Intercolonial and international exhibitions

People, exhibits and prizewinners at key intercolonial and international exhibitions 1854-1889, and the buildings that housed Victorian exhibitions.

State Library Victoria


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State Library Victoria forecourt


Melbourne exhibitions 1854-1889

Exhibitions and trade fairs were popular during the 19th century as a way for nations to showcase their best examples of manufacturing and the applied arts.

From 1854 Victorians were involved in displays in Melbourne and in exhibitions overseas. Victoria's exhibitions gave locals an opportunity to view a range of products and produce made in Australia, and new products from abroad. They were also a way of getting together local exhibits suitable for display at overseas exhibitions, to promote local skills and industry.

This guide includes information about the major intercolonial and international exhibitions held in Melbourne between 1854 and 1888. It also provides information about key overseas exhibitions where Victorians showcased their wares. It will help you.

Find people

This guide provides links to published exhibition catalogues and official records. These books list individual exhibitors from each country, and their exhibits. The official records include the names of award winners.

The lists of names in these books are typically arranged by category or type of exhibit (rather than alphabetically by surname), with no name index. This means finding a specific name may take some time. Click on the tabs above to find out what catalogues and records are available for each exhibition.

The exhibition catalogue and records do not include biographical information about exhibitors. To research the lives of individual exhibitors or businesses, search:

Images of people are not included in the exhibition catalogues. The Library holds photographs of Victorian and British exhibitors from the 1888-89 Centennial International Exhibition in Melbourne.

The visitors' register from the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition is in the Library's collection. There are 16,000 names in the register although there were 1.3 million visitors to the exhibition. The names are not in A to Z order, and have not been transcribed, so finding a name will be difficult. Access to the register is supervised and by appointment only. Telephone 03 8664 7009 for details.

Newspapers may mention prizewinning exhibitors. Many historic Victorian newspapers can be searched on the Trove website. To find out more about using historic newspapers, visit our newspapers research guide.

Find exhibits

This guide provides links to published exhibition catalogues. These catalogues list individual exhibits from each country. The lists are typically divided up by category of exhibit. In some instances the fine arts entries (paintings, sculpture, and so on) are published in a separate catalogue. It is rare for exhibits to be illustrated in these catalogues; however we may have other images of exhibits in our collection. Click on the exhibition year on the tabs above to find out more.

Newspapers are an excellent source of information about noteworthy exhibits. Many historic Victorian newspapers can be searched on the Trove website. To find out more about using historic newspapers, visit our newspapers research guide.


The Spring 1995 edition of the La Trobe Library Journal titled Victoria at the great exhibitions contains essays about the international exhibitions and information about resources held in the State Library's collections.

The National Museum of Australia's journal reCollections includes an article on Representing colonial Australia at British, American and European international exhibitions by Louise Douglas (March 2008, Vol 3 No 1).