Watch a 3D virtual reconstruction of the buildings erected for the 1866–67 Melbourne Intercolonial exhibition.
The two main exhibition buildings, the Great Hall and the rotunda, were designed by Reed & Barnes and constructed behind the Melbourne Public Library on the site where the dome is now. The buildings were designed to be temporary and their facades were fairly crude, so everything depended on the effect of their interiors. It was here that Edward La Trobe Bateman’s skills as a designer shone.
This video was commissioned for the
Free, secular and democratic: building the Public Library 1853–1913 exhibition. It is one of many Dome Centenary events taking place in 2013 to celebrate our iconic dome and all that the Library enables.
The voiceover for this video is provided by Harriet Edquist, Professor of Architectural History at RMIT and curator of the
Free, secular and democratic exhibition.
Read the transcript
Harriet Edquist: The Intercolonial exhibition buildings of 1866 were intended to house a collection of products that were produced in Australia from all the states, and these were to show the great wealth of the country, its industrial prowess, its huge reserves of raw materials. And they were to be collected, not only for display in Melbourne, but also to be packed up and sent to the Paris International Exposition of 1867. And in fact that was one of the reasons why Melbourne embarked on its international exhibition history as early as 1854: because each exhibition they held was a preliminary to a European exhibition and the idea was to use the local event as a spur to collect all this material that would then be shown internationally. And it was a way of putting Melbourne and Australia on the world stage and it was incredibly successful.
Basically the main building, which was called the Great Hall, is a huge, big, temporary hall. It’s on a masonry foundation and masonry walls and it has a temporary timber-framed roof. And next to it was a rotunda, which was similarly of an impermanent construction. So one would have thought that they would be fairly ordinary buildings and one mightn’t spend too much time designing them because they were meant to be impermanent. However Joseph Reed, the architect, had been to London in 1862 and London was hosting yet another international exhibition, and he went to that and saw the huge new halls that had been designed in the latest manner. He came back to Australia and clearly he and Redmond Barry, the chief trustee of the Library, got together and decided to really make the exhibition buildings very grand indeed. And once again Reed worked with the interior designer Edward La Trobe Bateman, who had done the interior decoration for Queen’s Hall, and Bateman used the most up-to-date ideas about interior decoration and design in the Great Hall and the rotunda. So, in fact, they became almost world leaders in this new form of interior decoration.
The building survived, of course, as impermanent buildings tend to do, temporary buildings tend to do; after all, the Exhibition building in Carlton Gardens is only a temporary building. They survived for a long time serving many purposes in the Library as galleries; and in fact the Great Hall in 1870 housed the Technological and Industrial Museum and it had many other functions. And the rotunda in fact was used as a library, as a lecture hall, as a sculpture hall – all sorts of things until finally they were demolished to make way for the domed reading room in the 20th century.