Monday, June 1, 2015

Melbourne's First Exhibition Building

Situated in the Carlton Gardens at the north end of the city, The Royal Exhibition Building is one of Melbourne's most iconic landmarks. A rare example of a Victorian era great hall, the world heritage listed building is a popular destination for tourists, and still serves as a function centre for city events.

But it was not Melbourne's first exhibition building.

The Exhibition Building, shortly after construction.

Standing on the corner of William and Little Lonsdale Streets, this rather extraordinary building was modeled on London's famous Crystal Palace. Both were constructed largely of glass, with a wooden superstructure, although the local version was a little more rough and ready then the famous exhibition hall in England.

London's Crystal Palace.

But the exhibition hall was the grandest building constructed in Melbourne to that time, 250 feet long and 50 feet high, with an interior lit by 200 ornamental windows and 306 gas lights. The state Government, flush with cash for the first time in its short history on the back of the gold rush, footed the 20 000  pound cost. It's primary purpose was to serve as a suitably impressive venue for the Victorian Exhibition that the Government had organised for late 1854 (the first such event held in Australia).

A promotional picture for the Exhibition provides a summary of the image the government was trying to create:

However grand the exterior, the stalls in the Exhibition were modest:

Despite the rather straightforward material, the Exhibition was considered a great success, with more than 40 000 people attending. But once it was concluded, the State Government faced a new problem, (one that has become familiar to subsequent State Government;s over the years); what to do with the expensive building they had constructed for a very specific purpose.

The interior was redesigned and it was put to use as a hall for a hire, hosting balls, concerts and wedding receptions. It provided a home to the Melbourne Philharmonic Orchestra, and even served as a temporary lecture hall for Melbourne University, A further Victorian Exhibition was also held, less successfully, in 1861.

Finally, the Government let their white elephant fall into disrepair. Many of the glass windows began to leak, and the interior became too shabby to use for any public purpose. The building was demolished in the late 1860's, and a new Royal Mint was built on the site.

The Exhibition Building around the time of the 1854 event.

The new Royal Mint, shortly after construction.

The Royal Mint, present day.


  1. Thanks Danno--always look forward to your posts here.

  2. Thank you sir. I haven't been writing as many as I would like lately, so I have a long list of ideas that I really want to get through.