13/08/2022

1854 Melbourne AU – Melbourne Exhibition

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1854 Melbourne

Name:Melbourne Exhibition
Dates:17 Oct – 12 Dec 1854
Days:56 days
Venue:Williams Street, Melbourne –
Theme:To celebrate the achievements of the gold rush colony
Exhibitors:Largely these were local manufacturers
Awards:7 x Silver, 94 x Bronze, 186 certificates
Visitors:40,000
Legacy:A series of Melbourne events

This was the first major exhibition organised in Melbourne in the nineteenth century. It was organised as much to bring together goods that would be considered for suitability to be exhibited at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1855. The Melbourne Exhibition opened on 17 October 1854 and ran until 12 December 1854.

The official catalogue of the exhibition was published in 1855. The 36-page publication simply listed the items on display within several – Fine Arts, Machinery, Mining, Natural History… There are no illustrations to clarify quite what Exhibit 50 – Various specimens of artificial teeth and dental apparatus in a mahogany pedestal revolving by clockwork, or Exhibit 78 – A pair of boots with revolving heels might have appeared. And no indication as to which made it to Paris.

Print, wood engraving, exterior of the Melbourne Exhibition building, for the first Exhibition of 1854
1854 venue

Melbourne’s first Exhibition Building was built in 1854 on the present site of the Old Royal Mint in Williams St. It was modelled on London’s Crystal Palace of 1851. Designed by Samuel Merrett, it was 257 ft long (78,3m), 90 ft wide (27.4m) and 59 ft high (18m). Internally, it had almost 200 large windows and the roof was also largely made of glass. This building held the Melbourner exhibitions of 1854, 1861 and 1866. But by 1869 the building was in poor condition and demolished.

A description of the opening ceremony and the main exhibits was published in The Argus, 18 Oct 1854, p.4. The exhibition featured largely the local manufacturers and was designed to celebrate the achievements of the gold rush colony. The Age newspaper exhibited a steam printing machine and the first edition of the paper was printed at the exhibition on October 17, 1854.

Medal winners for this exhibition were published in the Victoria government gazette, 27 Feb 1855, pp. 556-560. According to this list, although Australia was in the midst of its Gold Rush (first discovery 12 Feb 1851) they awarded no gold medals – just 7 silvers, 94 bronze and a flurry of certificates.

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