1853 Dublin IR – Great Industrial Exhibition of all Nations

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1853 Dublin

Name:The Great Industrial Exhibition of all Nations
Dates:12 May – 29 Oct, opened by the Lord-Lieutenant
Days:147 days
Venue:Temporary building, covering 12 acres overall; 6.8 acres inside exhibition building.
Theme:Irish trade and manufactures
Exhibitors:7,000 items on show – from 34 nations and colonies
Awards:No data
Visitors:1,156,232 total attendance – paid attendance was 956,114 including 589,369 who paid at the door and 366,745 who had season tickets. Admission fee was Men £2 2s, ladies £1 1s, boys $1 1s (no mention of girls!), It was lowered to 2s 6d from 23 May, then to 1s from 6 Jun, and 6d from 10 Oct.
Legacy:Dargan the main funder would become bankrupt

This event was originally proposed by Royal Dublin Society, but was funded William Dargan, a designer and builder of roads, canals and railways, who became known as the ‘founder of railways in Ireland’. Dargan initially donated £30,000 but ended up providing a total of £100,000. Dargan was a rich man, employing 47,000 in 1847 during the Irish famine.

This made it the most extravagant and expensive public event in nineteenth-century Ireland. His donations were marked by a bronze statue of Dargan set before the Irish National Gallery on Leinster Lawn and looking out across Merrion Square. A confirmed Irish patriot he declined the offer of a knighthood by the British Viceroy, and a baronetcy offered personally by Queen Victoria when she visited his home, the first such visit to an Irish commoner by a British monarch.

The sales proved disappointing, probably due to the extreme poverty of most. Dargan lost £20,000, this and a subsequent failed flax business saw him declare bankruptcy.

Irish Industrial Exhibition Building, 1853

The temporary Irish Industrial Exhibition Building was designed by John Benson, heavily inspired by London’s Crystal Palace and located on the grounds of Leinster House. It was fabricated in timber, iron and glass. It was 130m (425 ft) long, 91m (300 ft) wide and 30m (100 ft) high. There were two 15m (50 ft) side halls each with a 20m (65 ft) high dome. On Christmas Eve 1852 part of the roof was destroyed by a storm.

There was a Fine Arts court, a Machinery court and a hall dedicated to foreign contributors; these cost a total of £48,000. The site was later used as the location for the National Gallery of Ireland.

Dublin 1853, Fine Art Court

The Fine Arts Court at Dublin was planned as one of its highlights, it had one side devoted to British artists, the other with Belgian, Dutch, French, and German (Prussia) artists’ works. The, then, value of the art exhibited was estimated at £200,000.

1853 Dublin medal

Exhibits ranged across all industries and included cotton, lace, linen, woollens and worsteds; furs, leather,
saddlery and harness; animal and mineral substances; bog-wood carvings; printing, book-binding, paper
and stationery; iron and general hardware; furniture, china, cutlery and glassware; carriages; and novelties
like Celtic Revival jewellery and a new ‘calotype’ process for producing large photographs.

On May 12, fifteen thousand people of high rank and status attended the opening day, the public was admitted from the 13th. Among the notable visitors were Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and the Prince of Wales.

Internal view of venue

The US company Colt exhibited and concluded the sale of forty pistols to the Irish prison system, while Singer sewing machines achieved no sales at the event. Many British exhibitors also reported poor sales.

The event was successful enough for a further event to be held in Dublin in 1865.

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