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Through an analysis of competition categories and entries, this chapter explores the versions of Queensland which were promoted through the 1876 exhibition as well as highlighting aspects of colonial life which were omitted. It also considers the extent to which the organisers of, visitors to and commentators on the exhibition viewed this depiction of the colony’s achievements through local, intercolonial and imperial frameworks.

On Tuesday, 22 August 1876, bugles sounded, bands played, steam engines whistled and an artillery salute thundered across Brisbane. Queensland’s first ‘at home’ intercolonial exhibition had begun. During the following week, visitors marvelled at more than 1700 exhibits ranging from alpacas to windmills. Local newspapers celebrated the young colony’s capacity to host such a major event ‘within her own boundaries’, and used the occasion of the exhibition to applaud and critically assess Queensland’s economic and cultural progress.1 The competition categories, prizes and entries, as well as the commentary that filled the newspapers, offer a portrait of the colony. It was a portrait with multiple creators, including the newly formed National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland which hosted the show, and the individuals and organisations who entered exhibits and donated prizes. For the most part, it was a carefully constructed image, characterised by attention to fine detail and influenced by a commitment to realism, infused with a sense of optimism, and constrained within clearly drawn borders that excluded some of the less palatable features of the colony. Within those borders, the exhibition and the newspaper columns it generated depicted a transplanted British society which judged itself through the lens of progress, especially economic progress, and situated itself within intercolonial, imperial and international frameworks of burgeoning capitalism and cultural transmission.


Especially for local boosters and for the citizens of south-east Queensland, the Brisbane Exhibition was a major event, indeed the major event since the celebrations in 1859 marking the colony’s separation from New South Wales. As the Week newspaper declared, ‘We have drawn together more exhibits, more sightseers, more volunteers, more bands of music than were ever before collected at one time in this colony’.2 The rival Brisbane Courier trumpeted that ‘the exhibition has transformed Brisbane from dulness (sic) and emptiness into a scene of bustle and energy never before witnessed here’.3 The official catalogue, the schedule of prizes and the exhibits provide overlapping commentaries on Queensland society, its values, aspirations and achievements. They represented, in particular, the views of those leading members of colonial society who provided the impetus for the event, determined its parameters via the schedule and regulations, and then participated as stewards, judges and competitors.4

The version of and vision for Queensland that emerged from the catalogue and exhibits were presented to an enthusiastic and receptive audience. In 1876, Brisbane’s non-Aboriginal population was approximately 27,000. The new-fangled turnstiles recorded more than 34,000 visits to the show, and people had travelled from as far as Cooktown, 2000 kilometres to the north.5 Unfortunately, newspaper accounts of visitors’ responses to the exhibition do not enable any conclusive judgments about which elements of colonial society were most valued by citizens, based on which displays and entertainments attracted the largest audiences. Reports of the exhibition suggest that everything found favour with the crowds who flocked to the event and people were apparently equally delighted by the parades of livestock, the spectacle of mining equipment in action, displays of delicately worked embroidery, and the nightly entertainment of vocal and instrumental music in the main building. The stained glass windows in the New South Wales annexe, the dugong meat, the artificial limbs, and the trophy of plants all attracted admiring comments.6


Figure 1. The exhibition grounds, Brisbane Exhibition, 1876.
GP Wright, Views of Brisbane, 1876. (Courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

The catalogue was divided into agricultural and non-agricultural divisions. The former included sections for horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, dogs, wool, wine, sugar and sugar-producing plants, farm and dairy produce, horticulture, manure, implements and machinery, and silks and fibres, and attracted some 900 entries.7 The regulations for this division emphasised the importance of breeding stock, with the declaration that ‘as the object of this Association is to promote improvement in Breeding Stock, the Judges in their awards (except in the case of fat stock) will not take into their consideration the present value to the butchers of animals exhibited, but decide according to their relative merits for the purpose of breeding’. In the case of machinery and implements, the focus was on their function, with a requirement that ‘as far as possible, all … will be judged in action, either in the field or on the exhibition grounds’.8 The instructions to exhibitors in this division suggest a community that valued utility and practicality, and that looked forward to future gains, rather than being content only with immediate profits.

The schedule of prizes explained that in the non-agricultural division, ‘the Raw products of the colony and their derived manufactures will be represented, attention being particularly directed to the process in each case’.9 The division included fine arts, apparatus and application of liberal arts, furniture and other objects for the use of dwellings, clothing including fabrics and other objects of personal wear, products of mining and forestry, apparatuses and processes used in the common arts, food that was ‘fresh, preserved or in various stages of preservation’, artisans’ work, and entries from schools. There were approximately 800 entries in the non-agricultural division. The National Association was especially anxious to ‘secure a complete exhibition of Mineral products, together with Mining Machinery’; these extractive industries were regarded as critical to the contemporary and future economy of the colony, and displaying the riches of Queensland’s mineral fields might attract the investment needed for further development.10 The exhibition secured items ranging from specimens of gold, quartz, diamonds and agate to examples of working machinery. In the New South Wales annexe, a model of the Peak Downs copper mining operation alluded to one example of the investment of funds from beyond Queensland in the colony’s mining sector. The Association also sought to display the processes by which raw materials were converted to usable and useful products. ‘As far as possible, there should be shown the raw material, finished products, and machinery in motion in the following trades:- Iron, wood, woollen, clothes, leather, pottery, and any other’.11 This decision, combined with the exhibition’s celebration of locally manufactured goods, may be interpreted, in part, as a recognition of and attempt to overcome what Brisbane’s Ebenezer Thorne (1876) described as a ‘foolish and unreasoning prejudice against local productions’ (35).12

The two divisions contained more than 650 classes. This choice of competition categories and the timing of Queensland’s first intercolonial exhibition were significant. While the pastoral sector remained the major source of export earnings for Queensland in the 1870s and beyond, the extent of that dominance was not immediately apparent at the exhibition. There were about 150 entries in the 120 classes for cattle, sheep and wool; the pastoral industry was also represented in other sections of the catalogue, with exhibits ranging from sheepdogs to footrot nippers. For visitors arriving at the grounds, it seems likely that their attention would have been drawn in the first instance to the newly erected Exhibition Building, which housed manufactured goods and art works, and to the displays of noisy operating machinery such as the quartz crushing machine. The impressive variety of classes for exhibits suggests that the National Association believed in the colony’s capacity to achieve a comprehensive economy. As historian Bill Thorpe (1996) has noted, ‘by 1875 it seemed likely, or at least possible … that the Queensland economy, at least in terms of commodity production, had begun to diversify’ (25). The discovery and exploitation of major mining fields, such as the Palmer River goldfields in the north of the colony; the development of cash crops, notably sugar; and, for optimists, the small manufacturing concerns in urban centres such as Brisbane, Toowoomba and Rockhampton, seemed to herald an era of diversified and virtually limitless economic expansion. However, while its range of primary products in particular expanded, Queensland’s role within global trading networks remained fundamentally unchanged; it was a supplier of raw materials.

Evaluating both the variety of classes listed in the catalogue and their popularity with exhibitors provides two overlapping views of Queensland in 1876. The former reflected the aspirations of the National Association; the latter constituted a representation of the colony based on how exhibitors responded to the show. Several dozen of the 650 classes did not attract any entries; the ambitious program stretched and sometimes exceeded the capacities or willingness of Queenslanders to meet its expectations. While the hopes of the organisers in offering the categories of ‘Swans’ and ‘Guinea Fowls’ suggest a fondness for these quintessentially British species, the absence of entries may indicate that exhibitors had a more pragmatic agenda.13 By contrast, all of the categories for ‘Fowls’ which referred to farmyard chickens did attract entries. The structure of the catalogue was derived from knowledge of other, earlier exhibitions, but the hierarchy of divisions, sections and classes nonetheless conveyed particular messages about which industries and products were most valued in Queensland. Sugar and sugar-producing plants, for example, were defined as an exhibition section, and thus enjoyed the same status as horses and cattle. By contrast, wheat and maize were merely classes within the section for farm and dairy products.

The catalogue distinguished between exhibits sent from Queensland and those sent from outside the colony, with 270 items from New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia listed beneath the heading ‘Catalogue of New South Wales exhibits’. This separation on the basis of where exhibitors lived and worked simultaneously emphasised Queensland’s pre-eminence at the first intercolonial exhibition ‘within her own boundaries’ and the importance of exhibits from other colonies. The arrangement of exhibits at the event itself, however, and the original geographical sources of some items, presented a more complex intermingling of local, Australian and overseas products. Many, but certainly not all, of the items listed in the ‘Catalogue of New South Wales exhibits’ were displayed in the New South Wales annexe. Others appeared alongside Queensland exhibits with some enjoying pride of place in the main building, notably the showcases of wool and minerals from New South Wales. Displays by Queensland and other Australian exhibitors included livestock, machinery and manufactured items from Britain, the United States and France. Newspaper coverage distinguished between colonial (or Australian) and imported goods and pondered whether the correct balance had been achieved between local and overseas items, while defending the right of local businesses to display their imported wares.14

Private citizens, government officials, businesses, and institutions including schools and jails, entered items. The capacity of individuals to display their wares at the exhibition was determined by a combination of factors, including cost, cautioning against any simple connection between the popularity of particular categories and the significance of those categories to Queensland society.15 Having paid an annual subscription, members of the National Association could submit entries free of charge. Other competitors were usually charged two shillings and sixpence per entry. Based on number of entries, the section for implements and machinery within the agricultural division was the most popular, with approximately 250 entries. Tools and machines used in mining, food production, the manufacture of clothing, and other industries were also on display, and the power of technology was acknowledged in delighted descriptions of the ‘telegraphic feat’ in which the Governor’s opening speech of some 700 words was transmitted to Sydney ‘in the short space of thirteen minutes’.16


Figure 2. Alfred Shaw’s Machinery Shed was a popular feature at the Brisbane Exhibition, 1876.
GP Wright, Views of Brisbane, 1876. (Courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

Excluding the specialist competition for manure, which attracted just two entries, the smallest sections at the show were for silks and fibres, and sugar and sugar-producing plants. After a period of rapid expansion in the early 1870s, evidenced by 65 operating sugar mills and the beginning of an export trade, Queensland’s sugar industry suffered an outbreak of ‘rust’ and a caterpillar plague in 1874–75, bankrupting some planters and almost halving production (Fitzgerald 1982, 180; Saunders 1982, 52). The industry had not fully recovered when the exhibition was held, but commentators welcomed the display of cut and growing sugar canes.17 Apart from the manure competition, each section within the catalogue was further divided into individual classes, many of which attracted only a single entry. The most popular individual classes were oil paintings (37 entries); crayon, chalk, pastel and charcoal drawings (30); photography (22); embroidery, fancy lace and wool work (23); drawing for boys and girls (30); and workmanship (20). All of these classes consisted of inanimate and readily transportable items, and no entry charge was attached to drawing for boys and girls and workmanship. Ironically, with the exception of workmanship, none of these classes reflected the object of the National Association which was ‘to promote the development of the agricultural, pastoral, and industrial resources of the colony’.18

Collectively, the exhibits at the intercolonial show presented a transplanted British society which derived much of its inspiration from the mother country, was imposing its will on an alien land, regarded Queensland as a source of potentially unlimited wealth, and gave priority to the economic dimensions of life while acknowledging and reserving some space for aesthetic, educational and cultural features. In the agricultural division, almost all of the livestock, most of the crops and many of the implements reflected a British heritage. Some items, such as sugar cane, served as a reminder of the interactions among the countries of the British Empire. The presence of exotic species such as alpacas reflected the work of the local acclimatisation society. In the non-agricultural division the influence of Britain was evident in tools and manufactured goods imported from that country, as well as in the content of some of the works of art which presented English scenes.

Certain exhibits and their descriptions acknowledged the uniqueness of Queensland’s and Australia’s flora and fauna or invoked the idea that Queensland imposed specific demands in the sphere of cultivation. Frederick Bailey, who had recently undertaken a government-sponsored survey into plants that might be poisonous to livestock, exhibited a collection of indigenous fodder grasses. The government botanist, Walter Hill, presented a collection of fruits and nuts including bunya and macadamia nuts. Native fibres and hibiscus were entered in the class for ‘the best fibrous substances for the manufacture of rope, paper, &c.’, and the poultry section included a collection of native birds. In implements and machinery, a plough was presented as ‘expressly for colonial use’. Wagons, wine casks and vats were constructed from local timber.19

Similar patterns were evident in the non-agricultural division, with the direct engagement with the local environment even more pronounced. The food section included kangaroo sausage and dugong meat, jams and jellies made from a native cherry, and chutney from colonial products. The category for furniture included a class that combined British and European design with local timbers, as represented by a ‘Duke of Edinburgh fullsize billiard table and furniture of Queensland tulip-wood’, manufactured by a Melbourne company.20 Appreciation of local scenery was evident in the fine art section. Economic imperatives were then remaking large swathes of the landscape, with timber-felling, land clearance, and the spread of pastoralism and farming, and forms of artistic expression were dominated by European sensibilities. At least some citizens, though, recognised and sought to capture the beauty and distinctiveness of the local environment.

Trophies, cash prizes and medals for some competition categories offer one imperfect measure of which classes enjoyed the greatest priority or prestige.21 The two largest prizes, each of 25 guineas, represented pastoralism – the colony’s most important industry – and the demands imposed by urbanisation. A dozen entries competed for the championship and special prize sponsored by Brisbane merchants for the best Durham cow or heifer. There were just two entries, both from the Secretary of the Local Board of Health, for the 25 guineas offered by the Corporation of Brisbane for the ‘best sample of Manure, deodorized and prepared in the most economical form for use, and made from city night soil; the same to be not less than five tons in bulk’.22 Silver cups valued at between five and 15 guineas were awarded for the best stallion, the best heavy draught stallion, the champion ram, and the best sample of maize. The best merino ram and best merino ewe received silver medals. Blue and red ribbons were awarded for first and second placings in the horse and cattle classes. First and second prizes of five and three guineas, respectively, recognised the role of the labour force in caring for livestock; individuals who were responsible for the care of at least three head of cattle at the exhibition belonging to their master were eligible to compete for the cash awards, which were judged on the basis of the stock’s ‘cleanliness and adaptation to breeders’ purposes’.23

In the non-agricultural division, medals were offered to promote innovation and quality of workmanship. The schedule of prizes explained that ‘in order to encourage mechanical genius, silver medals will be awarded for the invention of the highest economical value, mechanical, chemical, or other, such having been discovered within the year’. Slightly less prestigious were the bronze medals ‘to encourage excellence of workmanship … [by] colonial workmen, for work executed during the last twelve months, in wood, metal, textile fibres, leather or other materials’.24 The most spectacular entry in this class was a workbox which consisted of 2000 pieces of Queensland timber, made by the turnkey at St Helena prison, off the coast of Brisbane. The National Association allowed free entry to this section but was careful to specify that only the ‘actual producers’ were eligible to compete for artisans’ prizes. By contrast, entries in the fine arts section included works entered under the name of the owner rather than the creator of the piece.

With its 650 classes, the exhibition appeared to offer a comprehensive survey of Queensland society, recognising its urban and rural industries, and representing pastoral, agricultural, mining, manufacturing, artistic, educational and domestic realms. The show presented some of the results of the ‘ways in which colonials, mostly men, with or without Aboriginal assistance, attempted to transform the environment to suit colonial, capitalist imperatives, in local, intercolonial and international markets, and the reproduction of colonial life and values’ (Thorpe 1996, 77). At the same time, it effectively evaded reference to some of the processes which underpinned that transformation. Queensland’s Indigenous peoples were not part of the 1876 celebration, an unsurprising omission, given an event which focused on the achievements and aspirations of white society in a land still riven by frontier conflict on its northern and western fringes.25 Yet expropriation of the land from Indigenous people and, in some cases, use of Indigenous labour was fundamental to the colony’s economy. More generally, and notwithstanding important exceptions such as the prizes for colonial workmanship, the workforce which sustained Queensland’s major industries was not strongly represented, except as part of the audience, at an exhibition which focused on raw materials, machinery, industrial processes and manufactured items. The organisers and exhibitors valorised the outputs of the colonial economy and the technology which facilitated those outputs without drawing particular attention to the milieu of their production.26


The 1876 Brisbane Exhibition was neither the first agricultural show in Queensland nor the colony’s first venture into the realm of intercolonial and international expositions. The Royal Agricultural Society had held a pastoral and agricultural show in Toowoomba since 1862. Queensland had participated in the London International Exhibition of 1862, the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867, London’s annual series of expositions from 1871 to 1874, and the Vienna Universal Exposition of 1873.27 Brisbane’s intercolonial exhibition was a comparatively modest affair. Its 1700-plus exhibits paled before that exemplar of international expositions, Britain’s Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851, with its more than 100,000 exhibits. As locals gazed in awe at the items on display at the Brisbane Exhibition, visitors to the United States Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia could see some 60,000 exhibits, including a small selection of items from Queensland; in August alone, more than one million people visited the Philadelphia Exhibition.

As a self-declared intercolonial exhibition, the Brisbane show occupied a particular position within the hierarchy of shows, exhibitions and expositions. Unlike the older Toowoomba event, for example, it was not to be understood merely as a local agricultural or pastoral show. It was instead a celebration of the colony for the colony. While its primary audience was Queensland itself, the show’s status as an intercolonial exhibition indicates a self-conscious effort to situate Queensland in relation to the other Australian colonies, especially New South Wales. Individual categories, exhibits and even competition regulations reveal that Queensland’s first ‘at home’ intercolonial exhibition was also situated within imperial and international frameworks.

Not surprisingly, elements of boosterism are evident in newspaper and other accounts of the intercolonial show. The Queensland Times began its account of the exhibition with the assertion that:

The inaugural day of this Exhibition was one of the most pronounced successes that its most sanguine promoters and all others concerned in its welfare could have desired. The metropolis of the colony never before witnessed anything, having its origin within herself, which proved so unmistakeably the general interest manifested in everything calculated to benefit of the entire population, as did the opening ceremony of this association’s first exhibition. Brisbane was crowded with visitors from all parts; and to see the thousands of people, all intent on this one object, – that of doing honour to the first great effort of the youngest of the colonies to prove that she in time was destined to take a foremost place amongst her elder and more pretentious sisters, – was a sight never before witnessed in Queensland, even on the most auspicious occasion.28

Much of the commentary, however, also demonstrated an earnest commitment to recognising the weaknesses as well as the strengths of local items, and the critique of individual exhibits extended to comparisons of the Brisbane show with its regional counterparts. The Queenslander and the Week offered scathing accounts of some of the livestock on display and, in the aftermath of the exhibition, an editorial in the Queenslander vented considerable spleen against local farmers, berating them for having ‘grievously failed’ as exhibitors.29 The Brisbane Courier noted that, understandably as a seaport, Brisbane’s exhibition of sheep was inferior to Toowoomba’s, but declared that the organisers could ‘console themselves with the fact that the entries of sheep at this exhibition are greatly in excess of those at any of the Sydney or Melbourne Exhibitions’.30

The presence of New South Wales at the exhibition was evident from the Governor’s opening speech to the quaffing of champagne at midnight on the closing day. In opening the exhibition, the Governor congratulated the National Association on ‘the variety and quality of the exhibits, as being wholly unprecedented, on both respects, in Queensland’. He then declared that ‘this result has been brought about not only by our own exertions, but notably through the good offices of the sister colonies, – New South Wales, as the eldest of the group, taking, and deserving to take, a foremost place’.31 The exhibition closed with members of the host organisation and the two Commissioners of Exhibitions from New South Wales, Jules Joubert and EL Montefiore, gathered in the main building and toasting each other’s health with ‘bumpers of champagne’.32


Figure 3. The New South Wales annexe, Brisbane Exhibition, 1876.
GP Wright, Views of Brisbane, 1876. (Courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

Accounts of New South Wales and other colonies’ presence at the exhibition welcomed that involvement, endorsed the importance of collaboration among the Australian colonies, and drew pleasure from evidence that Queensland’s products were as good as, if not better than, those of its Australian rivals. The combination of praise and criticism that characterised newspaper evaluations of local exhibits was repeated for the efforts of the other colonies. For the Brisbane Courier, the New South Wales annexe was ‘a very important feature in the exhibition’.33 The Week reported eagerly on many exhibits from New South Wales and the other Australian colonies, noting ‘excellent specimens of good workmanship’ and praising individual items as ‘very fine’, ‘very artistic’, ‘handsome’, ‘well made’ and ‘of excellent kind’.34 It also noted deficiencies, reporting that, while many of the items in the New South Wales annexe had been privately sold, ‘there were but few offers for the carriages and buggies, the general opinion being that the reserve prices were too high, and that similar vehicles, with equally as good workmanship, can be procured cheaper in this colony’.35 Evidence of Queensland items being equivalent or superior to those from the other colonies was eagerly presented. According to the Queenslander, visitors who had ‘seen similar demonstrations in the sister colonies do not fail to acknowledge the unexpected merits of this, our first attempt at a national exhibition’.36

Evidence of approval from the mother colony was eagerly sought, with Joubert commenting during preparations for the Brisbane show that ‘hardly one person enters the [exhibition] grounds but asks me, “Well, what do you think of our exhibition?”’.37 A report in the Sydney Morning Herald on the Brisbane event was relayed to Queensland via a local newspaper, which informed its readers that ‘without one particle of jealousy or selfishness, the colony of New South Wales is prepared (says The S. M. Herald) to congratulate the neighbouring colony of Queensland on the success of her first Industrial Exhibition’. The local article emphasised Queensland’s dramatic development in population and trade since its separation from New South Wales, while also declaring the importance of collaboration rather than competition. It concluded:

So far as the general interests of Australia are concerned, the Queensland people have shown that they may be safely trusted with all the power which the modern plan of British colonisation places in their hands; for they are using it for their own rapid progress, and therefore for the speedier development of Australia.38

The presence of items from beyond Australia serves as a reminder of the extent to which Queensland operated within and was conscious of international and imperial networks of economics and culture. The international patterns of trade in raw and manufactured materials were also evident. Individuals exhibited items from their ‘cabinets of curiosities’, including corals from the South Seas and curios from India. Mineral samples from Borneo, Algeria, the United States and ‘other remote places’ provided visitors with an opportunity to compare local with overseas raw materials.39 Coffee, rice, tobacco and buckwheat from New Caledonia were exhibited alongside locally grown grains. A display of machinery from the United States prompted the Queenslander to praise the exhibitor for his long-term practice of importing such ‘labour-saving implements’.40 Other items of machinery came from Britain, and manufactured goods from Britain and elsewhere were also on display.

The appeal of culture, identity and heritage was also evident. A local firm which presented ‘fashionable merchandise of every description’, included in its display a piece of turf from Ireland.41 The fine arts section included works which depicted foreign scenes. Brisbane identity Nehemiah Bartley exhibited paintings by British artists whose choice of subject matter included English and Venetian scenes.42 For the Queenslander, the presence of imported art was important: ‘For Queensland, in pictures as well as in stock, must for many a year to come be dependent upon importations. We need foreign pictures to form taste and to bedeck private rooms and public exhibitions as such matters ought to be done’.43 Such comments have traditionally been interpreted as evidence of a ‘cultural cringe’, but, in combination with the other exhibits from overseas, they also suggest that in the nineteenth century Queensland citizens were more outward-looking than has sometimes been assumed.

Whether the exhibition had achieved the correct balance between imported and locally produced goods was a matter for conjecture, but there was particular interest in items that linked local products to the rest of the world. The Week was pleased to note that some of the ‘splendid trophies of china and porcelain’ exhibited by a Sydney firm had been made in France from New South Wales clay ‘which is finer than Chinese clay’, and looked forward to the establishment of a porcelain and china industry in Queensland ‘when skilled labour is obtained’.44 New South Wales also provided an example of the reverse process in which raw materials from another country were processed within Australia, with its display of tobacco from imported American leaf. Local commentators used the occasion to identify potential markets for Queensland materials. For example, a display of fibres used in brushmaking prompted an account of how those fibres were exported from the South Sea Islands to England and then re-exported to Sydney and Melbourne ‘at prices highly remunerative’. According to an unnamed Brisbane resident, ‘Queensland contains a supply sufficient for all the brush makers in the world’.45

Newspaper articles compared Queensland’s exhibits with those from other colonies and also offered evaluations of the quality of those exhibits within a global economy. The Queenslander praised a collection of feather dressing and dyeing ‘as an instance of our native article, set out in successful rivalry with the imported plumes of South Africa’.46 The organisers of the show were keenly aware of their role within global economic frameworks. The rules governing the sheep and wool categories included: ‘From each lot exhibited the Society reserves the right of retaining one fleece, for the purpose of placing in the Museum, or for transmission to Europe or America, for report by wool manufacturers’.47 Newspapers commented approvingly on exhibits that were sold at the show and destined for an overseas home. Thus, the Week noted the sale of a sideboard of Queensland wood for despatch to England ‘as a specimen of the utility of our woods’.48

The exhibition provided an opportunity for Queenslanders to evaluate their colony’s progress and to celebrate their place in the world, an opportunity that was facilitated by the coincidence of the local show with the Philadelphia Exhibition. Among the exhibits at the local show was a view of the Queensland court at the overseas event. Readers of the Queensland Times did not even need to turn the page in order to peruse an account of the local exhibition, followed by an account of Queensland’s contribution to the Philadelphia event.49 In summarising the intercolonial show, the Week drew an explicit link between Queensland’s ‘at home’ exhibition and her participation in Philadelphia, while alluding to the colony’s achievements vis-a-vis New South Wales. ‘We have astonished the Yankees and carried off honours from Philadelphia, and we think we have surprised our own neighbours by the extent, the variety, and the quality of our own Exhibition’. The newspaper also looked ahead to the construction of a museum in London for India and the colonies: ‘When that is completed we shall be perpetually before the British public’.50


Acclaimed by local commentators as the most significant event in Queensland since her separation from New South Wales, the Brisbane Exhibition of 1876 celebrated the colony’s achievements and imagined an ever brighter future. Newspapers declared that the exhibition proved the young society’s worthiness as a participant in ‘the modern plan of British colonisation’; the realities of frontier conflict and dispossession were ignored. Collectively, the creators of the exhibition catalogue, the prize donors who promoted particular industries, and the individuals and organisations within the colony who contributed the majority of the exhibits, emphasised the current and future economic capacity of the land, the role of commerce and the power of technology. The focus was on raw materials, processing methods and outputs, rather than on the workforce that sustained Queensland’s industries. While it foregrounded the economy, the exhibition also recognised other dimensions of life. As a celebration of progress, the event easily (indeed deliberately) accommodated examples of artistic and educational achievements alongside prize livestock, mining machinery and locally manufactured goods.

Commitment to the ideal of progress informed both the exhibition itself, providing the theme that linked otherwise disparate items, and the newspaper coverage that combined intense pride in the colony’s achievements with a willingness to identify and criticise those exhibits that were deemed to be unsatisfactory. Amidst the whirl of boosterism and criticism, competition and collaboration, the other fundamental feature to emerge from the Brisbane show was the extent to which Queensland functioned within and recognised local, intercolonial, imperial and international frameworks. The very last moments of Queensland’s first intercolonial exhibition ‘within her own boundaries’ captured some of those connections, with the presentation of gifts to the New South Wales Commissioners for Exhibitions. Joubert accepted a locally made jewellery cabinet constructed from colonial timbers; Montefiore received a large silver jug ‘of English make’.51


1     The quotation is from the Week, 26 August 1876: 221. The focus of commentary was on economic and, to a lesser extent, cultural progress, but the Week’s ‘Review of the Progress of Queensland’ included public administration.

2     Week, 2 September 1876: 262–63.

3     Brisbane Courier, 25 August 1876: 2.

4     The first Council of the National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queenslander (hereafter NAIAQ) included graziers, merchants, lawyers, politicians and a headmaster.

5     This figure does not include visits by members of the NAIAQ, whose subscription entitled them to free entry. Argus, 23 August 1876: 5 reported on ‘visitors from the country, some having come from towns as remote as Rockhampton and Cooktown’.

6     Sydney Morning Herald, 28 August 1876: 3 explicitly referred to ‘the multitudes that swarmed over the grounds delighted with everything’.

7     This figure and the following figure for the non-agricultural division include those entries listed separately beneath the heading ‘Catalogue of New South Wales exhibits’. Figures are approximate because of a small number of late entries.

8     NAIAQ, Schedule of Prizes 1876: 8, 25.

9     NAIAQ, Schedule of Prizes 1876: 26.

10    NAIAQ, Schedule of Prizes 1876: 26.

11    NAIAQ, Schedule of Prizes 1876: 26.

12    Thorne was probably one of the exhibitors at the 1876 show; the name E Thorne appears in the section for dogs.

13    Although black swans are found in Australia, in colonial Queensland swans were associated with England.

14    For example, Week, 26 August 1876: 229.

15    Other factors included availability of transport, regional conditions for stock and plants, and the timing of the Brisbane Exhibition which suited some types of exhibits more than others. Transport subsidies were available.

16    NAIAQ, Annual meeting, 3 November 1876 (John Oxley Library OM.AB/1/1).

17    Queenslander, 26 August 1876: 8. The term ‘rust’ was commonly used but there is some debate over the exact nature of the outbreak.

18    NAIAQ, Constitution, 1875. A clause in the Constitution referred to holding an annual exhibition, which would include ‘the arts’.

19    This paragraph is based on NAIAQ, Queensland Intercolonial Exhibition 1876 Catalogue.

20    Queenslander, 26 August 1876: 11.

21    The NAIAQ provided special awards for some classes from its own funds and also targeted some organisations to sponsor special prizes for particular classes; other awards reflect the values of prominent citizens and commercial enterprises in Queensland who offered prizes. There is insufficient evidence to determine whether the existence of particular prizes in some classes influenced competitors to choose those classes over others.

22    NAIAQ, Queensland Intercolonial Exhibition 1876 Catalogue: 33.

23    NAIAQ, Schedule of Prizes 1876: 8.

24    NAIAQ, Schedule of Prizes 1876: 31–32.

25    Two items, both from New South Wales, offered a connection to Indigenous people. A display of mats and matting made by Aboriginal people was submitted by the Governor of Sydney Gaol, and a flower stand in the New South Wales annexe depicted ‘a blackfellow sitting under a fern tree’. NAIAQ, Queensland Intercolonial Exhibition 1876 Catalogue, Class 524, and Queenslander, 2 September 1876: 11.

26    Purbrick 2001: 2 makes a similar point in relation to the Crystal Palace Exhibition.

27    Prior to separation from New South Wales, Queensland participated in two exhibitions in 1851 and 1855 as the Moreton Bay District of New South Wales. See McKay 2004: 4.

28    Queensland Times, 24 August 1876: 3.

29    Week, 2 September 1876: 260; Queenslander, 26 August 1876: 7, 11, and 2 September 1876: 16.

30    Brisbane Courier, 24 August 1876: 5.

31    Queenslander, 26 August 1876: 6.

32    Week, 2 September 1876: 260.

33    Brisbane Courier, 25 August 1876: 3.

34    Week, 2 September 1876: 260.

35    Week, 2 September 1876: 260.

36    Queenslander, 2 September 1876: 9.

37    Brisbane Courier, 12 August 1876: 5.

38    Brisbane Courier, 30 August 1876: 3.

39    Queenslander, 26 August 1876: 19.

40    Queenslander, 26 August 1876: 8.

41    Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs General Advertiser, 26 August 1876: 3.

42    Queenslander, 26 August 1876: 9.

43    Queenslander, 2 September 1876: 10.

44    Week, 26 August 1876: 229.

45    Queenslander, 2 September 1876: 13.

46    Queenslander, 2 September 1876: 11.

47    NAIAQ, Schedule of Prizes 1876: 17.

48    Week, 26 August 1876: 229.

49    Queensland Times, 26 August 1876: 4.

50    Week, 2 September 1876: 263.

51    Queensland Times, 31 August 1876: 4.



National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland. Queensland Intercolonial Exhibition 1876 Catalogue; Schedule of Prizes 1876; Minute Books. 1875–1876. John Oxley Library OM.AB/1/1.


Argus, August–September 1876.

Brisbane Courier, August–September 1876.

Queenslander, August–September 1876.

Queensland Times, August–September 1876.

Sydney Morning Herald, August–September 1876.

Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs General Advertiser, August–September 1876.

Week, August-September 1876.


Fitzgerald, Ross. 1982. From the Dreaming to 1915: A History of Queensland. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.

McKay, Judith. 2004. Showing Off: Queensland at World Expositions 1862 to 1988. Rockhampton: Central Queensland University Press.

Purbrick, Louise. 2001. The Great Exhibition of 1851: New Interdisciplinary Essays. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Saunders, Kay. 1982. Workers in Bondage: The Origins and Bases of Unfree Labour in Queensland, 1824–1916. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.

Thorne, Ebenezer. 1876. The Queen of the Colonies. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington.

Thorpe, Bill. 1996. Colonial Queensland: Perspectives on a Frontier Society. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.

Cite this chapter as: Scott, Joanne; Laurie, Ross. 2008. ‘“Within her own boundaries”: Queensland’s first “at home” intercolonial exhibition’. 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. 6.1–6.15.

© Copyright 2008 Joanne Scott and Ross Laurie
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   by Kate Darian-Smith, Richard Gillespie, Caroline Jordan, Elizabeth Willis