Exhibition buildings in Hobart, 1883 (ALMFA, SLT)

Exhibitions of different kinds were common in the nineteenth century. Hobart Town held Australia's first art exhibitions in 1837, 1845 and 1846. Later art exhibitions were held in both Launceston and Hobart in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Agricultural, museum and photographic exhibitions have also been held regularly. On a grander scale were international exhibitions or expositions.

The first, held at Crystal Palace in London in 1851, was the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations. European countries and British colonies attended to express their cultural identity and display their products. Before 1900 the most important international exhibitions were held in London (1862 and 1886), Paris (1855, 1867, 1878, 1889, 1900), Vienna (1873), Philadelphia (1876), Glasgow (1888), Chicago (1893) and Brussels (1897). Van Diemen's Land was one of three Australian colonies to appear at the Great Exhibition and had the largest number of exhibits, 394, of which 12 received silver medals and 20 prize certificates. Tasmania was represented at some but not all of the other major international exhibitions, giving special prominence to natural resources.

The Australian colonies held their own exhibitions, at first to encourage intercolonial trade, but from Sydney's effort in 1879 all nations were invited to participate and Tasmania typically won its share of prizes. An early Juvenile Exhibition was held in Hobart in 1883. In 189192 Launceston outdid Hobart by holding Tasmania's first International Exhibition in the purpose-built Albert Hall with exhibitors from Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Bohemia and Italy. Hobart followed in 189495. In the twentieth century the British Empire Exhibition of 192425 (London) grabbed attention; Tasmania made the most of its mineral resources.

Further reading: E Vadasz, 'Tasmanian Exhibition 1891', LHSPP 3, 1991; P Mercer, 'The Tasmanian International Exhibition', THRAPP 28/1, 1981; J Sweet, 'Colonial exhibition design', THRAPP 44/4, 1997.

Stefan Petrow