1888-9, Melbourne AU – Centennial International Exhibition

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1888-9 Melbourne

Name:Centennial International Exhibition
Dates:1 Aug 1888 – 31 Jan 1889, 10:30 am to 10:30 pm
Days:160 days
Venue:the site was 17.4 ha (43 acres) buildings occupying 12.5 ha (31 acres)
Theme:To celebrate their nation and its achievements
‘Victoria welcomes all nations’
Exhibitors:10,240 from 21 Nations and 18 Colonies
Visitors:quoted variously between 1,963,436 and 2,003,593
Legacy:Costs reported as £268,266 to £339,351 with losses of £237,785

Jules Joubert returned to Australia from his venture with the 1883-4 Calcutta Exhibition and began building the Alexandra Theatre, but by 1887 he had declared bankruptcy again. But he bounced back to organise the New South Wales exhibits at this event.

It was organised to celebrate the centennial of the expansion through Australia, based upon the 1788 proclamation by the then New South Wales governor, Admiral Arthur Philips. He was an insignificant naval captain selected by the Government to establish a penal settlement at the other side of the world. He landed on an unpromising land, yet a few months after his arrival, he wrote to England claiming that it would prove ‘the most valuable acquisition Great Britain ever made.’

As Sydney’s Garden Palace had burned down in 1882, and the New South Wales leader, Sir Patrick Jennings was seeking to stem public expenses, it was instead planned for Melbourne. This had the merit of using the Royal Exhibition Building from the 1880-81 Melbourne exhibition. Victoria’s Chief Justice, George Higinbotham, was appointed the event’s President, but his approach was unpopular, he resigned and Sir James McBain took the role.

1888 Melbourne venue

Two permanent annexes were added for additional exhibitor space and particularly for machinery in motion. The buildings were provided with lighting – one thousand arc and two thousand incandescent bulbs were fitted. The ‘driving’ of machinery was offered by the organisers free of any charge, providing steam pipes, belt drives and any fuels,

This was the largest exhibition (by space) yet created in Australia – larger than London’s 1851 Great Exhibition. Exhibitors were drawn from 21 countries – Austro-Hungary, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Holland, Italy, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, ‘South America’, Turkey and USA – and 8 colonies – Ceylon, Cuba, Fiji, India, Madagascar, Malta, New Guinea, New South Wales, New Zealand, North Borneo, Philippines, Queensland, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia.

1888 Melbourne poster

The Australian colonies of Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and others were jockeying for trade and ascendancy. A second international exhibition, eight years after the first, gave Melbourne an apparent lead.

1888 Melbourne Interior

Notable exhibits included eight-five German exhibitors of pianos; while the USA exhibited many sewing machines, led by Singer, with Edison’s phonograph and chewing gum; a weapons feature included Aboriginal, Chinese and Borneo examples; a Renaiscance Chateau was built to display furniture; despite complaints from the temperance society there wasd also a display og brewing and winemaking.

Exhibitors included: Anheiser Busch Brewing Association, Bissell Carpet Steamer, Colgate, National Cash Register, Pratt & Whitney, Singer, Studebaker, Winchester Repeating Arms…

1880 Melbourne medal

Entertainment was provided by an orchestra, there were shooting galleries, an electric railway

The British Loan Collection sent to the show included works of JMW Turner and Landseer.

1888 Exhibit

This pātaka (carved storehouse) was displayed amid toetoe (large grasses) and ferns. It had originally been carved in the 1850s for Ngāti Pikiao and stood at the Lake Rotoiti settlement of Taheke. It was well-travelled becuase it was also an exhibit at the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London.

The overall costs were £237,785 with losses c £50,000, but it was judged to have provided jobs and attracted visitor to Victoria, The colony’s income also showed a marked rise. However there was a financial slump in 1893, with bank collapses, that meant a show of this size was no attempted again for many years.

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