much amusement.' The bazaar was arranged by Mrs. Whitaker, 'Ever first in the cause of charity'.15 In September 1869 a zoetrope was listed among the goods at a 'clearing out sale' - perhaps one of those used publicly, its novelty value now expended.16

Zoetrope in the South Canterbury Museum,    
New Zealand. Picture strip and   
base disc are photocopies.   
(Creative Commons)


Waiwakaiho: Courtney's Farm

Although advertised for sale early on in Wellington, it seems that it took a while for the zoetrope to be used in other areas as an attraction for fetes and bazaars. In 1873 the Taranaki Herald advertised a Boxing Day event, the Good Templars' Demonstration Fete, to be held at Mr Courtney's Farm, Waiwakaiho (now Waiwhakaiho, New Plymouth District). The demonstrations were chiefly races for children and men - including a 'Roman chariot race' - but also including the notice that 'The Zoetrope or Wheel of Life will be on exhibition'.17 The following year the same newspaper advertised an auction of household goods.18 A zoetrope was included, though evidently not the one used at the previous year's fete, as the same annual event the following Boxing Day - 1874 Good Templars' fete - still advertised the zoetrope as an attraction, albeit less prominently.19 The zoetrope was often a key attraction at these fetes and bazaars, the only one to sometimes be charged a separate fee for viewing. Occasionally there were other optical presentations; the 1868 bazaar at the Odd Fellows' Hall, Auckland, had featured the zoetrope alongside 'dissolving views' (magic lantern slides).20 A generation later, any use of that new moving image device the cinematograph/e in charity bazaars stopped instantly after a tragic fire, costing more than 100 lives, in Paris in May 1897.21

As other digital resources become available for searching, it might be possible to determine whether or not this use of a standard zoetrope for display to quite large audiences for the purpose of charity fundraising was an unusual phenomenon, most common to this colonial outpost. Some records of similar use in Australia are now coming to light.22 It would have been very easy to set up, requiring only good lighting above the device and preferably an arrangement that allowed the audience to gather round, rather than sit in rows of seats as in a lecture theatre. Clearly such zoetrope shows enjoyed some success.

Stephen Herbert, January 2013.

Back to Zoetropes Part 2



1. WHEEL OF LIFE, LS&PC advertisement, The Times, 3 February 1869, 6. "↩"

2. The WHEEL OF LIFE LS&PC full column advertisement in The Times, 3 February 1869, 6, included the suggestion: 'Every Bazaar held for charitable purposes should have them.' "↩"

3. Anon. 1868b, 9. "↩"

4. Rains, 2007. "↩"

5. Fyfe and Lightman, 2007. For general details of charity bazaars, see Prochaska, 1977. Bazaars would later include cinematograph shows, as noted by Rains, 2007. An LS&PC advertisement for the 'Wheel of Life' in The Times included the suggestion that "Every Bazaar held for charitable purposes should have them". Further research will perhgaps reveal instances of zoetropes being used for fund raising in bazaars in the United Kingdom. "↩"

6. Anon. 1868d, 3. "↩"

7. Anon. 1868f, 3. The New Zealand Herald also included a report (see illustration). "↩"

8. Anon. 1868f, 1 "↩"

9. Anon. 1868g, 3. "↩"

10. Anon. 1868i, 4. "↩"

11. Subscribers and Contributors to the Wahau Public Hall, 1867. [Accessed 14 February 2011.] Whau Public Hall was used for a while as a school. Attempts were made in 1868 to provide a subscription library, but suspended (until 1872) due to a decrease in the population of the district. In 2010, the original Public Hall building in St Georges Road still exists. "↩"

12. Anon. 1868j, 2 "↩"

13. Anon. 1868j, 3 "↩"

14. Anon. 1869a, 3 "↩"

15. Anon. 1869b, 4 "↩"

16. Anon. 1869c, 2 "↩"

17. Anon. 1873, 1 "↩"

18. Anon. 1874a, 3 "↩"

19. Anon. 1874b, 1 "↩"

20. Anon. 1868j "↩"

21. See: Gosser, 1998. "↩"

22. Advertisement, 'A Grand Fancy Bazaar' The Argus (Melbourne), 10 December 1869. "↩"


Fyfe, Aileen, and Bernard Lightman, 2007. Science in the Marketplace. Nineteenth-Century Sites and Experiences. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

H. Mark Gosser. 1998. The Bazar de la Charité Fire: The Reality, the Aftermath, the Telling. Film History Vol. 10, No. 1, Cinema Pioneers, 70-89.

Prochaska, F. K. 1977. Charity Bazaars in Nineteenth-Century England. Journal of British Studies Vol. 16, No. 2, 62-84.

Rains, Stephanie. 2007. Modernity and consumption in nineteenth-century Ireland: The Araby Bazaar and 1890s popular visual culture. Early Popular Visual Culture , Vol. 5, No. 3, November, 285-300.


Anon. 1866. Gladding Brother, & Co. [NY, USA] Providence Evening Press, 17 December.

Anon. 1867a. London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company Advertisement. The Times. 27 November.

Anon. 1867b. Advertisement. The Times. 2 December.

Anon. 1867c. LS&PC Advertisement. The Times. 13 December.

Anon. 1868a. Zoetrope. LS&PC advertisement. The Times. 1 January, 1; 3 February, 6.

Anon. 1868b. Ipswich New Town-Hall The Times. 3 February.

Anon. 1868c. Advertisement [possibly by unlicensed trader]: zoetropes at 21s. and 12s.6d. Edinburgh Evening Courant. 14 February.

Anon. 1868d. A New Optical Toy. Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle. 29 February.

Anon. 1868e. Advertisement. The Times. 13 April.

Anon. 1868f. St. James's Bazaar. Daily Southern Cross. 22 October.

Anon. 1868g. St. James's Presbyterian Church Bazaar. Daily Southern Cross. 23 October.

Anon. 1868h. The Zoetrope. [Hudson, USA] Daily Register. 15 December.

Anon. 1868i. Concert and Soiree at the Whau Hall. Daily Southern Cross. 30 December.

Anon. 1868j. Bazaar at the Odd Fellows' Hall. Daily Southern Cross. 31 December.

Anon. 1869a. Bazaar at the Odd Fellows' Hall. Daily Southern Cross. 1 January.

Anon. 1869b. Bazaar. Daily Southern Cross. 1 May.

Anon. 1869c. Auction advertisement. Daily Southern Cross. 30 September.

Anon. 1873. Good Templars' Demonstration Fete. Taranaki Herald. 24 December.

Anon. 1874a. Auction advertisement. Taranaki Herald. 7 February.

Anon. 1874b. Good Templars' Annual Fete advertisement. Taranaki Herald. 26 December.

Anon. 1886. The Wit of the Boulevards. New York Times. 5 December. [accessed 10 August 2011].