J. Ernest Williamson
Underwater photographer and submarine films John Ernest Williamson
Underwater photographer and submarine films John Ernest Williamson
Born(1881-12-08)December 8, 1881
Died(1966-07-15)July 15, 1966
Known forunderwater filmmaking
SpouseLilah Freeland Williamson
ChildrenSylvia, Annecke Jans
A 1915 illustration of the tube, drawn by Ernest's younger brother George[1]
Williamson descending into the tube with camera

John Ernest Williamson (8 December 1881 – 15 July 1966) invented the "photosphere" from which he filmed and photographed undersea.[2] He is credited as being the first person to take an underwater photograph from a submarine.[3]


He was born in Liverpool, England[4] 1881 to Charles Williamson, a sea captain from Norfolk, Virginia.[5] Charles had invented a deep-sea tube, made of concentric iron rings, "which stretched like an accordion". The tube was used for underwater repair and for ship salvage. In 1912 Williamson, while working as a reporter, used the device to make underwater photographs in Norfolk Harbor.[3] He then expanded the photosphere, which he named Jules Verne, and used it to create motion pictures, starting first in the Bahamas.[2][6]

Williamson created a film company, the Submarine Film Corporation.[7] Their first feature film came out in 1914 and was entitled "Thirty Leagues Under the Sea" starring Williamson in a fight with a shark.[6] The Submarine Film Corporation would also partner with other companies such as Thanhouser Company. J. Ernest Williamson and his brother George M. Williamson would shoot and develop the film using their photosphere which was then finalized and distributed by others.[6]

Partial filmography


  1. ^ "Motion Pictures Under the Sea", Cleveland Moffett, The American Magazine, January 1915. Page 16.
  2. ^ a b "With Williamson Beneath the Sea". UCLA. Archived from the original on 22 June 2002. Retrieved 22 August 2009. John Ernest Williamson (1881-1966) was active in motion pictures for nearly fifty years.
  3. ^ a b McKay, Herbert C. (1927). Motion picture photography. New York City: Falk publishing co., inc. pp. 310–316. OL 6721834M.
  4. ^ "International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame". Archived from the original on 24 March 2015. Retrieved 12 March 2010.
  5. ^ American Museum of Natural History Archived 2010-11-23 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ a b c d e f Taves, Brian. "A Pioneer Under the Sea Library Restores Rare Film Footage". Information Bulletin, September 16, 1996. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  7. ^ Bowers, Q. David. "Terrors of the Deep". Thanhouser Films: An Encyclopedia and History. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  8. ^ National Geographic oDeutschland (3 March 2017). "Diese Bilder haben Fotografiegeschichte geschrieben". National Geographic (in German). Retrieved 4 February 2023.
  9. ^ "With Williamson Beneath the Sea". Turner Classic Movies. Time Warner. Retrieved 2 April 2018.

Media related to John Ernest Williamson at Wikimedia Commons