Charles Cozens Spencer

Charles Cozens Spencer (12 February 1874 – 1930) was a British-born film exhibitor and producer, who was a significant figure in the early years of the Australian film industry. He produced films under the name Spencer's Pictures and was an early backer of the films of Raymond Longford. He was also instrumental in the creation of "The Combine".


Spencer was born in Hunston, Sussex, the third son of Cornelius Cosens, farmer, and his wife Ellen. In 1892 he emigrated to British Columbia, Canada, with his brother Arthur in order to look for gold. He did a variety of jobs then in 1894 formed a company of providers with his prother Sidney at Fairview and Camp McKinney. In 1898 he was a clerk at Vernon. He began screening motions pictures and met and married Mart Stuart Huntly who became his chief projectionist and business partner.


Spencer first arrived in Australia in 1905. He opened the Great American Theatrescope at the Lyceum Theatre in Sydney and eventually turned the Lyceum as a permanent picture theatre from June 1908.

He made a fortune exhibiting The Great Train Robbery in Australia and soon became the leading exhibitor in the country. He moved into production, establishing a permanent production unit under Ernest Higgins in 1908. Initially focused on documentary shorts and newsreels, he moved into funding dramatic feature films, starting with The Life and Adventures of John Vane, the Notorious Australian Bushranger (1910).[1]

He was an early supporter of director Raymond Longford who directed The Fatal Wedding (1911) for Spencer. The success of this film enabled him to set up a £10,000 studio complex in Rushcutter's Bay, Sydney, where Longford made his next couple of features.[2][3]

By 1912 he was the largest importer of films in Australia and helped popularise the medium in that country.[4]

In 1911, Spencer had established a company, Spencer's Pictures Ltd with a nominal capital of £150,000.[5] He went overseas for 12 months; while overseas, the board of Spencers voted to merge with Wests Ltd and Amalgamated Pictures resulting in the "combine" of Australasian Films and Union Theatres.[6][7]

After the box office failure of The Shepherd of the Southern Cross (1914) Spencer was unable to persuade the combine to invest in drama production, and stepped back his involvement in the local industry.[8]

Several of his films were released in the US by Sawyers Pictures; they were given new titles such as The Convict Hero, The Bushranger's Bride, Nell Gwynne, The Bandit Terrors of Australia and The Queen of the Smugglers.[9]

In 1918 the Spencers were sued by the Combine for an alleged breach of contract. They settled out of court and left Australia.[10]


Spencer returned to Canada with his wife, where he bought several ranches in British Columbia in Chilcotin County. In September 1930, he was unpacking a truck full of groceries at one of his ranches along with his foreman, Walter Stoddart, and a grocer, Edward Smith. Spencer grabbed a gun and shot Smith in the back and then Stoddart, before fleeing. Smith died of his wounds; Stoddart managed to drive away and was rescued.[11][12] Spencer went missing in the aftermath of the shooting; eventually his body was found in a lake, where he had drowned himself.[13][14]

He left behind an estate worth $300,000.[15][16]



  1. Graham Shirley and Brian Adams, Australian Cinema: The First Eighty Years, Currency Press, 1989, p28.
  2. "FILM INDUSTRY". The Argus. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. 17 June 1927. p. 16. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  3. "SPENCER'S FILM FACTORY". The Sunday Times. Sydney: National Library of Australia. 7 July 1912. p. 2. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  4. "CINEMATOGRAPHY". The Examiner. Launceston, Tas.: National Library of Australia. 6 January 1912. p. 8 Edition: DAILY. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  5. "SPENCER'S PICTURES, LTD". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 21 September 1911. p. 11. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  6. "NOTES AND COMMENTS". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 27 September 1912. p. 11. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  7. "SPENCER'S PICTURES, LTD". The Sunday Times. Sydney: National Library of Australia. 23 November 1913. p. 2. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  8. "MR. C. SPENCER RETIRES". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 28 February 1914. p. 24. Retrieved 4 February 2012.
  10. The Lone hand, W. McLeod, 1907, retrieved 25 March 2019
  11. "Spencer Shot Smith". Daily Colonist. 21 September 1930. p. 1.
  12. "Indian trackers on trail". The Daily Colonist. 13 September 1930. p. 1.
  13. 'MISSING RANCHER Cozens Spencer's Body. Found VANCOUVER, Thursday', The Canberra Times, Saturday 1 November 1930 p 4
  14. "12 September 1930". The Daily Colonist. p. 1.
  15. SPENCER COSENS Leaves Estate of £60,000 VANCOUVER, 13 January. The Advertiser (Adelaide) Thursday 15 January 1931 p 9 Article
  16. "WANTED FOR MURDER". Western Argus. Kalgoorlie, WA: National Library of Australia. 23 September 1930. p. 2. Retrieved 4 September 2013.
  17. Clip at Australian Screen Online
  18. "Marvellous Melbourne: Queen City of the South c.1910". Australian Screen Online. Retrieved 5 September 2011.

Further reading

  • Gaunson, Stephen (2014). "Marvellous Melbourne: Lady filmgoers, Spencer's Pictures and Cozens Spencer". Early Popular Visual Culture. 12 (1): 22–36. doi:10.1080/17460654.2013.872049.
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