Intercolonial and international exhibitions

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

1854 and 1861

The building for the Melbourne Exhibition of 1854 was at the corner of William Street and Little Lonsdale Street, where the Royal Mint building (Hellenic Museum) now stands. The 1854 building also housed the Victorian Exhibition in 1861. The architects and designers were Thomas and Samuel Henden Merrett. 

Melbourne’s first Exhibition Building Blog:

  • Melbourne’s grand glass Exhibition Hall, built for a 1854 Exhibition and inspired by London’s famous Crystal Palace, reflected the ambition and confidence of the fledgling new colony of Victoria.

Description of the building

  • from The Argus, 11 August 1854, page 5, column 6. Look under the heading 'Domestic Intelligence' and then scroll towards the bottom of the column for a detailed description of the building.

Description of the building

  • from The Illustrated Australian News, 9 October 1880, page 180.

Photograph of the building

  • by Cox and Luckin, 1861.

The greater number of exhibits displayed in the 1861 Exhibition created the need for more space, so an apartment eighty feet by forty feet was added to the building:

Addition to the building 

  • for 1861, see 'The inauguration', The Argus, 2 October 1861, page 5, column 4.

Print, wood engraving, exterior of the Melbourne Exhibition building, for the first Exhibition of 1854

 The first Exhibition of 1854 [Melbourne, Vic.], IAN15/08/88/Supp/1

1866, 1872 and 1875

Melbourne's second exhibition buildings, the Great Hall and the Rotunda, were built for the Intercolonial Exhibition of 1866–67 at the back of the Public Library, where the La Trobe (Dome) Reading Room of the State Library of Victoria now stands.

You can watch a virtual reconstruction of these buildings on the State Library's website. The architects were Reed and Barnes. The interiors were designed by Edward La Trobe Bateman.

Two more exhibitions were held at the Public Library site, the Victorian Exhibition of 1872 and the Victorian Intercolonial Exhibition of 1875.

The exhibition buildings were designed to be temporary, and were demolished in about 1910.

Search our catalogue to find many more digitised images of the buildings, including an architectural drawing, and images showing the construction process and interior.

Colour architectural drawing of Melbourne Public Library. Proposed extension for Intercolonial Exhibition.

Melbourne Public Library. Proposed extension for Intercolonial Exhibition.
Longitudinal Section - Great Hall: Elevation - Great Hall
, H2010.69/17

1880 and 1888

The current Royal Exhibition Building in the Carlton Gardens was built for the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880/81. It also housed the 1888/89 Centennial International Exhibition. The building is on the Victorian Heritage Register and also on the World Heritage Register. A brief history of the building can be found in the Encyclopedia of Melbourne.

According to the Official record pages 141-148, extra space was needed to house the exhibits for the 1888 exhibition, and temporary annexes were constructed.

Moorhead, E, 'Visit to the Melbourne Exhibition Building', Victorian Historical Magazine, Issue 98, Volume 25, No. 2, June 1953, pp. 67-71.
Gives brief information about the building and its use for the 1880 and 1888 exhibitions

The book Victorian icon: the Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne provides a comprehensive history of the building and its uses.

Print, wood engraving, Melbourne Centennial Exhibition, 1888: bird's-eye view of the buildings

Melbourne Centennial Exhibition, 1888: bird's-eye view of the buildingsA/S09/08/88/120

Exhibition Street

Exhibition Street was originally called Stephen Street. Stephen Street had a dubious reputation and it was hoped to restore it to respectability by renaming the portion north of Collins Street to mark the International Exhibition of 1880.

The change was not made official until 1898 with both names in use in the 1880s and 1890s. The southern part was renamed in 1963. For further information see page 29 of Melbourne street life: the itinerary of our days

State Library Victoria

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