Flights of Fancy – reflecting on Lawrence Hargrave’s Lope deVega lantern lecture

Hargrave’s cut and paste technique, courtesy of the National Library of Australia

My extended reflection on Lawrence Hargrave’s magic lantern lecture Lope deVega was recently published in an edited volume on magic lantern slides edited by Elisa deCourcy and Martyn Jolly. After my initial encounter with Hargrave’s lantern slides I dug a little deeper into the NLA catalogue and called up a large repository of letters, notes, draft manuscripts, and other jottings made by Lawrence Hargrave. This archive comprised materials he gathered and made in undertaking his research and writing his interpretation on the origins of rock engravings at Woolhara Point, Sydney. More specifically it reveals the incredible efforts he went to in attempting to establish a connection between the petroglyphs and the occupants of ‘Lope deVega’, a Spanish ship that went missing after leaving Peru in the 17th Century. Plowing through Hargrave’s materials in order to better understand the context and thinking behind his theory was a wild journey, that incorporated  research as collage as misinformation, and bizarre insights into his methods and the troubling ideology underpinning an eccentric inventor acclaimed for his flight mechanic experiments. It was fascinating to see how he literally cut and paste together his argument from a range of resources at his disposal.

By re-viewing the lantern slides in light of this larger body of material one can certainly flesh out in great detail the context of the argument the lantern lecture was posing but it didn’t make it any more believable. I discuss this in some detail in my chapter, Flights of Fancy, an open access version of which can be downloaded here, or as seen in the book The Magic Lantern at Work: Witnessing, Experiencing, Persuading and Connecting. This edited volume is an engaging collection of essays that explore the roles of the magic lantern in early visual culture. For more about the book a number of scholarly reviews can be found online by the following writers:

Amelia Bonea,  Shane Breynard,  Richard Crangle,  Veronica Johnson


Image credit: UK Frederick, 2018, from materials in the Lawrence Hargrave manuscript archive, National Library of Australia