Author: Georgia Harris

The Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition of 1888 was a pinnacle moment in Melbourne’s development as a City. It marked the city's entrance onto the global stage with much to offer international traders looking for new markets to exploit. The exhibition took place at the Exhibition Building, one of Melbourne’s most photographed and ornately designed buildings still located within the Carlton Gardens.


Sepia photo of M.A. Gerson a staff member of the 1888 International Exhibition, Melbourne.

M.A. Gerson and S.L Gerson, 1888 International Exhibition, Melbourne. VPRS840P1 Unit 1

Exhibitions of late 19th Century

From its opening on the 1st of August 1888, until its closing on the 31st of January 1889, over two million people visited the exhibition; more than twice the number of people living in Melbourne at the time.

International Exhibitions of the late 19th century were large scale trade fairs where nations could display their industrial achievements to an international audience. In addition to providing opportunities to buy and trade, they also provided entertainment. Attractions such Fine Art exhibits, daily concerts and demonstrations of new industrial processes drew in local crowds.


Staff Photo Albums

Such a large scale event required significant numbers of staff and at some point in the planning process that lead up to the Centennial International Exhibition, it was decided that a photographic record would be kept of all non-paying entrants to the exhibition. These photographs were kept in albums. Of those that have survived, four are held by the Public Record Office of Victoria (a further two albums are held by the State Library of Victoria).

The albums could also serve as a photographic record of other occupations which existed in Melbourne at the time. In addition to categories for visiting international exhibitors and staff, there are sections devoted to local categories such as Fine Arts, Country and Metropolitan Press and even members of a Fire Brigade employed for the duration of the event.  The photos also help paint a picture of the varying fashion and hair trends enjoyed by Melbourne’s working class.


Accessing These Records

 The photographs can be viewed by ordering the album to view at the Reading Room in North Melbourne.

Records: VPRS 840/P0 Units 1,2,3,4  Security Identity Photos of Individuals Associated with the 1888 International Exhibition Melbourne

Creating Agency: Trustees, Exhibition Building: VA 1070, 1881 - 1996

Agency currently responsible: Museum Victoria Council: VA 3152, 1996-continued

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