For the Term of His Natural Life (1908 film)

For the Term of His Natural Life is a 1908 Australian silent film based on the 1874 novel by the same name by Marcus Clarke. The film is an adaptation of MacMahon's stage adaptation of the novel.

For the Term of His Natural Life
Directed byCharles MacMahon
Produced byCharles MacMahon
E. J. Carroll
Based ona stage adaptation of the novel by Marcus Clarke
StarringMartyn Keith
CinematographyC. Byers Coates
Release date
8 August 1908
Running time
2,000 feet (45 – 60 mins)[1]
LanguageSilent film
English intertitles
Budget£7,000[2] or £1,000[3]

It was the fourth Australian feature ever made and is considered a lost film.

The 1908 film was the first screen adaptation of Clarke's novel, which was also later filmed in 1911, as a silent film known as "The Life of Rufus Dawes", 1927, again as a silent film, and the most expensive produced in Australia till that time and 1983, as a television mini-series.


The film's plot was a collection of highlights from the novel, such as

  • "The Convict Mutiny in the 'Malabar'",
  • "The Burning of the 'Hydaspes'",
  • "The Murder on Hampstead Heath",
  • "The Solitary of Grummet Island", and
  • "The Life and Death Struggle Between Gabbett and his Famished Escapees".

The movie kept the tragic ending of the novel, with Rufus Dawes and Sylvia perishing in a storm after Reverend North had helped Dawes escape.[4][5]


  • Martyn Keith as Rufus Dawes
  • Rosie Knight Phillips as Sylvia Vickers
  • Mrs Barry Lane as Mrs Vickers
  • Frank Kenn as Lord Bellasis
  • Augustus Neville as Gabbett
  • Roland Conway as Reverend North
  • Mr Jerdan as Reverend Meekin
  • Fred Francis as Lieutenant Frere
  • Charles Morse as Jemmy Vetch


The MacMahon brothers, James and Charles MacMahon, had enjoyed success producing a version of the novel on stage,[6] and allocated a considerable budget for the movie, including a shooting schedule of eight weeks[7] and location work in Port Arthur. The scene involving the burning of a sailing ship was staged with a model ship in a tank.[2]


Based on a popular stage adaptation of the novel, the movie was a big success at the box office, running for eight weeks in Sydney at Queens Hall in 1908.[8][9] It played in cinemas on and off until World War I.[10][11] Screenings were usually accompanied by an actor, who would provide descriptive commentary to what was on screen.[12]

See also


  1. "DRAMA BY ANIMATED PICTURES." The Register (Adelaide) 6 Jul 1908: 3, accessed 26 November 2011
  2. Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper, Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998, 9
  3. "Advertising". Williamstown Chronicle. Vic.: National Library of Australia. 12 April 1913. p. 4. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  4. "FOR THE TERM OF HIS NATURAL LIFE." The Examiner (Launceston), 10 Nov 1909: 6, accessed Web. 26 November 2011
  5. "WONDERLAND PICTURES". The Mildura Cultivator. Vic.: National Library of Australia. 21 May 1913. p. 9. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  6. "AMUSEMENTS". The Daily News. Perth: National Library of Australia. 4 January 1900. p. 3. Retrieved 5 December 2012.
  7. ""FOR THE TERM OF HIS NATURAL LIFE."". The Examiner. Launceston, Tas.: National Library of Australia. 10 November 1909. p. 6 Edition: DAILY. Retrieved 24 August 2013.
  8. Margaret Williams, 'MacMahon, Charles (1861–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, accessed 4 December 2012.
  9. "Advertising". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 12 October 1908. p. 2. Retrieved 24 August 2013.
  10. "MACMAHON AND CARROLL'S PICTURE DRAMA." The Examiner (Launceston, Tas) 12 Nov 1909: 3, accessed Web. 26 November 2011
  11. Graham Shirley and Brian Adams, Australian Cinema: The First Eighty Years, Currency Press, 1989 p 26.
  12. "HIS NATURAL LIFE" BY BIOGRAPH." The Brisbane Courier 24 Dec 1909: 2, accessed 26 November 2011
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