19 September 2015

World Fairs come to Melbourne - 1870, 1880 and 1888!

John Twycross (born in Hampshire UK in 1819) did not move to Australia until after gold had been discov­ered in central Victoria in 1851. John and two of his siblings arrived in Dec 1853 but found Melbourne to be boiling hot, prone to devastating bushfires and lacking visual culture. Fortunately Melbourne’s population boomed in the 1850s so Twycross became a successful merchant and a land owner. Commercial opportunit­ies were everywhere. In the early years the two brothers concentrated on exporting wool and animal hides, and eventually brother James re­turned to Britain to direct the Australian imported goods into Brad­ford’s woollen mills. Then James expanded into London, Basing­stoke in Hampshire and Wokingham in Berkshire.

The book Visions of Colonial Grandeur: John Twycross at Melbourne’s Internat­ional Exhibitions was written by Charlotte Smith and Benjamin Thomas (Museum Victoria Publishing, 2014). It explores the history of this city’s international exhibit­ions via the art collection of C19th merchant John Twycross.  We will start in 1869.

That year the trustees of the emerging National Gallery of Victoria wanted to hold an exhibition that “could not fail to stimulate the interest already felt by the community in the culture of the fine arts”. Since the gallery’s collection was still small in 1869, the trustees requested that community-minded citizens loan their pictures, curiosities and articles of vertu for display. And since 1869 was a happy time for merchant John Twycross, he was very happy to respond. He lent least 17 works of art to the exhibition of "Works of Art, Ornam­ental and Decorative Art" held at Melbourne’s Public Library that year. The exhibition was a hit, with both Victoria’s colonial collectors and the viewing population.

Smith and Thomas' book, 2014
Top row of images: Chinese ivory, Royal Exhibition Buildings, Twycross and daughter

As a result of the exhibition’s success, the Victorian Academy of Art was founded in 1870. Their first exhibition was held in 1870, their second was held in 1872 and their third in 18723. John Twycross immediately secured life membership and promised further financial support for the organisation. The academy also enabled close contact between Twycross and Melbourne’s very best artists, especially Louis Buvelot and Eugene von Guerard.

John Twycross was now a happy and prosperous man. Aged 51, he married the very young window Lizzie Burrell Clutterbuck in 1870 and adopted the two children from Lizzie’s first marriage. In 1871 and in 1874 they had two more babies together.

The family soon moved into a grand, single storey, 13-room brick house they had built on the corner of Glenhuntly Rd in Caulfield called Emmarine. After Emmarine had been designed and completed, Twycross added a two-storey art gallery onto the house, specifically to house and display his art treasures. When Emmarine's portrait was painted in 1875 by architectural artist William Tibbitts, the art wing could clearly be seen, over Glenhuntly Rd.

In this boom period of the 1880s, Melbourne proudly hosted two int­ernational exhibit­ions so that the very latest in trade and culture could be seen by huge crowdss in the city’s newly-built Royal Exhibition Building. It is hard to imagine just how exciting it must have been to see goods brought to Melbourne for sale from all over the world. Most people know about the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition in London and perhaps the 1878 and 1889 Expositions Universelles in Paris . But as the authors of Visions of Colonial Grandeur point out, the Melbourne International Exhibitions of the 1880s had not really been on anybody’s radar. It is therefore excellent that the book includes many photos of pavilions from other countries: clearly Germany, France, India and other countries were excited to participate.

Successful the exhibitions were! They brought huge numbers of vis­itors from within Australia and abroad, creating opportunities for new businesses. It gave Melbourne a place on the world stage and exposed Australian pro­d­ucts to the trading world. Manufacturers loved these exhibitions because visitors came from all walks of life

I had imagined that Melbourne’s 1880 and 1888 International Exhib­it­ions were a chance for collectors to display Australian art objects to the world, not for wealthy collect­ors to buy up more Australian art for themselves. Yet that is exactly what happened to Twyc­ross. During his many visits to Melbourne’s beautiful Exhibition Building, he purchased hundreds of exquisite fine art objects and paintings, building his collection to ever greater size.

Watercolour painting of the Twycross family home Emmarine, 
painted by William Tibbits in 1875.
Source: Museum Victoria

Mrs Twycross must have been a tolerant wife indeed for he not only spent a great deal of money on things that took his fancy, he also built an entire tower beside the family house Emmarine to store it all. He bought paintings, statuary for the garden and endless decorative art objects like vases and glassware. Being a porcelain fan myself, I most loved Meissen porcelain and Japanese porcelain, but I must admit that the Chinese ivory pieces are just gorgeous.

The book shows the modern reader excellent photo­graphs of the most significant art works in the Twycross coll­ection. The chapters are well struct­ured: 1. Portrait of a collector; 2. Melbourne's 19th century exhib­itions; 3. Experiencing the exhib­it­ions; 4. Courting collectors and 5. A collector's legacy. For me, the book gives a contemporary analysis of the cultural tastes and collecting habits in Melbourne in the later C19th. So I would have liked a chapter on Twycross’ collection at home, but I realise this book was written to display public visions of colonial grandeur.

This book’s publication coincided with the 10th anniversary of UNESCO World Heritage listing of our Royal Exhibition, a building well-loved and much used by Melburnians of every generation. Students have always sat their final exams there, as I did, occasionally raising their eyes to the heavens for inspiration from stained glass windows and decorative walls. The Carlton Gardens which surround the building are beautiful.


Andrew said...

I've just spent five minutes checking and Emmarine does not seem to have survived. There was an Emmarine II in Seymour Road, not far away on the southern side of Glen Huntly Road. It too does not seem to have survived.

Deb said...

The 1880s must have been a very cool era. Melbourne was rocking and rolling when it hosted the two world fairs. By the way the Royal Exhibition Building is still fabulous these days.

Hels said...


Thank you! It is very interesting that the same family (Twycross) built two different houses using the same house-name (Emmarine) in the same suburb (Elsternwick) and only one generation apart. The image of Emmarine I appears in the exhibition catalogue AND in this post. The image of Emmarine II also appears in the exhibition catalogue (p101) but I didn't publish it in this blog post because it looked like any other small 1905 home built in Australia.

It appears that nothing of historical interest survived :(

Hels said...


Until the terrible Bank Crash of 1893, the Victorian economy was still basking in post-gold rush prosperity. Not only were there two sensational World Fairs in Melbourne bringing in people and goods from across Australia and the world, there was a speculative land boom that saw gorgeous homes, schools, churches and other architecture being built rapidly. For families with money, the 1880s must have been splendid.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, You hit upon an interest of mine in this post, namely how early collectors displayed and used the art they were buying almost wholesale. Since these people liked to have their houses photographed, there is plenty of evidence extant, although like possessions displayed in 18th century paintings and in modern magazine articles, objects seem to have been often rearranged for the sake of the portrait.

Hels said...


I had also expected that early collectors would want to display their family's wealth, education and culture by displaying their own stunning collections in public. In the European aristocracy, this might have always been so. But in the New World, wealthy families might have been finding their feet only in the second half of the 19th century.

What I had not expected was that wealthy families would be public buyers as well. I had assumed that the buying and assembling of collections would have been private... even secretive. The Duveen Brothers, for example, could be trusted to be totally discreet.

The Australian said...

From the two world fairs in Melbourne, Twycross couldn’t resist buying many items. But his favourite display was the Japanese Court. It was evident that he had a passion for the Japanese aesthetic because, after his death in 1889, room after room of Japanese objets d’art were discovered at his home.

Two of Twycross’s Japanese acquisitions are on display at the Melbourne Museum thanks to the family’s donation: a pair of Imari ware vases that date from the late 19th century, during the late Edo to early Meiji period. The vases, which are in perfect condition, are decorated with two samurai warriors, chrysanthemums, fans and birds in flights, Japanese symbols for longevity. They are 46cm x 22.5 cm, and were made purely for Western export.

Bronwyn Watson

Hels said...

Thank you...I am so proud of the family's donations, in order to preserve the Twycross legacy. Did all of his Japanese treasures go to the Melbourne Museum?