Monash University Publishing | Contacts Page
Monash University Publishing: Advancing knowledge




Fundraising bazaars have been an integral part of Australian life since the early 1800s. From its earlier sites in William Street and then Swanston Street, to its present location, the Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne has been a very popular venue for the large-scale bazaars.

Held over several weeks, these bazaars were often theatrical in design with themed stalls and appropriately fancy-dressed stallholders in attendance. The bazaars offered visitors a completely packaged entertainment option with shopping, refreshments, amusements, cultural exhibits, sporting events, games of chance and the sanctioned opportunity to mix and mingle with all of Melbourne.

A study of the late nineteenth-century bazaars held at the Royal Exhibition Building offers a valuable insight into the social customs and mores of the time.

Tell me not in accounts dreary,
That you think a bazaar a bore,
That of Crewel-work you’re weary,
And the raffle you abhor.

Cash is needed! We must get it!
At our efforts do not growl;
Place the fair means to our credit,
And forgive us for the foul!1

Fundraising bazaars have been an integral part of Australian life since the early 1800s. Variously known as Fancy Fairs, Ladies’ Sales, Sales of Work, Ladies’ Fairs, Fetes and Bazaars, this fundraising model has proven to be a very successful and enduring method of raising money for charitable purposes. Together with generating funds, bazaars presented women of the leisured classes with an opportunity to exercise their creative and organisational skills within a framework of socially acceptable philanthropic endeavour. They also provided a repository for the exhibition and sale of domestic crafts and fancy work produced by women.

The larger charitable bazaars of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were major events. They were often theatrical in design and organisers strove to conjure up an atmosphere of excitement, drama and/or novelty to entice and engage visitors. Bazaars were often themed with highly decorative interiors and individual stalls and appropriately fancy-dressed stallholders in attendance. The concept of shopping for a range of goods within one space was very different to the traditional retail experience of gong to small(ish) individual shops and the massed, open displays were visually arresting. As Whitlock (2005, 42) notes, the display methods inaugurated at the bazaars in London were the precursor to those adopted by the department stores. The bazaar experience offered patrons a completely packaged entertainment option with shopping, refreshments, amusements, games of chance, cultural and sporting activities, and the sanctioned opportunity to mix outside your family and accepted social circles.

The bazaars held at the Exhibition Building in Melbourne at the end of the nineteenth century were both typical and atypical (in their size, duration and complexity) of such events. A study of three grand bazaars held at the Exhibition Building offers a valuable insight into the social customs, fashions and mores of the time and provides us with a greater understanding of the significance of the fundraising bazaar in Australia.

Irrespective of their size, complexity, focus and duration, bazaars contain six identifiable elements. Their main purpose is to raise revenue for a designated charity or cause, they are organised and run by women, they are reliant on voluntary labour, they feature handmade goods for sale (increasingly with other mass-produced product), they offer a variety of goods and entertainments, and they are generally held as a one-off or annual event. The combination of these six elements has resulted in a very successful fundraising formula. The inclusion of these elements also serve to define the bazaar and distinguish it from other revenue raising activities such as balls, trivia nights and the like. Almost 200 years after the first bazaar in London, bazaars and fetes are still being held as one of the major fundraising activities for schools and churches in Australia today.

The great fundraising bazaars held in Melbourne at the turn of the nineteenth century were part of an ongoing tradition which originated in early eighteenth-century England. The first recognised bazaar occurred in London in 1813 and was organised by the Ladies’ Royal Benevolent Society for Visiting, Relieving and Investigating the Condition of the Poor when they held a ‘sale of fancy work’ in aid of charity. The success of their venture led to an annual event and by the 1820s the bazaar had become widespread in England (Prochaska 1980, 49–50). This fundraising method was rapidly transported to the colonies and in 1829 a ‘Sale of Ladies’ Work’ was held for the Sydney Female School of Industry in New South Wales.2

Melbourne’s earliest bazaar was a bazaar in aid of raising funds for the Wesleyan Chapel in Collins Street. Held in December 1843 at the Mechanic’s Hall, the bazaar or ‘Fancy Fair’ ran for three days and offered ‘a heterogeneous collection of fancy and useful articles.’3 From this first undertaking, bazaars became a prominent feature on Melbourne’s social and fundraising calendar.

The Exhibition Building was a popular venue for the major fundraising bazaars held in Melbourne in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. From the 1860s at earlier sites in William Street and then Swanston Street, the Exhibition Building housed a myriad of diverse bazaars such as: the 1860 Bazaar in aid of Melbourne Lying-in Hospital; 1860 & 1861 Temperance Bazaars; 1861 House of Mercy Bazaar for Refuge; 1864 Bazaar in aid of St John’s Toorak and the 1869 Melbourne Benevolent Asylum Bazaar.

When the current Exhibition Building was erected in 1879–80 it continued to be a sought after venue for larger scale bazaars. Events such as the 1883 International Fair, 1886 Grand Opera Carnival, 1894 St Patrick’s Cathedral Fair, 1895 Artists’ Carnival and Grand Fancy Fete, 1898 Old Colonist’s Carnival, 1910 Women’s Hospital Bazaar and Druids’ Gala, 1918 Fete for Comforts Fund and many other such events were held at the Exhibition Building.

The earliest bazaar that I have found to date which was held at the Royal Exhibition Building was the bazaar in aid of the North Carlton Presbyterian Church. This bazaar was held over five days in March 1883 and was contained to the Indian Court of the Exhibition Building. An Argus newspaper report of the day described the layout:

The court has been tastefully decorated with flags of all nations and a choice variety of ferns, flowers and evergreens, and presented a very compact and pleasant appearance. Four large stalls, laden with fancywork of every description, occupied the southern side of the court, and along the opposite wall were ranged a number of stalls filled with sweetmeats, cricketware, toys and a miscellaneous assortment of more useful and substantial goods.4

Whilst this was a comparatively small bazaar, it is interesting to note the ongoing impact of the Melbourne International Exhibition (the first show held at the Exhibition Building) with the flags of all nations being brought into play as a decorative feature. The influence of the International Exhibition on the design and installation of bazaars, and indeed on the goods for sale, cannot be underestimated. International decorative elements are a recurring theme in bazaars of this period.

This bazaar closed on 17 March 1883 and just nine days later a much grander undertaking in aid of the building fund of St Patrick’s Cathedral opened at the Exhibition Building. The International Fair, as it was called, was a large-scale bazaar with a ‘cosmopolitan aspect’ which paid homage to the Melbourne International Exhibition. A description of the fair in the Argus, noted that:

It will revive very pleasant recollections of that great display to be seen there two years ago. The spectacle is certainly on a much smaller scale than that which was contributed to by almost every civilised country but in the diversity of the attractions and the general arrangements the resemblance is to be remarked.5

The fair was arranged into 10 courts and within each court there were ‘spacious apartments’ which represented Japan, Italy, France, Spain, Ireland, Scotland, England, Switzerland, Germany, Egypt, America and Australia. Over the various courts there was a display of flags with each featured country being identified by a national emblem. The stallholders were all costumed in the appropriate national dress and the items for sale in each of the courts were representative of products available in the particular countries, but as an Argus commentator noted ‘in many cases there was a very remote connexion with the country’.6

Together with the goods for sale, the International Fair offered visitors a variety of music recitals and dance displays, telegraph and phonographic experiments, Punch and Judy shows and a Game of Living Chess. The Exhibition Building itself was also used as a sales point for encouraging greater visitation to the fair. Advertisements for the International Fair stated that the gardens would be illuminated by coloured lights between the hours of 7 pm and 8 pm and that the venue offered a bird’s-eye view of Melbourne by gaslight.7 The dome was lit up and an Argus article commenting on attendance numbers stated that ‘very many visitors had climbed the stairs to witness the view of Melbourne by night’.8

In a very interesting but quite unusual set of circumstances, the International Fair at the Exhibition Building coincided with the All Nation’s Bazaar, in aid of the building fund of Christ Church, South Yarra, which was held at the same time in the Melbourne Town Hall. As the title of the event suggests, this bazaar was also influenced by the Melbourne International Exhibition and offered visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in many countries through ‘scenery, costumes, novelties and curios of all Nations’.9 From my research, the larger scale fundraising bazaars did not openly compete with one another and I have not found others which were scheduled at the same time. A study of the advertisements for the two events offers a valuable insight into the promotional tools of the day. Together with the various attractions on offer, personal comfort is an important factor in tempting visitors to events. Weather conditions were obviously a concern for Melbournians and both organising groups emphasise the superiority of their venues. The event in the Town Hall is described as ‘Easily Accessible in All Weathers’ whilst the organisers of the fair in the Exhibition Building highlight the ‘Promenade in Wet Weather’, ‘No Crowding’ and ‘Plenty of Seats’.10

Half the world has been working at the Bazaar, and the other half seem to have been the onlookers – for the social cards have been barren. No one has been lunching, or dining, or flirting, with anyone else. What dull times we have fallen on! No scandals, no interesting “affaires”, no “interfering parrots”. The mantle of Charity has covered Society.11

The turn of the century brought with it a series of grand bazaars at the Exhibition Building, the likes and magnitude of which had not previously been experienced in Melbourne. St Vincent’s Hospital Bazaar (also known as St Vincent’s Easter Fair) was held in April 1899. The following April in 1900, the Druids’ Gala and Hospital Bazaar took place, and in September of that same year the Children’s Hospital Bazaar opened. These three events were substantial undertakings which occupied the time and energy of Melbournians.

As these three grand bazaars at the Exhibition Building were such large scale events and open for lengthy periods of time, they generated unprecedented press coverage. Additionally, as each bazaar was held in support of a major Melbourne institution, official records were kept. A study of the vast body of print and photographic information associated with these three grand bazaars provides us with a comprehensive understanding and knowledge of how the late nineteenth-century bazaars were organised and run and the magnitude of their impact on Melbourne and its citizens.

The grand bazaars offered patrons a fully packaged entertainment option. Immersing themselves in a beautifully designed and decorated environment, visitors could enjoy shopping, amusements, theatrical and musical entertainments, cultural exhibits, sporting events, games of chance and partake in a range of refreshments under one roof. The bazaar experience was designed to keep people occupied within the space so they would stay longer and subsequently spend more. Additionally, the changing program of activities encouraged repeat visitation. Socialising at the bazaar, people watching and the opportunity to mix and mingle outside one’s own set were also unadvertised attractions of attending the bazaar.

St Vincent’s Hospital was established by the Sisters of Charity in 1893 on the ‘broad principle of Christian charity, making no distinction as to creed or country.’12 At the Fifth Annual Meeting on 17 February 1899, presided over by the Mayor of Melbourne (Cr. McEacharn), a large gathering of dignitaries, members of parliament, religious leaders, councillors, medical practitioners and ladies and gentlemen met to ‘receive the Annual Report and to further the object of the Easter Fair in aid of St Vincent’s Hospital’.13 The Hon. Alfred Deakin MLA put a motion forward that ‘this meeting pledges itself to use its best efforts to make the forthcoming Easter Fair in aid of the hospital a complete success’. He also ‘noticed with pleasure the large attendance of Ladies, who, [he took it], had made up their minds to work hard to make the Easter Fair a great success. Fairs were the special work of the fair sex, and every male visitor was completely in their hands (laughter). He hoped that the Fair would be taken up with enthusiasm. They had those present who could make the result a record one’.14

The ability to attract the support of prominent people was a crucial factor in the success of the large scale fundraising events. St Vincent’s Hospital non-denominational philosophy was not only commendable but also a great advantage in securing the cooperation of a broad cross-section of the community. A well positioned and regarded Committee had the connections and power to approach other influential people. Similarly the Druids’ Gala and Hospital Bazaar and the Children’s Hospital Bazaar were both supported by influential Melbourne business and social leaders. The same names appear on the lists of committee members and they are many of the same women who are both working to organise the stalls and supporting the particular charities by attending and purchasing from the bazaars.

With just two months from the 1899 annual meeting in which to organise the St Vincent’s Fair, the supporters duly got down to work. An executive committee was formed consisting of 43 men. Whilst no women held positions on this committee, they were responsible for organising and furnishing the stalls. The fair boasted 24 stalls, each of which was overseen by a woman president (in some cases there were also the positions of vice presidents, secretaries and treasurers of the stall) who managed the primarily married stallholders and the unmarried assistants attached to each stall. In total, the fair had an acknowledged pool of just short of 1000 women working on the stalls.15 Fifteen of the stalls were representing a suburb and the other nine consisted of the Art Union Court, Children of Mary, Hebrew Ladies, Hibernian, Ladies Sodality, Police and Warders, Refreshment, St Francis and the Victorian Railways.16

The majority of the stalls were established on the basis of their suburb. Whilst this is a clear-cut means of dividing the bazaar supporters into smaller work groups, it also creates a sense of rivalry, encouraging groups to strive to raise the highest amount of money. The total of monies raised by individual stalls was generally published either in the newspaper or in the financial report of the event. In the case of St Vincent’s Fair, the Collingwood Stall raised the most funds as a traditional stall, being £700.0.1, but was beaten by the Police and Warders’ Exhibition with £746.14.0.17

The named women presidents were often the wives of the committeemen, the wives of dignitaries and the clergy, recognised leading women within their own suburb (such as the mayoress) or social leaders in their own right. There was quite a hierarchy of leadership on the stalls and whilst it is virtually impossible today to ascertain just how effective and productive individuals were in their role as president, it was very important for the reputation and potential sales of each stall that a woman of social standing be seen to be in charge. In addition to taking responsibility for specific stalls, women were also involved with actually making the fancy goods to sell on them. Throughout the history of the bazaars, there are examples of leading women contributing items of their own handiwork for sale.18 Historically it was the Victorian leisured classes of women who embraced the charitable reform movement and first organised the bazaars. This continued to be the case in Australia and it was through the efforts of the leisured, monied women of Melbourne that a number of civic and religious capital projects were completed.

Despite the formation over time of men’s executive committees, bazaars remained very much the women’s domain. This fact is reiterated time and time again in the press coverage and annual reports of bazaars in nineteenth-century Melbourne. Through jocular references and, in some instances, more serious recognition of their work, the fact that it is the women who are the driving force in the organisation of the bazaar is acknowledged. For women, involvement with the bazaar offered much more than purely the satisfaction of assisting a charitable cause. For the nineteenth-century woman, working on the bazaar offered them the opportunity to employ their creative and organisational talents. Moreover, it offered them the intangible benefits of camaraderie and companionship as they worked alongside others in pursuit of their common goal. The bazaar days themselves also offered women a legitimate reason to mix outside their family and recognised social circles and the potential opportunity of meeting others. The many advantages of the bazaar were perceptively described in the introduction to the Lady’s Bazaar and Fancy Fair Book:

The idea of organising a Bazaar on the occasion of subscribing to any charitable institution has become a great feature of the present age. It affords opportunities to many idle people of pleasantly exerting themselves, discovers and brings forward obscure talents, promotes intercourse and amusement, and frequently ensures most advantageous returns.19

On Saturday, 1 April 1899 St Vincent’s Easter Fair – described in the advertisements of the day as ‘The GRANDEST DISPLAY ever placed before the Public of this City’20 – opened at the Exhibition Building. The fair ran for the month of April and was open every evening and Saturday and Wednesday afternoons. Reports of the opening day describe the Exhibition Building’s holding capacity being ‘taxed to the utmost to accommodate the immense attendance of the public’.21 According to Bryan Egan (1993) in his history of St Vincent’s Hospital, ‘the number of people at the Fair opening rivalled those present two years later at the opening of the first Commonwealth parliament’ (13).

The press of the day described the Great Hall as a ‘brilliant sight’. ‘The dome was beautifully decorated with foliage with interwoven electric lights in varied tints.’ The majority of the stalls were designed by the future hospital architect, Phillip A Kennedy, and all were ‘artistically draped’ and ‘handsomely decorated’ with the stallholders and assistants dressed in matching colours.22

The stalls offered the traditional bazaar fare from fancy goods, books and stationery to clothing and cakes and all but the Hebrew Ladies’ Stall also sold Art Union Tickets.

The fancy goods were a principal ingredient of the bazaar. Items hand-worked by women had been the main staple of the earliest bazaars in England. Whilst they were prominent at the first bazaar held in Melbourne in 1843, other mass-produced goods were also on sale. The fancy goods produced ranged from plain and ornamental needlework through to watercolour paintings and decorative items of shell and plant craft to painted furniture. Just as there are ‘How to’ books for the bazaar and fete available today, the women of the nineteenth century sourced fresh ideas for the bazaar from a range of publications including books, magazines, newsletters and articles in the newspapers.

As in our own times, certain items and styles became fashionable and the sometimes scathing accounts of goods at the bazaar provide a very interesting insight into the fashion of the time. From the descriptions of the goods given in the contemporary press, most of the items were considered to be of very high workmanship. The bazaar offered women the opportunity to exhibit and display their handiwork to an appreciative audience and to have their skills and excellence recognised. The press would often comment on particularly fine work and congratulate the maker and the fact of purchase; of the woman’s skills being sufficiently well thought of to be exchanged for money, verified the worth of their endeavour.

The fair organising committee was very astute in the ways in which it kept interest alive in the month-long event. Through a changing program of amusements and entertainments, they encouraged repeat visitation and also provided the media with new stories so the fair was continually receiving coverage in the press. According to a Melbourne Punch article, ‘a Chinese football match (with bona fide Chinamen) caused the greatest amusement’. This was followed at a later date by a ‘novel football match between Chinese and Hindoos’.23

However, the attraction which generated the greatest interest was the game of ‘Living Whist’. Described by Table Talk as ‘one of the most sensational attractions of the Easter Fair … and a splendid show of courtly knights and feminine graces’,24 the Living Whist provided not only an amusing diversion for fair goers but a great opportunity to view and meet members of the opposite sex. Table Talk describes the nurses dressed as queens and maids of honour and gives its vote to Nurse Stretch, who ‘as the Ace of Spades easily wins the palm’.25 Table Talk summarised the aim of the entertainment perfectly, the ‘game of Living Whist has had great results, and the living cards have had their conquests’.26

As in the case of the great exhibitions,27 the sanctioned opportunity to mix and mingle with people outside your known circle was one of the unadvertised yet very popular attractions of attending and working at bazaars. The organisers understood this unspoken lore very clearly and it was not by chance that there were so many unmarried young women working as assistants on the stalls. The young women welcomed the opportunity to approach men – purely in the interests of furthering their charitable goals – and the men were able to inspect more than just the goods for sale on the stall. It was when this fine balance between decorum and unacceptable social behaviour lost its equilibrium that bazaars came in for criticism and the behaviour of the women working at them was severely questioned. Variously described in less than flattering terms as ‘the gay Mam’selle in the Geisha’,28 sirens and battlers, the unbecoming conduct of the young women assistants at the bazaars attracted the attention of the press and indeed of other bazaar patrons who felt compelled to write letters to the editors.

Of course, men who attend a bazaar or fair of any kind expect to be beggared of every available shilling in their pockets. The average good natured patron knows this, but he is not patience-proof, and nine times out of ten the begging of persistent rafflers and the tugging and straining at his coat tails that ensue, exasperate him into a fury.29

Behaviour at bazaars was such an issue that ‘Conduct at Charity Fairs’ was a separate entry in Australian Etiquette, or the Rules and Usages of the Best Society in the Australasian Colonies published in 1885. According to this tome of sage advice:

If you have a table at a fair, use no unladylike means to obtain buyers. Not even the demands of charity can justify you in importuning others to purchase articles against their own judgement or beyond their means. Be Guilty of no loud talking or laughing, and by all means avoid conspicuous flirting in so public a place.30

From its earliest origins, the bazaar as an entity had been enveloped by a sense of disquiet. The notion of Victorian ladies exposing themselves in such a public manner and actually involving themselves in a commercial activity such as selling merchandise was a very disturbing anomaly from the role these women had been prescribed by society. Even the terminology of ‘bazaar’ was controversial, evoking as it did a sense of something exotic and uncontrolled.31 The potential dissipation of women and the sale of self rather than the bazaar goods raised moral concerns and despite the bazaars’ immense popularity they were also subjected to strong criticism throughout the nineteenth century. The commercial basis of the bazaar and the omnipresent question mark over morality served to position bazaars quite differently to exhibitions. This very issue is brought into public debate with the Exhibition of Women’s Industries and Centenary Fair held in Sydney in 1888, which was a combination of exhibition and bazaar, and has been discussed at length by Martha Sear in this volume.

Whilst the behaviour of the stallholders was carefully prescribed, the bazaar attendee was also expected to adhere to a set of socially accepted rules.

Make no comments on either the article or the price unless you can praise. If you want them, pay the price demanded, or let them alone. If you can conscientiously praise an article, by all means do so, as you may be giving pleasure to the maker if she chances to be within hearing.32

For the social interest stories associated with the large scale bazaars the best sources of information I have found are the ‘Social Circle’ ladies’ page in The Leader and ‘Stella’s Ladies’ Letter’ in Table Talk. Thanks to Table Talk’s accounts of the St Vincent’s Easter Fair, we know that there will be ‘no less than 1000 ladies in attendance at the Bazaar’33 A description of the stalls also reveals that:

The Kew and Hawthorn stalls boast the prettiest girls at the Easter Fair. Their uniform is grey and white; their caps are chic and jaunty. One of the Hawthorn assistants has just become engaged to a military officer, son of a Flinders Street soft-goods merchant, and it is said the proud fiancé fills the lady’s coffers every evening, so that she may not have to spend her smiles on other male patrons.34

The fair was a very profitable undertaking for St Vincent’s Hospital. When all of the expenses were taken into account, the fair resulted in a most impressive net return of over £10,000. The enormity of the bazaar’s fundraising success can be clearly seen when examining the Hospital’s financial statements. The sixth annual report (year after bazaar) reveals that the hospital’s income source that year (aside from the bazaar) was £236.10s.1d from subscriptions and £2,978.5s.9d raised from the St Patrick’s Night Concert. A further comparison, with figures from the previous year, shows that subscriptions and donations were the highest income source at £916.18s.8d with the St Vincent’s Ball being the highest fundraising event netting £887. 8s.0d.35 Seen within the context of the hospital’s general revenue raising, the sum of £10,000 was an extraordinary achievement. The sixth annual report noted that ‘this sum will be wholly applied to the Building Fund of a new Hospital, to be replete with all modern improvements’.36 This fair was so successful that Bryan Egan (1993) in his history of St Vincent’s Hospital states that the 1899 fair ‘must count as the most successful single fund-raising event undertaken by St Vincent’s’ (15).

Just over one year later, Melbourne rallied itself to come to the aid of the Melbourne Hospital by supporting the Druids’ Gala and Hospital Bazaar at the Exhibition Building. The Gala and Hospital Bazaar was organised by a committee chaired by the Mayor of Melbourne to clear the substantial debt on the hospital. As in the case of the St Vincent’s Bazaar, the committee was made up of only men but it was Lady McEacharn, in her role as the wife of the mayor and bazaar chairman, who was responsible for the bazaar. The press advertisements for the Gala and Bazaar describe the event in the most effusive terms and confirm Lady McEacharn’s status:

the most Brilliantly Arranged and Gorgeously Decorated Bazaar ever held in Australia. The ladies of Melbourne and Surrounding Cities have vied with each other in the preparation of their stalls, and, under the Presidency of Lady McEacharn, are determined, with the assistance of the gentle public, to clear the debt on the Melbourne Hospital.37

Lady McEacharn organised the bazaar with the ‘assistance of the mayoresses of the suburban municipalities’38 but the process didn’t run as smoothly as hoped and throughout the press coverage of the time there are references to difficulties:

Lady McEacharn, who has organised the whole movement experienced obstacles in her path, owing to the fact that the residents regarded themselves as pledged to other institutions, but when the paramount needs of the Melbourne Hospital were placed before them they cordially fell in with the movement.39

Together with organising the bazaar, Lady McEacharn (with Mrs FR Godfrey) very competently presided over the Melbourne City stalls. On the opening Saturday, a detailed list of the lady stallholders appeared in the Argus.40 This article served the dual purpose of giving the bazaar workers public acknowledgement for their efforts and informing the general public who they may expect to see at the bazaar and which municipalities were supporting the event.

The work that the women had contributed in organising the bazaar was publicly recognised in the opening address given by His Excellency Sir John Madden, the Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria. He stated that ‘the Ladies had all the qualifications of Napoleon except his name … and [everyone] knows when the ladies stand shoulder to shoulder, and put their heads together, they might as well surrender because whether or no, the ladies would get there all the same (cheers)’. He ‘hoped that [the bazaar] would be worthy of the lady president, whose days and nights had been occupied with earnest trouble and anxiety – given to make this effort a great success (loud cheers)’.41

The Melbourne Hospital Bazaar was held over 15 days from 14 April to 28 April 1900. The internal decorations and arrangements for the bazaar were carried out under the supervision of architect Mr Philip A Kennedy. Mr Kennedy’s work was obviously in demand as he had been the architect presiding over the decorations for St Vincent’s Fair. In a similar sounding decorative scheme, the roof of the main hall and the beams on either side were festooned with:

generous lengths of greenery, into which are woven, with cunning imitation of nature, hundreds of paper flowers of every colour, giving a pleasing effect by day. At night the effect is considerably heightened by the lighting up of the varicoloured electric lamps which are fixed into the festooning. Flags and bannerettes of all the colours of the rainbow are draped about the building.42

Described as a ‘gorgeous display’ by the Weekly Times, the stalls were erected along this main avenue and were ‘gaily decked with many colours of art muslin’43 and many of them had adopted the football colours of their suburb. The majority of the stallholders wore uniforms which related to their stall and its colour scheme.

The contents of the stalls themselves are outlined in great detail in the Weekly Times and consist of the usual mix of ornamental and useful articles, pot plants and flowers, fancywork, dolls, sweetmeats and produce, furniture and Japanese ware.44 The Melbourne City Stalls presided over by Lady McEacharn contained ‘a fine collection of aboriginal war implements and general articles used by the real black Australian natives.’ The Argus noted that these articles had been ‘contributed by the aboriginals on the different aboriginal stations of the colony. Reed baskets of cunning workmanship and aboriginal weapons of all descriptions offer a good opportunity to curio hunters’.45

Janet Lady Clarke a doyen of the charitable and social circles of Melbourne, supervised the Austral Salon where ‘refreshments of tea, coffee and a light diet of all kinds was constantly on hand’.46 Melbourne’s social set supported the bazaar by both working at it and by attending the event:

Mrs George Chirnside … visited all the stalls playing Lady Bountiful. Mrs Percy Chirnside … did likewise in company with Miss Fisken. Mr and Mrs Drummond also did the rounds and spent most liberally. Many other prominent leaders of Society carried wicker baskets and did the rounds of stalls, making purchases.47

The men, too, were generous supporters of the cause. The mayor, who is described in the press of the day as a most popular man, was labelled by Table Talk as ‘the easiest victim of the bazaar operator in Melbourne [who] threw his money right and left’. ‘My Lords Bishop were easy lambs led to the slaughter’ and the Governor [Sir John Madden] ‘could not find it in his heart to deny a smile and a shilling to all who buzzed around him’.48

The Druid’s 31st Annual Gala and Melbourne Hospital Bazaar were deemed a great success. The bazaar, in conjunction with the proceeds of the gala, realised over £10,000 towards the liquidation of the hospital debt.49 With a very successful bazaar to her credit, Lady McEacharn left a few days later for Europe, where, according to Sir John Madden, ‘she was going to enjoy what the most exacting could not but say was a well-earned holiday (cheers)’.50


Figure 1. Melbourne Hospital Bazaar, April 1900. The overall design was supervised by an architect; the stalls run by women from the various suburban municipalities were adorned in the colours of the local football team.
Weekly Times, 28 April 1900.
(Courtesy of State Library of Victoria)

Just four months after the closure of the Druid’s 31st Gala and Melbourne Hospital Bazaar at the Exhibition Building, the Children’s Hospital Bazaar opened on 1 September 1900 at the same venue. Open both afternoon and evening, the Children’s Hospital Bazaar offered patrons the opportunity to immerse themselves in a three-week-long party.

‘The People’s Palace’ as the Exhibition Building is called, has been transformed into a place of beauty and joy. … The visitors who entered on Saturday were amazed and delighted at the scene which met their view, and on every hand there was to be heard expressions of astonishment and admiration.51

As in the case of the previous two grand bazaars, the building was transformed by mass foliage and colour. This bazaar boasted 23 stalls, all circular in shape and set under red and white striped canopies. These stalls were supported by a very extensive Art Union stall and a vast refreshment area. Tucked away in the suite of rooms usually used by the exhibition trustees was the Café Chantant, which quickly became one of the great highlights of the bazaar.

The stalls were described in a number of accounts as particularly picturesque and well stocked with merchandise. In keeping with the popular practice of the time, 13 of the stalls were organised by suburb and the others consisted of Country, Flower, Empire, Time and Talents, Japanese Kiosk, Princess Ida, Trades-hall, and Nurses. Aimed more at younger visitors, the Fairies’ Tree and Magic Pumpkin Stall and the State Schools Stall were also in operation. The quality of the goods displayed was of a very high standard and this unfortunately led to pilfering on the first day: ‘Quite early in the day, stallholders were warned to keep a close eye on their stalls. The light fingered of both sexes were not blind to their opportunities.’52 There was great variety in the type of merchandise for sale from handmade fancygoods to imported Japanese ‘object d’arts’. Janet Lady Clarke’s stall (Melbourne and East Melbourne) was regarded as one of the best stocked and the State Schools Stall which had been furnished by ‘hundreds of little workers [was] full of interest and about the best place to take small children in search of dolls and inexpensive toys and treasures’.53

Together with the stalls, the bazaar offered patrons an enticing mix of amusements to suit all tastes and age groups: a shooting gallery, acrobats, a circus ring and a ‘thousand and one side-shows’, a lecture on Marconi’s wireless telegraphy, cycling contests, pony jumping, gymnastic displays, maypole, tambourine and fan dancing, a pyrotechnic display and a special demonstration of invalid and convalescent cooking by the Metropolitan Gas Company.54

‘We have never had such a novelty in Melbourne.’55 The Café Chantant very quickly carved out a niche for itself as ‘the place to be’ in Melbourne. The inspiration of Mrs George Chirnside and Mrs Colin Templeton, the Café Chantant evoked such excitement it is almost palpable in the press descriptions of the time. Described as having the ‘gorgeous magnificence of a favourite chamber in an Oriental Palace’,56 the exotic interior decorations and ambience of Café Chantant transported patrons into another world. Amidst all of the oriental splendour were little alcoves filled with cosy divans and marble tables for refreshments. The Table Talk correspondent felt that the Café had the ‘Frenchiest Style’ and couldn’t contain her enthusiasm for the whole concept: ‘You sit and have your tea, while an entertainment of music or dancing or something dramatic is carried on, and you smoke your favourite weed. Think of it!’57

The café provided lunches, dinners and suppers and, in keeping with the spirit of the venture, engaged a renowned French chef. Café patrons were served by very attractive waitresses who were described as the ‘fairest Hebes of Toorak’.58 Café Chantant proved a very popular destination for private dinner parties and functions. Throughout the life of the bazaar there was a running commentary in the press of the day about the functions, entertainments and, of course, the fashions worn by Melbourne society at Café Chantant. Mrs George Chirnside in her presiding role at Café Chantant came to epitomise all that was stylish and exciting at the bazaar. Details of the café’s innumerable entertainments are somewhat minimised in the press as readers are treated instead to detailed descriptions of her extraordinary gowns. On the café’s last advertised day of operation, Mrs Chirnside’s choice of gown ‘crowned her preceding dressy successes’ but it was noted that she was ‘looking much thinner than of old – the management of the novel show must be exhausting’.59

The grand bazaars were very much a part of the Melbourne social set’s program of entertainments. In an insightful piece in Table Talk, ‘Stella’ comments on the social structure of Melbourne and how various groups and their ‘event’ fall in and out of favour. Being on the ‘watch towers’ as she describes and ‘cognisant of all the passing skirmishes, jealousies and the rest, [she] has a time of rare entertainment watching the distinct boundary limit of each set’. Café Chantant superseded the musicale set and ‘set the fashion’. Mrs George Chirnside with Mrs Colin Templeton and their assistants ‘were the smart, dressy Toorak set, pure and simple. A certain few, at variance with the presiding spirits, carefully absented themselves from the gay scene’.60

Again, Melbournians rallied to the cause and the debt of £13,000 on the Children’s Hospital was completely cleared. The combined receipts for the bazaar, a Police Carnival and Poster Ball realised a grand total of £16,250, and when expenditure was taken into account, the total profit was £14,255.

In a space of 18 months, the citizens of Melbourne had organised and held three very large-scale bazaars and in doing so, had raised over £30,000 in funds for its three major hospitals. The cost in people power – in the time and energy volunteered by the citizens of Melbourne to run three such major events is inestimable. Whilst men took on the named positions on the executive committees, it was women who were responsible for organising the bazaar, ensuring that there was a variety of stalls, that these were attractively presented and well stocked with quality merchandise (both handmade by the women and mass-produced goods) and that there were sufficient women to actually preside over the stalls day and night. In researching the three grand bazaars, it becomes apparent that there was a group of influential, wealthy people in Melbourne who were repeatedly engaged in this philanthropic work. They gave of their money and their time and, in the instance of the grand bazaars, the time commitment was substantial.

This study of the three grand bazaars reveals the importance and richness of the bazaar to community and social life and its role in the life of this city at the turn of last century. The place and importance of philanthropy in Melbourne at this time is irrefutable and through their involvement with the bazaars, we can clearly ascertain the prominence and influence of particular Melbourne identities. We also have an understanding of the roles of men and women in society at the time and what was deemed to be acceptable conduct.

An analysis of these bazaars also provides invaluable information about the production and nature of domestic crafts and the importance of this area of creative endeavour in the lives of women. In studying the goods produced for sale we can ascertain the type of hand work undertaken by women and the changing trends in design. Additionally, an investigation into the bazaar gives us a colourful description of the popular fashions of the day and an insight into the interior decoration and exhibition design preferences of the period.

Bazaars have been a fundamental part of Australian community and social life since the early days of settlement, permeating the lives of many citizens including its organisers and revellers. As an enduring and successful fundraising model, the bazaar experience continues to play a notable role in the life of Melbourne and its people.


1    Baden Powell, VC, Major-General. 1900. ‘Wrongfellow’s Psalm of Life at a Bazaar’. In Childhood in Bud and Blossom: A Souvenir Book of the Children’s Hospital Bazaar, edited by Lake, Joshua. Melbourne: The Atlas Press: (n.p.n.).

2    Sydney Gazette, 28 April 1829: 2. See also Windschuttle (1988, 85) for an excerpt of a letter from Fanny to William describing the Sale. Note, this is the earliest advertised bazaar held in Australia that I have found to date. It may not necessarily be Australia’s first as there may have been some smaller bazaars held. Given the bazaar’s origin in 1813 however, it does show how quickly, and how far, the bazaar phenomenon spread.

3    Port Phillip Herald, 22 December 1843: 3. This bazaar is also written up by Finn 1888. The Chronicles of Early Melbourne, Volume 1. Melbourne: Fergusson & Mitchell: 155.

4    Argus, 14 March 1883: 11.

5    Argus, 26 March 1883: 7.

6    Argus, 26 March 1883: 7.

7    Argus, 26 March 1883: 8.

8    Argus, 7 April 1883: 9.

9    Argus, 5 April 1883: 8.

10    Argus, 5 April 1883: 8.

11    Table Talk, 20 September 1900: 7.

12    St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, Fifth Annual Report for the Year ending 31st December 1898: 6. St Vincent’s Hospital Archives.

13    St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, Fifth Annual Report for the Year ending 31st December 1898: 20.

14    St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, Fifth Annual Report for the Year ending 31st December 1898: 25.

15    In reading the lists of stallholders I saw the name of only one man, on the East St Kilda stall.

16    St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, Fifth Annual Report for the Year ending 31st December 1898: 10-17.

17    St Vincent’s Hospital Bazaar, Easter 1899, Executive Committee Report. 1899: 4. St Vincent’s Hospital Archives.

18    In the bazaar in aid of the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland in 1832, the then Princess Victoria donated boxes with transferred drawings which she had completed herself (Sullivan, 1995, 112). At the bazaar in aid of St John’s Church Toorak in 1864, Lady Darling presided over a stall and gave a set of coverlets which she had worked herself in Berlin wool (Argus, 24 November 1864: 4).

19    The Lady’s Bazaar and Fancy Fair Book, c1890. London: Ward, Lock and Co.: 9.

20    Table Talk, 24 March 1899: 18.

21    Melbourne Punch, 6 April 1899: 335.

22    Melbourne Punch, 6 April 1899: 335.

23    Melbourne Punch, 6 April 1899: 335; Table Talk 7 April 1899: 13.

24    Table Talk, 21 April 1899: 17.

25    Table Talk, 21 April 1899: 17.

26    Table Talk, 21 April 1899: 17.

27    The use of the exhibition spaces for meeting and flirting is described in the work of Ada Cambridge. Her fictionalised work,’ A Woman’s Friendship’ was serialised in the Age from Aug – Oct 1889 and the Centennial International Exhibition, 1888, features heavily in its own right and as a backdrop to the women’s activities.

28    Table Talk, 21 April 1899: 17.

29    Table Talk, 21 April 1899: 17.

30    Australian Etiquette, or the Rules and Usages of the Best Society in the Australian Colonies. 1885. Melbourne: People’s Publishing Company: 171.

31    The potential dissipation of women at the bazaar and the notion of the women themselves as commodities is discussed in Dyer 1991.

32    Australian Etiquette, or the Rules and Usages of the Best Society in the Australian Colonies. 1885: 171.

33    Table Talk, 31 March 1899: 14.

34    Table Talk, 14 April 1899: 18.

35    Fifth Annual Report of St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne for the year ending 31st Dec. 1898: 19.

36    Sixth Annual Report of St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne, for the year ending 31st Dec. 1899: 6.

37    Advertisement in the Public Amusements, Argus, 14 April 1900: 8.

38    Argus, 16 April 1900: 6.

39    Argus, 14 April 1900: 7.

40    Argus, 14 April 1900: 7.

41    Weekly Times, 21 April 1900: 14.

42    Weekly Times, 21 April 1900: 14.

43    Weekly Times, 21 April 1900: 14; Argus, 14 April 1900: 7.

44    Weekly Times, 21 April 1900: 14.

45    Weekly Times, 21 April 1900: 14; Argus, 14 April 1900: 7. Note, this is not the first time that Aboriginal artefacts were offered for sale at bazaars. Approximately sixty years earlier at Melbourne’s first bazaar in 1843, reticules and net bags composed of grasses made by Aboriginal women were on sale.

46    Weekly Times, 21 April 1900: 14.

47    Table Talk, 19 April 1900: 18.

48    Table Talk, 19 April 1900: 18.

49    Table Talk, 19 April 1900: 6.

50    Weekly Times, 21 April 1900: 14.

51    Weekly Times, 8 September 1900: 24.

52    Leader, 8 September 1900: 37.

53    Weekly Times, 8 September 1900: 29.

54    Public Notices for the Bazaar, Argus, 1 September 1900: 16; Argus, 7 September 1900: 8.

55    Table Talk, 6 September 1900: 19.

56    Weekly Times, 8 September 1900: 24.

57    Table Talk, 6 September 1900: 19.

58    Table Talk, 6 September 1900: 19.

59    Table Talk, 20 September 1900: 6.

60    Table Talk, 27 September 1900: 20.



Druids Friendly Society, Archives

St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, Archives




Melbourne Punch

Port Phillip Herald

Sydney Gazette

Table Talk

Weekly Times


Australian Etiquette or the Rules and Usages of the Best Society in the Colonies Together with their Sports, Pastimes, Games and Amusements. 1885. Melbourne: People’s Publishing Company. Facsimile Edition. 1980. Australia: JM Dent Pty Ltd.

Finn, Edmund. 1888. The Chronicles of Early Melbourne, 1835–1852: Historical, Anecdotal and Personal by ‘Garryowen’. Volume 1. Facsimile Reprint. 1976. Melbourne: Heritage Publications.

Lake, Joshua (ed). 1900. Childhood in Bud and Blossom: A Souvenir Book of the Children’s Hospital Bazaar. Melbourne: The Atlas Press.

Mrs. Leach’s Fancy Work Basket: Practical Lessons in Every Description of Fancy Work. c.1890. London: RS Cartwright.

The Lady’s Bazaar and Fancy Fair Book. c.1890. London: Ward, Lock and Co.


Dyer, Gary R. 1991. ‘The Vanity Fair of Nineteenth Century England: Commerce, Women and the East in the Ladies’ Bazaar’. Journals Division, University of California Press. Available from:

Egan, Bryan. 1993. Ways of a Hospital: St Vincent’s Melbourne. New South Wales: Allen & Unwin.

Prochaska, FK. 1980. Women and Philanthropy in Nineteenth Century England. New York: Oxford University Press.

Selzer, Anita. 2002. Governor’s Wives in Colonial Australia. Canberra: National Library of Australia.

Sullivan, Mary C. 1995. Catherine McAuley and the Traditions of Mercy 1778–1841. Ireland: The Four Courts Press Limited.

Weldon’s Practical Needlework Volume 2, Facsimile Edition. 2000. United States America: Interweave Press.

Whitlock, Tammy C. 2005. Crime, Gender and Consumer Culture in Nineteenth Century England. England: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

Windschuttle, E. 1988. Taste and Science: The Women of the Macleay Family 1790–1850. New South Wales: Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales.

Cite this chapter as: Shiell, Annette. 2008. ‘Fundraising through fancywork: Grand bazaars in Melbourne at the end of the nineteenth century’. Seize the Day: Exhibitions, Australia and the World, edited by Darian-Smith, Kate; Gillespie, Richard; Jordan, Caroline; and Willis, Elizabeth. Melbourne: Monash University ePress. pp. 10.1–10.16.

© Copyright 2008 Annette Shiell
All rights reserved. Apart from any uses permitted by Australia’s Copyright Act 1968, no part of this book may be reproduced by any process without prior written permission of the copyright owners. The fact that this book is published online does not mean that any part of it can be reproduced without first obtaining written permission: copyright laws do still apply. Inquiries should be directed to the publisher, Monash University ePress:


   by Kate Darian-Smith, Richard Gillespie, Caroline Jordan, Elizabeth Willis