The Australian Numismatic Society


By Hugh Armstrong

The second half of the 19th century was certainly the time for Exhibitions.  Many cities and countries spent time, money and effort into preparing for, and then staging them.  The first one that could be truly termed great was the 1851 Exhibition held in London.  At the time Great Britain was the leader of the Industrial Revolution.  It would have been possible to stage an event showing the economic and military strength of Britain, but it was decided to make the event truly international.  Invitations to participate were extended to almost all of the civilised world.  The British felt that it was important to show their achievements alongside those of “less civilised” countries.  Queen Victoria was eager to foster a feeling of contentment with her reign. It was during the 1850’s that the term “Victorian” began to be used, to denote a period through which the nation was passing.

The Exhibition was also a triumph for Victoria’s husband Albert.  He was given the credit for conceiving the idea of a great Exhibition to be held in Hyde Park, in the specially constructed Crystal Palace.  The building was of iron frame construction and used over a million feet of glass.  It was built to be moved when the Exhibition was over.

The Exhibition was a real success—there were 13,000 exhibits and over 6 million visitors.  There were exhibits from the Australian colonies.  The event was also profitable; a total of four hundred thousand pounds was raised.

In 1855 the French staged a mammoth Exhibition in Paris.  It was large in every way.  There were over 23,000 exhibits as against 13,000 in London.  The site covered 16 hectares as opposed to 10 hectares at the Crystal Palace.  However it cost over eleven million francs to stage, but there was a crippling shortfall in the receipts.  The organisers had to depend on a Government grant to get them out of a deep hole.

In spite of the financial failings of the Paris Exhibition it was felt in London that it would be possible to hold another giant Exhibition in a comparatively short time.  Smaller Exhibitions in Dublin and Florence had shown there had been significant advances in industry; there had been developments in telegraphy and photography. Early in 1858 it was decided to stage a repeat of the 1851 event.  The commissioners from 1851 were still managing the assets from that event.  Originally it was planned to hold the second London World Exhibition in 1861 to mark the 10th Anniversary of its successful predecessor; however events elsewhere began to appear as problems to the staging of an 1861 Exhibition.  The first of these was the Italian War of Independence which broke out in 1859.  This conflict almost brought preparations to a halt, since no one in London could imagine it would be possible to find sufficient foreign exhibiters to justify the Exhibition.  A promotional campaign started towards the end of 1859 got things moving again; this time with a planned Exhibition date in 1862.

It was not until early 1861 Queen Victoria appointed a commission for the Exhibition. Prince Albert who had made a crucial contribution to the staging of the 1851 Exhibition was unable to take part because of health problems.  It was not until March 1861 that invitations to participate were sent to other countries, and work began on the site.

The crisis in Italy had resolved itself, but another foreign conflict broke out which once more jeopardized the scheme.  The American Civil War caused a severe shortage of cotton, and the important British textile sector suffered.  Many companies had to cancel their participation.  Furthermore the Civil War made it doubtful whether the U.S.A., which had made a considerable showing in 1851 would participate.  This fear proved to be well founded—there were only a few American exhibits in 1862.

Another setback was the death of Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, within months of the planned opening date.  Albert had been a force behind the planning for the 1851 event.

With the Exhibition building the planners wished to put the Crystal Palace of 1851 in the shade in every aspect.  As it was intended to leave the building in place and use it after the Exhibition for further Trade Fairs and Industrial Exhibitions, there was no question of erecting a temporary glass and steel structure such as the Crystal Palace.  In accordance with the tastes of the time, the new building had to be solid, it was meant to last.  Building contractors, a British firm Kelk and Lucas, had submitted a low bid for the work and further, their remuneration was based on receipts from the Exhibition.

When completed the Exhibition Palace covered 6.5 hectares.  The National press was most unflattering with their comments on some aspects of the buildings, but in spite of the many problems, the second Great London Industrial Exhibition opened on May 1st 1862.  Queen Victoria was in mourning for the recently deceased Albert and did not attend.

Even after the opening, work was not complete and many exhibits were far from being in their rightful position.  The sheer volume of the exhibits meant that it was barely possible to present outstanding products and ideas in an adequate manner.  It just was not possible for visitors to the event, to take in anything like the full scope of the Exhibition in a reasonable time frame.  On the positive side of things the organisers had succeeded in assembling and displaying more exhibits by more exhibitors from more countries, than ever before.  Some 29,000 exhibitors representing 37 countries participated.  The number of exhibitors would have been higher if the U.S.A. had not been involved in a civil war.   Over 9,000 of the exhibitors came from Britain; there were 2,600 from British Colonies.

On November 1st 1862 when the doors of the Exhibition closed the critics were unanimous—In terms of significance and success the event was a long way behind the Great Industrial Exhibition of 1851.  On the credit side attendance was greater and it generated a modest profit.  Ticket prices ranged from one pound to one shilling depending on the day.  Needless to say a high percentage of the millions sold were of the one shilling variety.

But what of Queensland’s involvement in the Great Exhibition?

Shortly after separation in 1859, there was talk re the need for the new colony to participate in London.  The purpose would be to attract immigrants and more importantly, those with capital to invest.  On August 1st 1860 a joint committee of the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly was appointed “To Inquire and report as to the best means of securing a due and adequate representation of the products of Queensland in the contemplated Great Exhibition to be held in London in 1862.”  The committee must have realised that the event was less than 2 years away—as in less than six weeks the Moreton Bay Courier published the committee’s report.  The report of course was positive.  The committee viewed the forthcoming Exhibition as an opportunity of showing prospective investors and migrants what the new state already produced.  It was suggested that a commission of no less than 3 people be appointed to assemble articles suitable for exhibition.  These Commissioners would be unpaid, but should be empowered to engage and employ a paid secretary.  They also recommended that Honorary Commissioners should be appointed during the period of the Exhibition in London.  They suggested that the efforts of the Commissioners should not be crippled through want of means.  They believed that it would be difficult to carry out their recommendations unless a sum of 2,000 pounds was granted to meet necessary expenses.  A list of articles proposed to be exhibited was attached to the report.  The list ranged from wool, hides, wines, woods, and coal to pearls and vegetable products.

Press comments after the release of the report were favourable.  I did find one writer’s views amusing.  He wrote that as part of the New South Wales exhibit at London’s Great Exhibition of 1851, the Moreton Bay District was represented by a log of wood “from the interior of Wide Bay.”

When the Commissioners were appointed they were fortunate to employ as their paid secretary Thomas Dowse.  He proved to be a tireless worker.  Dowse was a pardoned convict, originally transported to Sydney in 1824, aged fifteen.  Arriving in Brisbane in 1842 he rapidly established himself in business.  By 1846 he was established as a commission agent and auctioneer, he had also been prominent in the campaign for separation.  The three Commissioners were men of means, M.H. Marsh, Alfred Denison and Arthur Hodson.  There were later additions—the most prominent was Walter Hill, Director of the Botanical Gardens.  In advertisements and articles in the press requests were made for produce and articles suitable for display in London.  In the Moreton Bay Courier of November 10th 1861 I noticed the first mention of an Exhibition in Brisbane of products before forwarding to London.  I quote “All will be excited by the determination made to hold an Industrial Exhibition in the Colony, prior to forwarding articles to England when prizes will be awarded to the most deserving, and an opportunity will be afforded the public of arriving at a correct estimate of our resources.”

The Commissioners found it difficult to assemble material.  The difficulties were obvious—a sparse population, poor communication and primitive roads.  The larger squatters did not appear interested.  In July 1862 Dowse was writing in the Courier asking that wool growers give him some assistance.  A list published on September 16th showed only one sample of wool presented for exhibition, (more was to be submitted later.)

The display of articles intended for transmission to Great Britain was eventually assembled in a building known as “The Armoury.”  It adjoined the Immigration Barracks at the lower end of Queen Street.  The display was opened on October 29th by His Excellency Sir George Bowen.  Jurors appointed to examine the various products had already met and decided on section winners.  Much of the display was made up of timber products; most of this was assembled by Walter Hill, Director of the Botanical Gardens on a non competitive basis.  Timber eventually took up nearly half of Queensland’s display in London; it filled one side of the Queensland Court.  Other products came from as far away as Gayndah, Rockhampton and Maryborough.

During the London Exhibition “The Times” commented favourably on the Queensland Court.  Wool, cotton and timbers of course were mentioned.  Medicinal Barks were noted, it was surprising the interest attracted by Dugong products.  It was claimed its oil was a superior medicine to cod liver oil.  Its flesh (for bacon and lard), its skin (for Glue and leather) and even its tusks and bones (second rate ivory) could be used.  A writer J.G. Knight said the mineral exhibit was insignificant; the coal and copper shown could not compete with Victoria’s gilded obelisk representing its gold production since 1851.

The Queensland Court exhibits won twelve Honourable Mention certificates and 20 bronze medals.  After the Exhibition was over the chief Queensland Commissioner Mathew Marsh wrote “I think the Exhibition has done wonders in bringing the Colony into notice.  In my knowledge it has induced great numbers to emigrate—many of them with considerable capital.”

Back in October 1861 when products were assembled in Brisbane preparatory to being shipped to London; jurors judged winners in three categories—vegetable, animal and manufactured products.  A list of prizes awarded by Judges was released by Thomas Dowse.  As well as silver medals awarded there were monetary prizes.  They ranged from one sovereign to a top prize of thirty sovereigns, for a sample of copper ore.  Apparently it had been planned to award silver medals for silks, pearls, wine and other articles, but in some cases there were no entries; or it was decided that no entry was worthy of a medal.  A total of 24 silver medals were listed, but not a mention of copper medals.

The 1862 Exhibition over and now forward to April 24th 1863--- I found a letter in the Courier, it was written by the Queensland Commissioner’s secretary Thomas Dowse.  The letter was obviously prompted by a motion moved in the State House thanking Chief Commissioner Mathew Marsh.  I quote from the letter in part “I would like to ask that gentleman (meaning Marsh) why the silver medals awarded by the Jurors in October 1861, to the following exhibitors are not forthcoming.  In the early part of 1861 the Commissioners through their Secretary forwarded to Mr Wyon, some suggestion for the design of the proposed medal and in February of last year, that gentleman in reply stated that Mr. Marsh had approved of the same, and steps would be taken to have the work carried out.  Some 15 months have elapsed since the date of that letter.  I now begin to fear that the people, who got up the Exhibition on the part of Queensland, are likely to lose the honour proposed to be conferred on them.  There could be some truth in the report that the commissioners in London having swamped a large sum of money in their preparations for the Exhibition.  There is no money left out of the Parliamentary grant for the execution and completion of the medals.”

A few weeks later the Brisbane Town Clerk received a letter signed by Joseph S. Wyon; it stated that a case had been forwarded to the Premier.  It contained 35 silver and 6 bronze medals, struck from the dies prepared in accordance with directions from the Queensland branch of the International Exhibition of 1862.

In October 1863—exactly two years after the Brisbane Exhibition there was another gathering at the Armoury.  A report on behalf of the Exhibition Commissioners stated that a sum of 303 pounds had been spent on silver medals.  The Governor was present and he presented 20 medals that had actually been won in London.  Following that duty he presented 25 silver medals to winners from the Brisbane Exhibition from two years before.  The Brisbane Courier listed and named medal winners.  The number was one greater than that released previously in 1861.  The medal carries the name J.S. & J.B. Wyon on the obverse.

I quote from the Powerhouse Museum website—“the obverse shows the female personification of Queensland, presenting three male figures to the throned Britannia.  Each of the three male figures bears gifts.  Large domed building in the background.  Latin inscription over the figures and underneath; “Queensland offers her first fruits to Britain.”  Reverse shows examples of Queensland flora arranged in six petals.”

In Wyon’s letter to the Town Clerk as reported in the Courier May 19th 1863 a number of 35 silver and 6 bronze medals is mentioned.  Twenty five silver medals were distributed October 22nd 1863, they were uninscribed of course.  In no other newspaper report did I find a mention of the bronze medals being awarded.  One of my bronze medals on display is edge stamped 106.  Bronze examples have appeared on the market in recent years.  No doubt the sum of 303 pounds paid to Wyon could give a clue to numbers, but I will leave that to a more dedicated researcher than I am.


Files of Moreton Bay Courier;
Brisbane Courier;
Darling Downs Gazette 1859, 60, 61, 62, 63.;
Wikepedia and various internet sites;
Queensland Agricultural Societies and their Award Medals –Melvin Williams;
Medals by John Pinches 1840 to 1969—John Harvey Pinches  1987.

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6th June 2012