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This chapter looks at Western Australia’s participation in inter-colonial and international Exhibitions in the period 1860–90. Decisions about when, where and what to exhibit were limited by the colony’s poor self esteem, and meagre financial resources. As a result of a lack of physical heritage, such as exhibition buildings or museum collections, the colony’s participation has been somewhat overlooked in exhibition histories. Western Australians chose their exhibitions carefully, promoting themselves as a frontier society, and something of a hidden treasure, awaiting only the right entrepreneur to launch the colony to match its eastern states rivals.

Land of the Swan, exultant rise
To hail this happy morn,
And greet the glorious emprise
Of future fame the dawn!
To Art and Industry bestow
Their fitting meed of praise
With ardent emulation glow
And songs of gladness raise!
Awake thee from thy slumbers deep
And fame and fortune strive to reap! …

No longer slighted and despised
We rise from dreamy slumber
To take our place with other lands
And in their ranks to number
To join in their triumphant song
To tread their path of glory
With earnest heart and courage strong
And live in deathless story!1

Founded in 1829 as the Swan River Colony by James Stirling on an ‘experimental’ agricultural basis, Western Australia struggled alongside Britain’s antipodean colonies for funds, population and markets. Where Stirling envisaged a colony as a hub for trade routes from the East Coast, India and China, Western Australians identified themselves as peripheral to the British Empire and Australian Federation, and on the isolated edge of the Australian continent. International and Intercolonial Exhibitions should have provided an opportunity for the colonists to meet Stirling’s vision and end their isolation: to market their wares, and their colony, on a broad national and international canvas.

Yet exhibitions were neither a regular nor well-supported means of promotion. Attendance was intermittent, and where the government chose to be represented, it did so with only limited resources. There was often minimal funding available and staffing provided by Colonial officers and the Crown Agent was often on a part-time basis.

Just as Western Australia’s presence at these exhibitions was limited, so too has been the assessment of this aspect of the colony’s history. The colony’s involvement in exhibitions is virtually unexplored, especially in the period between 1860 and 1890. The lack of physical reminders in the colony, such as exhibition buildings or foundational gallery and museum collections, has surely contributed to this amnesia. Even the documentary evidence in the archives and manuscript collections of the State is not well known, and of the few contemporary publications such as brochures and catalogues, even fewer survive. This chapter seeks, in part, to redress the neglect of Western Australia’s exhibition history and to identify existing and potential sources which may be further used to expand this research.


Peter Hoffenberg (2001) notes that several of the Australian colonies were absent from the Great Exhibition of 1851, due to lack of ‘time, funds or inclination’ (9). Judith McKay (2000), writing about Queensland and tropical contributions to the exhibition movement, has been more specific, claiming that ‘since 1862 [Western Australia] had declined mostly to join the other Australian states at such events’ (128). Following the London International Exhibition of 1862, Western Australia chose to attend Intercolonial Exhibitions in Melbourne in 1866 and Sydney in 1873, but was not represented at either Sydney in 1870, or Vienna in 1873, for example. In 1875, the colony chose to attend the Intercolonial Exhibition in Melbourne, but turned down invitations to participate in the Philadelphia Exhibition the following year, for which the Melbourne Exhibition had acted as a preliminary. Further, Western Australia was not represented at any of the London International Exhibitions. Certainly, for Western Australia the time needed to send material to other colonies or internationally, and the funds needed would have been crucial factors. But there was also, it could be argued, a reluctance to appear in a setting in which the colonists suspected they would be perceived as the ‘poor relations’.

Western Australia was, in fact, smaller in population, poorer and less autonomous than the other Australian colonies. It remained under fairly direct imperial control throughout most of the nineteenth century, only achieving a limited right to elected parliamentary representatives (Representative Government) in 1870 and a full, independent parliamentary process (Responsible Government) in 1890. With the granting of Representative Government, the governor and a handful of appointees were no longer the sole arbiters of the colony’s fate. The citizens now had a limited say in their government and in the expenditure of their limited funds, through the election of the Legislative Council. Although the make-up of the Legislative Council and the previously unelected Executive Council appeared much the same, the relationship between the governor and the colonists was fundamentally different.

The other colonies had achieved Responsible Government in the 1850s and 1860s, allowing them at an earlier stage to have a greater say in the direction of the colonies, and in the expenditure of their budgets. Not only did Western Australia lack the autonomy of the other colonies, but it also lacked their populations and incomes. In 1870, for example, the total population of the colony was around 24,000 people, with 5000 living in the capital city, Perth.2 At the same time the city of Melbourne had a population of over 500,000 and Sydney over 200,000.

To compound the lack of population and immigration that had been a concern since the foundation of the colony, Western Australia was slighted for its belated convictism. Various schemes to entice immigrants or to import a temporary work force from destinations such as India had been put forward, and in the late 1840s the colonists moved to consider convict transportation. From 1842 onwards Western Australia had been the principal destination for a number of boys sent out from Parkhurst Prison as ‘Juvenile Emigrants’ and in 1849, after several years of debate, the British Government formally made Western Australia a penal colony, some 10 years after transportation of adult convicts had ceased to New South Wales.3 Between 1850 and 1868 over 9000 male convicts were transported to Western Australia. Many of them had served part of their sentence already, and were usually granted tickets of leave within a year of arrival, if not earlier, and conditional pardons and certificates of freedom only a few years after that. Armed with their pardons and certificates, many of these men left Western Australia to commence a new, more anonymous life in other parts of Australia. So great was the movement of expirees away from Western Australia, that other colonies, especially South Australia, tried to legislate to restrict the movement of these men through their territory.

It is often said that to make money, you must spend money. In looking for valuable markets, and identifying potential sources of income, West Australians had to be careful to balance the resource requirements of treasure hunting against the capacity of the treasury to provide those same resources. Aware of the concerns of the other colonies, and conscious of their lack of prosperity and limited autonomy, the potential for invidious comparison caused West Australians to choose their exhibitions carefully.


The colony first tested the exhibition waters when it was represented in the London International Exhibition of 1862. However, as McKay (2000) notes, this was the exception rather than the rule, and it chose not to attend the preliminary Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition of 1861. A central committee was established, headed by Archibald Burt, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, which collected items and coordinated smaller regional committees consisting largely of the colony’s gentry. A special agent, Mr Alexander Andrews, was appointed to represent the colony in London, and the collections were shipped to London via the Gloucester, which sailed from Albany. Examining the descriptive catalogue of the exhibition, it would appear the colony concentrated on wares that it knew had a market, or which were in some way unique. These had been gathered from members of the committees and local merchants: businessmen such as Lionel Samson, a Fremantle merchant, W Padbury and George Shenton; farmers such as James Drummond, a naturalist and agriculturist; and colonial officials such as Daniel Scott, Fremantle Harbour Master, surveyor FT Gregory and members of the Royal Engineers.4 The colony sent a variety of minerals, a wide range of native timbers and decorative cabinet work, wine, wheat, olive oil and pressed wildflowers, and native spears and other ethnographic specimens. These choices remained largely unchanged through the next 30 years, although wood, minerals and pearl shells became increasingly important to the colony’s export economy and more commonly represented.

The original decision to participate had been made by Governor Kennedy, who agreed with Burt that a small amount of money, no more than £350, would be set aside for the project, although this was not included in the forward estimates of the colony. Kennedy left the colony in February 1862, without establishing a fund for the exhibition, and Burt was then forced to continually ask for more funds, including £50 for establishment of the Western Australian Court, and £100 to cover Andrews’s London expenses. By May 1862, Burt was advising that ‘at the close of the Exhibition the sale of the timber [displayed] is expected to realise about £40 or £50’, which would go some way to defraying the unexpectedly high costs, in order to justify further expenditure.5


Four years later, the colony was invited to send material to the grandiloquently named Intercolonial Exhibition of Australasia, in Melbourne. In accepting the invitation, the new governor, John Hampton, who had taken over during the 1862 experiment, emphasised to his committee that economy was the key, and proposed that the colonists concentrate on natural rather than manufactured products.6 As in 1862, timber and minerals were the products Hampton favoured. In selling the colony, the commissioners concentrated as best they could on its more positive attributes or rather on those aspects where they felt they were able to make a better showing than their more prosperous cousins. Drought on the East Coast provided an opportunity to boast of ‘[a]bundant rains during the tillage season’, while ‘in general salubrity of climate, Western Australia possesses a marked superiority over any of the Australian colonies …’.7 They acknowledged that the attractions of gold in the other colonies meant Western Australia was ignored by migrants, contributing to the lack of population growth, and leading to the decision to allow transportation. Even the influence of convicts on society was dealt with in a manner that identified some of the difficulties, but in a manner that accentuated the positives. Convicts and ticket of leave workers were ‘often lazy’ but were also easily replaced, while the need for ‘stringent laws for the repression of crime’ led conversely to a safer community.8

To ensure that the whole of the colony was represented, and possibly to reduce costs, small local committees were again formed and asked to identify suitable products and forward them to Albany for compilation into a Western Australian exhibition to be shipped to Melbourne. Many of the names found in the 1862 catalogue were again prominent – Burt was appointed to the Governor’s Commission for the Exhibition. Victorian businessmen JB Were and Revett Henry Bland were also appointed in Melbourne.9 The extended logistics alone made the whole enterprise difficult and open to loss, accident and even failure.

Initially, it appeared that failure was indeed an option. Lack of funds and a small number of exhibits led to concerns that the court would not compare favourably with those of the more successful colonies. However, JB Were was able to tell the Central Committee, ‘your fears of the unattractive appearance of the Western Australian Court need not be kept alive …’.10 The Argus reported that the colony had ‘furnished a very creditable court, not abounding in evidences of prosperous industries, but somewhat rich in resources of wealth which might be turned to greater profit’.11 Rather than the court, it was ultimately a lack of support by individuals within the colony that commentators found disappointing:

The very favourable opinions expressed in Melbourne as to the appearance the Western Australian Court makes in the Intercolonial Exhibition, have greatly pleased our community, but have at the same time produced a feeling of regret that, successful as we have been … the exertions of the General Committee were not seconded by those of individual settlers.12

The Inquirer attributed the failure of the colony to contribute to the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867, to the same cause. ‘[T]here is not the least probability of our doing it… Our Central Committee have not been neglectful of the call … Exhibitors had declined to give instructions to forward their Melbourne exhibits to Paris …’.13 Conversely, the memory of the success of Melbourne may well have contributed to the colony’s decision to again dabble in intercolonial exhibition waters a few years later.


The invitation to participate in the Metropolitan Intercolonial Exhibition in Sydney arrived in September 1872, two years after the colony achieved Representative Government. Entrepreneur Jules Joubert, working for the Metropolitan Exhibition, was indefatigable in his efforts to beguile the Western Australians into participating. Writing to the Colonial Secretary, Frederick Barlee, in October 1872, Joubert carefully linked Western Australia and New South Wales as ‘the oldest and farthest apart in Australia’,14 a welcome recognition sometimes missing from the other colonies. Three months later, in December of the same year, Joubert commented, ‘Western Australia has hitherto been kept too much in the background; you have no lack of natural resources; they need only to be made known, nothing will do this more effectively than placing them under the eyes of an appreciative public’.15 Circulars were sent to the local papers, the various Resident Magistrates asked to form a committee, and previous exhibitors were asked to contribute.16 In addition the two major steam ship companies were asked to assist, with two vessels leaving Albany on 4 March and 1 April 1873 designated for the shipments, leaving little time to replace any spoiled or damaged exhibits.

Individual apathy by colonists and exhibitors was still a concern. Writing to Jules Joubert in February 1873, Barlee outlined some of his difficulties:

I herewith enclose to you a list or catalogue of the various exhibits shipped, with such descriptions and notes as I have been able to collect – I regret however, that I have not succeeded in making it complete, as of the few people who are willing to contribute specimens of the products of the Colony there are still fewer who care to afford any information, or give any particulars connected with their exhibits.17

The actual display was designed in Perth but executed in Sydney, probably under Barlee’s supervision, with vague instructions and diagrams to guide the display builders. A key feature, a jarrah pyramid or obelisk studded with ores, needed to be able to support at least six tons of ore. Given the size of the item, and the labour involved in constructing it, returning it to the West was clearly out of the question. Instead, it was to be left in Sydney, with the suggestion that it possibly be used to ornament a park.18 Nor would it have been the only item from this, or other exhibitions, which could not be returned. Barlee was not only responsible for putting the exhibits together in Western Australia, but he also became the colony’s representative in Sydney, where ‘his presence … materially contributed to bring the productions and resources of this Colony under prominent notice’.19 Barlee also paid for some things out of his own pocket, simply to speed up the payment process. The establishment of Representative Government two years earlier meant that, where the governor and his Executive Council had previously made decisions quickly and unilaterally, a more complex negotiation was now required. The Central Committee, for example, forwarded a request for £205 in July 1873, to the governor, who annotated it for the Acting Colonial Secretary, Malcolm Fraser: ‘Dear Mr Fraser, I authorize you to present these resolutions emanating from the Central Committee appointed by me … for the Speaker of the Legislative Council and in my name to recommend them to the favourable consideration of the House’.20 Duly rising to lay the recommendation to the House, the Surveyor-General called for a sum of 120 guineas to be paid to Barlee in ‘part payment of the expenses incurred by him … and as some marks of recognition of his valuable services’ and further recommended another 20 guineas to Mr Weld-Blundell who assisted Barlee.21

Despite the lack of official funding, and the effects of distance, the Perth Gazette was able to provide ‘a fragmentary report of the exhibits from this colony to the Sydney Exhibition, many of which, especially the wheat and silk products forwarded by Mr Strickland carried off first prizes …’.22 The success at Sydney and the earlier Melbourne experience demonstrated that Intercolonial Exhibitions were both achievable and rewarding. International Exhibitions, other than in England, were still something of an unknown quantity.


Following on from Sydney, the colony was soon presented with the opportunity to exhibit not only nationally, but internationally. The Commissioners of the Victorian Intercolonial Exhibition extended an invitation to exhibit in Melbourne in 1875, with the exhibits to be forwarded to the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia the following year. However, at the time of the invitation the Legislative Council’s attention was taken up by other considerations. The new governor, William Robinson, had just returned to the colony, bearing with him a despatch from the Secretary of State, Lord Carnarvon, which rejected the colonist’s recent application for Responsible Government. In rejecting the application, Lord Carnarvon had raised three objections: whether there was enough population from which to draw the representatives for a second House; whether there was enough income to pay for its administration; and who would take responsibility for the imperial convicts? All the doubts and concerns that had dogged previous exhibitions were again raised and debated. The Legislative Council pointed out that:

standing alone, as this colony does, among the Australian Group, as the only colony not possessing Responsible Government, its inhabitants are looked down upon as unfit to be trusted with those privileges elsewhere accorded their fellow-countrymen; and the consequent result is, that the working-classes of the Eastern Colonies, no matter what inducements may here offer, will not settle in Western Australia, and lose those privileges which they prize and must in such case give up …

The colony, under its present constitution, can, in the opinion of this Council, never hope to hold its own or compete with other Australian Colonies, whose prosperity dates from the introduction of Responsible Government …23

The question of exhibitions followed on directly from this debate and it is perhaps not surprising that the council decided to turn down the invitation of the Melbourne commissioners to participate in either the Philadelphia Exhibition or the Melbourne Exhibition, being ‘of the opinion that it is not desirable to expend any public money on the Philadelphia Exhibition’.24

Robinson, the new governor, did not agree. Two years previously he had been appointed Special Commissioner for the Crown Colonies to the Vienna Exhibition, and was convinced that exhibitions provided an ideal opportunity to promote the colony and its products. When the Secretary for the Colonies wrote in July 1875 asking if the colony would participate with the other colonies in the Philadelphia Exhibition, Robinson caused the correspondence to be tabled in the Legislative Council. Included was his response that, as the Legislative Council had not voted any funds, he felt that he could not ask the Executive Council to contribute anything either and that therefore there would be no Western Australian Court.25

Even though the colony was not formally represented, the Melbourne Commissioners asked that individual exhibitors be invited. It seems on the whole unlikely that many (or any) did, given the demonstrated apathy of earlier years, and no evidence to the contrary has so far been found. Yet it should be noted that Western Australia did appear at a number of exhibitions, unofficially; in part through the use of items of Westraliana by other colonies, including silk banners in the 1880s by Queensland and Victoria.

PARIS 1878

Although Robinson was unsuccessful in getting the colony to either Melbourne or Philadelphia, his actions may have well have had an effect two years later. In debating whether to attend the Paris Exposition Internationale, to be held in 1878, the keynote sounded was that of hopeful caution. ‘Have we the materials for a decent collection and would the Legislature be disposed to sanction the cost?’ asked one member of the Executive Council in a Minute about the Paris Exhibition.26 Others were more sanguine, pointing to the success of the 1866 exhibition in Melbourne, and the importance of making the colony ‘more fully and generally known’.27 Jules Joubert, in a nicely timed letter, boosted their morale by asking if they would again exhibit in Sydney, following the good impression made in 1873.28

The Legislative Council, meeting to discuss the Paris Exhibition in committee, were as reluctant to expend money as the Executive Council had expected. A vote of £1000 was eventually agreed to, on the proviso that the less that could be spent the better. In the environment of the day, further expenditure could not be justified. Mr Burt raised concerns that the lack of funds would lead to a mean exhibition and that ‘unless we are able to do the colony full justice, it would be better to stay aloof’. ‘If we can do anything like a decent show’, responded member Walter Padbury, ‘I think the money will be well spent’.29 Despite the parsimony of the Legislative Council, which resulted in a very small and somewhat hidden display (it was reported that the Western Australian Court had been mixed with another), Padbury’s faith appeared to have been justified.30 Reports from the exhibition were reproduced intermittently in the local papers from December 1878 to June 1879 and the exhibitors and the government broadly congratulated. ‘We have made ourselves “retiringly prominent” at the Paris Exhibition …’, said the Inquirer:

… our little show presents to the world the germ of future greatness … with a little cash coaxing we might shine as brilliantly as our neighbours. The thanks of the colony are due our … friends who … have done their best endeavours to bring to the notice of capitalists and others the existence of dormant treasures that only require the necessary tickling to burst into active life …31


The theme of the colony as a Sleeping Beauty or Snow White, awaiting only the kiss of an entrepreneurial prince or two, was taken up two years later. The colony had failed to exhibit at the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879, but was again represented at the Melbourne International Exhibition the following year. William Robinson had returned for the second of his three terms as governor, and attended the opening ceremonies. In his speech he outlined the problems of Western Australia, which still awaited Responsible Government, referring to his role as ‘mild despotism’ and the colony as a ‘quasi-crown colony’.32 The colony’s invidious position was reflected in an article in the Leader (reproduced in the West Australian): ‘Western Australia, the youngest and, in point of population, the smallest colony in the group, exhibits in a small area next to Tasmania’.33 While the small size of the population was not in dispute, Western Australia was the third-oldest Australian colony, predating South Australia and Victoria, and the separation of Queensland from New South Wales.

PERTH 1881

One way of establishing the colony as an equal would be to hold its own exhibition. ‘It was felt that such an Exhibition would the very thing that was needed …’34 In 1881, the government was excited by the prospect of holding their own ‘international’ exhibition.35 This was essentially a trade fair put together by exhibition entrepreneurs Jules Joubert and his partner, Richard Twopeny, from their commercial exhibition in Adelaide, and it tapped into the strong sense of isolation of the colonists. The attraction was clearly the chance to see international exhibits on the cheap, rather than the opportunity to market the colony.

The 1881 Perth Exhibition could have provided the colony with a tangible inheritance – an exhibition building. Made of timber and iron, the building was erected on the Perth Esplanade, overlooking the Swan River, with the permission of the City Council.36 Joubert offered the government the opportunity of buying the building for later use, for £700, but there is no evidence that the offer was accepted.37 No photographs of the building on the Perth site have been found, and it may well be that the building was demolished as quickly as it was built, for further transportation.38 Most of the exhibition was commercial in nature, and the exhibitors took their material with them when they left. Western Australia had yet to develop a museum, library or art gallery, and the items collected for the exhibition from the colonists appear to have been returned to them.39 Even the documentation for the exhibition has largely vanished. The Cantata for the Swan, cited in part at the beginning of this article, now exists in the State Library as a photocopy, and I have been unable to locate any major catalogues or brochures. What little information remains in Western Australia, lies in the three newspapers of the day, the Inquirer, the West Australian and the Herald.40

Initially supportive of the exhibition, and while providing detailed lists of the Courts – French, Swiss, Japanese, South Australian and West Australian – and the exhibitors, the newspapers soon became critical. One criticism was the continuing apathy of the colonists. Many of the exhibitions, especially the Western Australian ones, were from previous exhibitions. The art collection failed to attract many new entries, and the Western Australian Court was the last to be finished. As always, there was a sense that others had done for the colony what it was too small, or too trammelled by lack of Responsible Government and the convict stain, or simply too apathetic to do for itself:

We seem to find a luxury in parading our insignificance, and in drawing attention to the petty applications which have retarded our progress. It is curious that strangers should be more ready to say a good word for us than we ourselves, and to teach us that, as a general rule, the world values a country, as it does a man, at its own estimate.41

The other, more acerbic criticism was directed at the commercial nature of the exhibition, although this was tempered by a recognition that the event itself was a significant attempt to put Western Australia on the Australian trade map.

It is also debatable how successful the exhibition really was, for Joubert and his partner, Twopeny. Joubert lived in the colony for the six months prior to the exhibition, smoothing the way with council and government, and exhorting West Australians and others to contribute. As a former secretary to the New South Wales Agricultural Society, it would seem likely that he would become involved with or make comment on Western Australian agricultural practices, but no evidence of this has been found to date. Rather, he involved himself in the cultural life of the colony, writing to the papers to suggest the introduction of a public bath, for instance, and his Austrian band contributed to the musical culture of the colony for that period.42 Twopeny, who came over for the exhibition, left before Joubert, and was arrested in Albany on his way back to the East Coast, because one of his creditors in Adelaide defaulted on a cheque.43 Twopeny’s treatment became something of a cause celebre in the local papers, but soon faded from the public eye.


The Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886 provided Western Australia with another opportunity to demonstrate its wares on the international scene. £2000 was allotted to the cause, again with the proviso that every care in selecting material should be exercised so that the money was not wasted.44 As in 1866, local commissioners were appointed throughout the colony to identify material, with the costs of transport to be paid by the commission. In the Gazettal notice promoting the exhibition the Administrator, Onslow, said:

At no period in its history has an Exhibition of this nature been of greater importance to [the colony’s] interests, both in regard to the present and the future.

During the past few years Western Australia has been attracting the attention of capitalists and others, as is evidenced by the various schemes for its development which have lately been prominently before the public. It is therefore desirable that every endeavour should be made to have our resources fully represented.45

The Colonial Secretary, Malcolm Fraser, and the commission’s secretary, Alpin Thompson, went to England to secure the success of the exhibition. In addition to freighting material across, the Western Australians borrowed extensively from firms represented in the colony but based in England. A local English firm, for example, provided a diving suit, pearl shell and even items manufactured from the shell.46 When George Simpson’s supply of timber for the exhibition was evidently not to be received in time, replacement samples were sought, and obtained, from the South Kensington Museum.47 Later, portions of these same samples were used in experiments to determine the hardness of Western Australian timbers.48

The delays in shipping caused other anxieties, too. A telegraph sent in February 1886 reads:

Fraser urgently requires statistics for last year, the handbook which was being printed when he left, photographs and all other exhibits to come at earliest possible date: also earliest advice as to action of Colonial Commission. Fraser most anxious not to be left behind other colonies that are actively engaged decorating their courts and unpacking their exhibits.49

In promoting the colony, the handbook requested by Fraser concentrated on the natural resources of the colony. It also tried hard to make Western Australia’s isolation and small population, not a bug, but a feature. ‘Western Australia [is] the largest and the least known of the Australian group’, said the brochure, and therefore ideal for the:

intending colonist, who naturally desires to settle where there is still an unworked field for his energies, and where he may be practically a pioneer, rather than a wage-earning competitor against the thousands who have preceded him, as is too often the case with those who emigrate to America, or even to the large centres of population in the Eastern colonies of Australia …50

These sentiments were not new, but were echoed from earlier exhibition literature, in which the frontier nature of the colony had been promoted. Western Australia wanted independent and enthusiastic settlers; rugged individualists rather than vitiated city dwellers.

By the time Responsible Government was granted in 1890, Western Australia had actively exhibited both nationally and internationally. Although the theme of its frontier and of unlimited natural wealth was ongoing, the colony was also eager to be perceived not only as economically viable, but also worthy of recognition as a society as civilised and technologically developed as its Australian and international rivals. In 1895, following the discovery of commercially sustainable quantities of gold in the East Kimberleys and at Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie, the colony held its first true International Exhibition at Coolgardie. While this exhibition has been discussed by Lynette Stevenson (1989) and Dorothy Erickson (1992), more in-depth analysis of the political and economic rationale for the exhibition has yet to be undertaken.


The reasons why Western Australia’s participation in these exhibitions is not better remembered or researched are threefold. First, there was an emphasis on natural products – timbers, ores, fruit, wine – which meant that many of the exhibits were fragile, and unable to be returned, or that they were reused for lesser promotional events. The manufactured items, including the displays, often stayed where they were exhibited, with many being taken into museum and art collections in other countries and colonies, as had been the case with the Western Australian timbers in 1886, and the silk banners. Western Australia’s exhibitions are probably better represented elsewhere than they are in Western Australia.

Second, the lack of a major exhibition in Western Australia in this period, other than the travelling exhibition by promoters Joubert and Twopeny in 1881, means that there are no physical reminders, like the Melbourne Exhibition Building, to prompt investigation.

Third, Western Australia did not produce a great amount of original, published literature associated with the exhibitions. The brochures and handbooks are largely derived from the blue books (the annual statistical returns prepared by the colonies, so-called because they were often published in blue covers) and immigration literature of the day. Readily accessible evidence in Western Australia of the 1862 exhibition is a two-page photocopy from the original, larger exhibition catalogue. Newspapers, too, as Trish Hoynes (1995) has identified, generally relied on reports originally published in the newspapers of the host colony or nation. Without an exhibition of its own, there was no impetus for special illustrated exhibition editions to appear in the three main papers in the colony – the Inquirer, established in 1855, the Perth Gazette (later the West Australian) established in 1848, and the Herald, 1865–86 (the Daily News from 1886).

However, analysis of the sources used in other exhibition histories indicates that there should be in existence, at the very least, minutes of exhibition committees and correspondence in the records of the Agent General and the Colonial Secretary. Due to poor descriptive practices these records have been, until recently, difficult to identify, and therefore unknown and unused. Many of the records I have cited here are located in what is described as an ‘artificial series’, a concatenation of records with little apparent textual connection and titled, unimaginatively, as ‘Records – various’. Others form part of larger, administrative and correspondence series, and require time-consuming and often tedious readings of closely written lists. Even when unearthed, archival description is not always easy to understand, and in a world where immediate answers are expected, the need to dig for hidden treasure may no longer have the allure it once had. Nevertheless, it’s clearly worth learning how to read the archival map, and to follow the clues.

With the introduction of online databases by all the major Australian archival institutions, many of which now list at series level, and the growing use of web search engines, it has become far easier to identify relevant record groups and series. The efforts expended by the State Records Office of Western Australia in listing archives not just at series but at item level has further improved the likelihood of finding these records and resulted in my finding many more of the records than I was able to do even five years ago. Efforts such as these will increase awareness of these collections by those who know enough to look for them, and may lead to a better integration of all forms of evidence into historical writing.

In the archives I have found evidence of the colony’s awareness of, and sensitivity to, the way it was perceived nationally and internationally, as a result of its small population and the decision to allow transportation. Western Australia’s motivations for attending exhibitions and the logistical and other difficulties that had to be negotiated in order for the colony to be fully represented are also made more apparent. Rather than seizing the day, Western Australia reached out tentatively. It portrayed itself as a frontier society, with its resources as a form of hidden treasure waiting not for greedy pirates, but a competent and benevolent entrepreneur. The archival records which have been used in this chapter could also be characterised as hidden treasure. Further research still needs to be undertaken, both in Western Australia and in the archives and collections of those exhibitions Western Australian did attend, so that the colony’s contributions and the broader role of exhibitions are no longer hidden, and may indeed ‘live in deathless story’.


1      Francis Hart and S Pascal Needham, 1881, Land of the Swan Cantata, composed by Needham, S Pascal, words by Francis Hart.

2      Colonial Secretary’s Office, Blue Book. Perth, WA: Government Printer.

3      Transportation continued to Tasmania until 1853, and Britain tried to reintroduce it to New South Wales in 1848, but was firmly rejected.

4      London International Exhibition. 1862. Descriptive Catalogue of the Collection of Products and Manufactures Contributed by Colony of WA in the International Exhibition of 1862. Paper read at London International Exhibition.

5      Archibald Burt, 15 May 1862. Cons. 36, vol. 508, Colonial Secretary’s Office, Correspondence received, SROWA.

6      Minutes of Meetings Held by Several Committees Formed to Investigate the Participation of Western Australia in a General Exhibition to be Held in Melbourne in 1866. Cons. 62, 1, Colonial Secretary’s Office, SROWA.

7     Western Australia: A Descriptive Catalogue of the Collection of Products Contributed by That Colony to the Intercolonial Exhibition of Australasia Held at Melbourne in 1866; With a Few Preliminary Observations. 1866. Paper read at Intercolonial Exhibition, Melbourne.

8     Ibid.

9     Minutes of meetings … Melbourne in 1866. Cons. 62, 1, Colonial Secretary’s Office, SROWA.

10    Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition, Central Committee. Perth Gazette, 21 December 1866.

11    Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition. Perth Gazette, 16 November 1866.

12    Editorial. Perth Gazette, 28 December 1866.

13    The Inquirer, 11 January 1882.

14    Jules Joubert to Frederick Barlee, 4 October 1872, Exhibitions. Cons. 36, vol. 738, Colonial Secretary’s Office, Correspondence received, SROWA. Revett Henry Bland had been a colonist in Western Australia before moving to Victoria in the 1850s, where he was prominent in the gold mining industry. Bland’s association and support for Western Australia is well known, and it is possible that he nominated Were as a co-commissioner, due to his knowledge of the man in Victoria.

15    Jules Joubert, 30 December 1872. Ibid.

16    Outward Correspondence from the Committees Formed to Arrange the Promotion of Western Australian Products at the Inter-Colonial Exhibition, 1873 and the Paris Universal Exhibition, 1878. Cons. 225, 1, Colonial Secretary’s Office, SROWA.

17    Malcolm Fraser to Jules Joubert, 24 February 1874.Ibid.

18    Ibid.

19    Central Committee, 10 July 1873. Exhibitions. Cons. 36, vol. 738, Colonial Secretary’s Office, Correspondence received, SROWA.

20    Ibid.

21    15 July 1873, Parliament of Western Australia. Western Australian Parliamentary Debates, (WAPD). Perth, WA: Government Printer.

22    Embaras des Riches! Perth Gazette, 6 June 1873.

23    Legislative Council. The Inquirer, 27 January 1875.

24    Ibid.

25    Tabled papers, 1875, Parliament of Western Australia. Western Australian Parliamentary Votes and Proceedings (WAVP), Perth, WA: Government Printer.

26    Minute, 31 May 1877, Paris Exhibition. Cons. 1175, 055, Chief Secretary’s Department, SROWA.

27    Lt. Col. Edward Harvest, 7 June 1877, Ibid.

28    Jules Joubert to Malcolm Fraser, attached to minute from Fraser, 3 June 1877. Ibid.

29    WAPD, 1877: 166

30    The Inquirer, 29 January 1882.

31    Ibid.

32    Ibid.

33    West Australian, 12 October 1880.

34    The Herald, 19 November 1881.

35    Exhibitions. Cons. 527 (1878–83), Subject 1436, Colonial Secretary’s Office, SROWA.

36    Cons. 2826, vol. 4. City of Perth, Minutes, Council, SROWA.

37    Exhibitions. Cons. 527 (1878–83), Subject 1436, Colonial Secretary’s Office, SROWA.

38    Possibly, the building reappeared in New Zealand in 1882, for Joubert and Twopenny’s cross-Tasman venture.

39    A geological collection had been commenced in 1881 under the Reverend Nicholay. A combined gallery, museum and library was planned for the Queen’s Jubilee in 1887, but only the foundation stone was laid. The museum was opened in 1891, and a formally separate art gallery in 1895.

40    I have not had the opportunity to examine Joubert’s reminiscences Shavings and scrapes in many parts, which is held in libraries in every state except Western Australia and Tasmania.

41    Perth Intercolonial Exhibition. Special edition. The West Australian, 22 November 1881.

42    Ibid. 25 November 1881.

43    The Inquirer, 11 January 1882.

44    Minutes of the West Australian Commission Appointed by the Colonial Secretary to Report on Ways to Promote the Products and Resources of WA at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, London, 1886. Chair. Cons. 499, 1, Colonial Secretary’s Office, Records, various, SROWA.

45    Ibid.

46    Applications for Floor Space (Includes Advice to Exhibitors), Entry Forms and Some Particulars of Exhibits at the Colonial & Indian Exhibition, London, 1886. [Includes unrelated 1905 correspondence]. 6, Colonial Secretary’s Office, Records, various, SROWA.

47    Ibid.

48    Colonial and Indian Exhibition 1886. 3K. Royal Botanic Gardens, AJCP.

49    Malcolm Fraser, 13 February 1886, Miscellaneous Documents re WA Participation in the Col. & Indian Exhibn. Much is Corres. to Malcolm Fraser, Executive Commissioner for Western Australia at the Exhibition. Cons. 106, 5, Colonial Secretary’s Office, Records, various, SROWA.

50    Catalogue of Exhibits in the Western Australian Court with a Preface Giving Some General Information as the Present Conditions and Prospects of the Colony. 1886. Paper read at Colonial and Indian Exhibition, London.



Colonial and Indian Exhibition 1886. 3K. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in Australian Joint Copying Project (hereafter AJCP)., reel 29, M756, 178a.

Minutes – Council, Cons. 2826 vol. 4, City of Perth, State Records Office of Western Australia (hereafter SROWA).

Applications for Floor Space (Includes Advice to Exhibitors), Entry Forms and Some Particulars of Exhibits at the Colonial & Indian Exhibition, London, 1886. [Includes unrelated 1905 correspondence]. Cons. 106, 6, Colonial Secretary’s Office, Records, various, SROWA.

Cons. 36 vol. 508, Colonial Secretary’s Office, Correspondence received, SROWA.

Exhibitions. Cons. 527 (1878–83), Subject 1436, Colonial Secretary’s Office, SROWA.

Exhibitions. Cons. 36 vol. 738, Colonial Secretary’s Office, Correspondence received, SROWA.

Minutes of Meetings Held by Several Committees Formed to Investigate the Participation of Western Australia in a General Exhibition to Be Held in Melbourne in 1866. Cons. 62, 1, Colonial Secretary’s Office, SROWA.

Minutes of the West Australian Commission Appointed by the Colonial Secretary to Report on Ways to Promote the Products and Resources of WA at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, London, 1886. Chair. Cons. 499, 1, Colonial Secretary’s Office, Records, various, SROWA.

Miscellaneous Documents re WA Participation in the Col. & Indian Exhibn. Much is Corres. to Malcolm Fraser, Executive Commissioner for Western Australia at the Exhibition. Cons. 106, 5, Colonial Secretary’s Office, Records, various, SROWA.

Outward Correspondence from the Committees Formed to Arrange the Promotion of Western Australian Products at the Inter-Colonial Exhibition, 1873 and the Paris Universal Exhibition, 1878. Cons. 225, 1, Colonial Secretary’s Office, SROWA.

Paris Exhibition. Cons. 1175, 055, Chief Secretary’s Department, SROWA.


Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition. Perth Gazette, 16 November 1866.

Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition, Central Committee. Perth Gazette, 21 December 1866

Editorial. Perth Gazette, 28 December 1866.

Embaras des Riches! Perth Gazette, 6 June 1873.

Legislative Council. The Inquirer, 27 January 1875.

West Australian, 12 October 1880.

The Herald, 19 November 1881.

Perth Intercolonial Exhibition. Special edition. The West Australian, 22 November 1881.

The West Australian, 25 November 1881.

The Inquirer, 11 January 1882.


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Cite this chapter as: Summers, Lise. 2008. ‘Hidden treasure: Exhibiting Western Australia, 1860–90’. 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. 5.1–5.15.

© Copyright 2008 Lise Summers
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   by Kate Darian-Smith, Richard Gillespie, Caroline Jordan, Elizabeth Willis