State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 56 Spring 1995



The Australian Manuscripts Collection holds many items relating to nineteenth-century exhibitions, particularly those held in Victoria or which included Victorian representation. This material includes letters, diaries, scrapbooks, visitors' books and illuminated addresses.
Sir Redmond Barry was a Commissioner and, in some cases, President of Commissioners for a number of exhibitions. His prominent role is reflected in two collections of his personal papers (MS 8380 and MS 12161). They contain correspondence and miscellaneous items relating to the London Exhibition of 1862, the Melbourne Exhibition of 1866, the Sydney Exhibition of 1870 and the Philadelphia Exhibition of 1876. Much of the correspondence concerns Barry's efforts to solicit donations of books for the Melbourne Public Library while he was in London and Philadelphia. The letters include many references to the exhibitions as well.
Joseph Bosisto was President of Victorian Commissioners for the International Exhibition held in Calcutta in 1883–1884 and the Colonial and Indian Exhibition held in London in 1886. He also displayed his eucalyptus oil products at these and other exhibitions. The Manuscripts Collection holds research files compiled by H. Victor Feehan in the course of his biographical work on Bosisto. They include material relating to the London and Calcutta Exhibitions such as Commissioners' reports, press cuttings, extracts from official catalogues and jurors' reports, lists of relevant Public Record Office files and Feehan's own notes (MS 10963).
Alexander Fletcher, a Melbourne art dealer and connoisseur, was an official at exhibitions in Melbourne in 1880 and 1888, in London in 1886, in Adelaide in 1887 and in Dunedin in 1889–90. His papers include two addresses, one connected with the Adelaide Exhibition and the other with the Melbourne Exhibition of 1888; a visitors' book for the Victorian section of the Dunedin Exhibition; and a scrapbook. The scrapbook includes letters, newspaper articles, a seating plan for a banquet in Adelaide, an employees' timetable for the Dunedin Exhibition, and twelve comic portraits of men involved with the Adelaide Exhibition. Fletcher himself is among those depicted (MS 11015).
Three further scrapbooks were compiled by David Munro, a Melbourne engineer and contractor. They contain press cuttings and correspondence on a range of subjects, and include letters and financial records relating to the Intercolonial Juvenile Industrial Exhibition held in Melbourne in 1879–80. These are the only documents concerning that event found in the Australian Manuscripts Collection (MS 11479).
A number of interesting single items and small collections are held. One example is G. H. Batten's draft of an inaugural cantata for the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880, accompanied by notes entitled “On the design and objects of the poem” (MS 9087). According to Graeme Davison,1 a competition for an appropriate cantata was conducted and several hundred entries received. Sadly for Batten he did not win. Another collection contains an inventory of items sent to London for the International Exhibition of 1862. It includes particulars of the gold purchased by banks on behalf of the Victorian Government and a list of timber specimens showing their botanical name and place of origin.
“The Paris Exhibition” is one of a hundred ballads by Charles Thatcher preserved in manuscript form in the Collection (MS 5004). Thatcher entertained diggers at the Victorian goldfields with songs on local and topical themes, and he published many of these during the 1850s and 1860s. In “The Paris Exhibition” Thatcher ironically lists those rare and precious Victorian artefacts he believed suitable for display in Paris. They included “an official without great pomposity”, “a digger that saves what he gets”, and “a commissioner that doesn't take tip/and that isn't a land speculator”.
Further information may be found in letters and diaries written by Victorians during the period of an exhibition. For example, John Mills Hughes' diary describes the opening of the International Exhibition in Melbourne on

Caricature of Alexander Fletcher from his scrapbook

1 October 1880. A detailed synopsis of the diary has been prepared as a finding aid (MS 10718). The artist Abram Louis Buvelot wrote many letters to Eugene Girardet, a friend in Switzerland. One of these, dated 4 April 1881, contains an account of the 1880 Exhibition, noting that there was not much difference between it and a similar event in the northern hemisphere but for “a little more naiveté and affectation”. Buvelot describes the preparation of a landscape painting for the Exhibition and its reception by the judges and the public (MS 11635).
The travel writings of Victorians who visited overseas exhibitions are also of interest. For example, Laurence E. Hervey, in his “Diary of a tour around the world”, gives a brief account of a visit to the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition in Dunedin on 16 January 1890: “the woollen goods were beautiful, and the Maori curios most Interesting” (MS 12591).
Relevant material also appears in the papers of other individuals or in the records of organisations. George Collins Levey was secretary to commissioners or Victorian representative for a number of exhibitions between 1870 and 1900. Several letters by Levey concerning exhibitions are held in the records of the Victorian Artists' Society (MS 7593). A letter in the papers of F. W. Haddon acknowledges receipt of payment for a painting and was written by Levey in his capacity as Secretary to the Great Britain Committee for the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880 (MS 6796).
These are just some examples of documents connected with exhibitions to be found in the Manuscripts Collection. While original manuscripts comprise a smaller body of material than the vast output of printed works, unpublished papers can often add a sense of immediacy and a more personal dimension to the evidence found in books, newspapers and official reports.
Shona Dewar
Librarian in the Australian Manuscripts
Collection of the La Trobe Library


G. Davison, “Exhibitions”, Australian cultural history vol. 2, 1982–1983, p. 12.