17/01/2022

1880-81, Melbourne AU – International Exhibition

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1880 Melbourne

Name:International Exhibition
Dates:1 Oct 1880 – 30 Apr 1881
Days:212 days
Venue:Royal Exhibition Buildings and Carlton Gardens, built for this event, extended for the 1888
Centennial Exhibition – 12,000 sq m (129,000 sq ft)
Theme:Arts, Manufacturing, Agriculture and Industrial Products of all Nations
Exhibitors:12,792 (31,856 exhibits) from 32 countries
Awards:9,671 – in five orders of merit – of which 494 were gold, and 1,500 silver
Visitors:1,330,279 – 853k adults, 116k children, 16k seasons and 344k miscellaneous
Legacy:Total receipts and expenses were almost matched at c £331k, recording £1,571 profit

Victoria was granted self-governance in 1851 and New South Wales in 1856, soon after this their capitals Melbourne and Sydney developed a commercial rivalry. In the decase 1851-1861 some 622,00 migrants were received, attracted primarily to the gold finds.

Sydney held its exhibition in 1879-80 but this focused on agriculture and so is not deemed a World Fair, while this Melbourne exhibition has been retrospectively approved by the BIE thus it is considered to be the first world fair in the Southern Hemisphere.

There were earlier events held in Melbourne, the 1855 event could take full advantage of the gold discoveries and grew in size. Held at the present Royal Mint in William Street it attracted 40,000 people across thirty days, In 1861 another event was open for 60 days and attracted 67,000 visitors. This led to three Intercolonial Exhibitions being run in 1866, 1872 and 1875.

Melbourne’s 1880 event was planned to start six months after Sydney’s had closed, so it could offer exhibiting participants a ‘two-fer’ on lenghty and expensive exhibit transportation and personnel travel to Australia. The foundation stone in 1879 was laid before 10,000 people. The site was 22 acres in Carlton Gardens and facing Victoria Parade.

1880 Melbourne venue

The Royal Exhibition Buildings and Carlton Gardens were built specially for this event, and extended to hold the 1888 Centennial Exhibition. Its cruciform shape had elevated mezzanine galleries and leant heavily on design elements from the London 1851 (Crystal Palace) and 1862 London exhibitions. As its stand-out feature there was a 66m (217 ft) replica of the dome of the Florence Duomo. The main building is extant and has a World Heritage listing.

The Organiser was the Governor of Victoria, the Hon. Wm J Clarke MLC (Victoria’s richest man), and the architect was Reed & Barnes (Joseph Reed was Melbourne’s leading architect).

Opening ceremony

The event was opened by a procession of the trades, 3,285 participants from 27 groups.

1880 Melbourne interior

There were exhibits from other Australian states New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania
and Western Australia. The Governor’s opening address, said, it must be a source of legitimate pride to the people of Victoria that a Colony whose territory was an unknown land less than half a century ago has been enabled by the wealth of its natural resources, the wisdom of its laws, and the enterprise, intelligence and industry of its population to bring to a successful completion this grand project.

Venue interior


Official overseas exhibitors were Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Metherlands, Switzerland, UK and its colonies and USA – exhibits were also received from China, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Spain and Turkey. As a result, Australia opened direct trade relationships with Belgium, France, Germany and the USA. French bankd opened branches in Melbourne and Sydney. It prompted regular steamship routes from Australia to Marseilles France and Bremen Germany. Prior to this trade had all been through Britain,

Unlike Sydney, that focussed on agriculture, the Melbourne event highlighted industry and manufactures, At the time Victoria’s enterprises were generating £13m income per annum.

After Victoria itself, Great Britain used the largest exhibiting space 177,758 sq ft, then Germany 111,669, France 107,370, the USA was next at just 64,920 sq ft.

1880 exhibits

The 1,330,279 visitors were counted through turstiles by a newly-patented registering machine,

Forward to 1880, San Francisco US – Industrial Exhibition (15th) Mechanics Institute
Back to 1880 London UK – International Agricultural Exhibition (Kilburn?)
Back to Getting Noticed – Back to VOLUME II Index – Back to bobdenton.com home

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