Sydney International Exhibition

Sydney International Exhibition

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Quick List Info

Garden Palace at the Sydney International Exhibition

Dates Open - Opened September 17, 1879 until April 20, 1880.

Attendance - Paid Attendance 850,480, Free Admission 267,056, Total Admissions 1,117,536.

International Participants - Countries represented (23 including 6 Australian states/colonies).

Total Cost - Net cost of Exhibition, after deducting returns, entrances, concessions, etc., was $1,321,000. There was a loss of 103,615L.

Site Acreage - Total acreage 24 acres within 35 acres of park. 15 acres, building only.

Sanction and Type - Prior to sanctioning by the Bureau of International Exhibitions. Would be considered a Special category Recognized event today due to size and participation.

Ticket Cost - Daily admission 1 shilling; season pass 3 guineas.

Sydney International Exhibition

Photo top center: Overview painting of the Sydney International Exhibition 1879-82, Original source unknown. Courtesy Dictionary of Sydney via Pinterest. Column Top: Garden Palace of Sydney 1879-1880, 1879. Courtesy Dictionary of Sydney via Pinterest. Column Bottom: Garden Palace at the Sydney International Exhibition, 1879-80. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

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History of the Event

Sydney International Exhibition

The Gold Rush had made these possible and by the 1870's Sydney was holding annual shows through the Agricultural Society of New South Wales, some of which included international exhibits. By the end of that decade, with population continuing to rise, even though still at less than three million for the entire continent, Sydney decided to go full international and host the first World's Fair in the southern hemisphere. They would host the Sydney International Exhibition from September of 1879 through April of the next year and invite the world. They would build a Garden Palace, in what is now the Royal Botanical Gardens.

The exhibition would focus on bringing commercial enterprises to the colonies of Australia, raising awareness of their markets. The exhibits of the fair centered on agriculture and livestock. It was originally thought that the fair could be held in existing building in Prince Albert Park, but the scope of the exhibition grew and a large building, 800 feet by 60 feet, the Garden Palace, was erected in the Inner Domain. It was built in eight months. Two additional machinery halls and an Art Gallery were also built. Outside the main buildings, there was a Maori House, a Fiji house with natives reported as former cannibals, an Austro-Hungarian beer hall, and an Australian diary. There were also numerous restaurants and refreshment stands.

Above photo. Statue of Queen Victoria at the Garden Palace of the Sydney International Exhibition, 1879-80. Courtesy National Library of Australia. Middle: Various sketches of the Sydney World's Fair, 1879, the Australasian Sketcher. Courtesy Museum of Victoria.

Sydney International Exhibition
The Sydney International was considered by some as a failure, not only because it lost money, over L100,000. And there was some perception that the exhibition was just a precursor to the larger exhibition being held in Melbourne in 1880-1. The local newspapers disagreed and had supporters in London. The London Times reported on December 1 that the best displays were from England, the United States, the British Colonies, and then Germany, and that the Fiji Islands war dance was a popular show at the exhibition. They also noted later that the Italian statuary and Japanese exhibits were drawing great attention.

Historian's Perspective

Aram Yengoyan - "All three ... (Sydney, Paris 1900, St. Louis 1904) were critical for national pride but for different reasons. Sydney expressed the idea that Australia did exist, it had gone beyond the formative era and also it was an attempt to shake the convict image. Sydney had a lot going for it, both the colonial government and the New South Wales government was most supportive, a lot of previous fanfare, but it was hard since few foreigners came, Australia was still out of normal orbit. But musical pieces were commissioned and as a model it did very well. "

Martha Sear - "Australian fairs were extremely popular with Australian audiences, which embraced them with enormous enthusiasm. The 1879 and 1880 exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne were the first international exhibitions in Australasia and were themselves a new idea taken up with enormous vigor by colonial authorities. The theme of Australian events was unrelenting progress, and for a rapidly developing set of colonies this held very true! As these were in large part first-off events held in rapidly developing "new" cities, the influx of visitors and ideas had a positive impact on local business and infrastructure (eg Sydney got its first trams because of the exhibition in 1879). Australian cities extremely isolated from the world, and connected by good train but awful road services. Most of extended drain area small outback towns, from which large numbers of visitors did come! Most visitors from capital cities."


Sydney Exhibition Transportation

International Participants
Nations and Colonies

Austria, Belgium, Canada, Ceylon, Fiji, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Caledonia, New South Wales, New Zealand, Queensland, South Australia, Straits Settlement, Switzerland, Tasmania, United States, Victoria, Western Australia.

Note: It is sometimes difficult to tell whether certain nations or colonies actually participated in a significant way, especially in joint pavilions. Newspaper reports as well as the official guidebook may indicate participation when actual participation did not occur, or occurred minimally. Take the above as a guide, not gospel. Same could be said for whether you should count individual parts of a joint colony as one colony or more.

Expo Tidbits
Exhibition divided into seven main departments: mining and metallurgy, education and science, manufactures, art, machinery, agriculture, and horticulture.

London Committee recommended 110,000 square foot of space for Great Britain, 61,000 for France, and 100,000 for other European countries. Total more than originally allotted for all foreign exhibitors.

Six hundred and twenty men were employed in constructing the buildings.

There were 9,345 exhibitors.

Exhibition building spent next two years as an auditorium and home of Australia's first Mining and Technological Museum. The basement was used for government offices and storage. It was destroyed in 1882 by fire. Some reports contend the fire was arson to destroy convict records. Today, the Royal Botanical Gardens is located on the grounds of the original building.

Those in Charge
Exhibit building was designed by James Barnet.

Patrons to Garden Palace Exhibition Building

Sources: Official Report of the Sydney International Exhibition 1879-80; CyberSydney's Virtual Garden Palace Internet Site; History of Fairs and Expositions; Book of the Fairs; The Great Exhibitions; New York Times; London Times; Historical Dictionary of World's Fairs by Alfred Heller; History of Fairs and Expositions; Bureau of International Exhibitions; "Oh, So Many Fairs" by Mike Gregory.

Photo column top: Double decker tram transportation to the Exhibition, 1879. Courtesy State Library of New South Wales. Bottom: Painting of the Sydney International Exhibition, Original Source Unknown. Courtesy Pinterest.

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