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DISPLAYING POSTS TAGGED: 1880 exhibition (2)

10 years of World Heritage status

by Kate C
Publish date
1 July 2014
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Many of us have precious heirlooms that escort our families through the decades, cherished by each generation in turn. Perhaps as a child you loved the treasures in the house of your grandparents and now you are the custodian of these objects, charged with keeping them safe for future descendants.

Few of us experience quite the scale of family collections as Will Twycross, who describes his childhood thus: "I grew up in a weatherboard house that contained European paintings, intricately carved ivory chess pieces, brilliantly coloured ceramics, and long Polynesian arrows that we were told were poison tipped and shouldn't be touched…. The paintings with their strange scenes and exotic colours hung on the walls, breathing the soft mists of Europe into the harsh sunlight of the suburbs."

Photograph of a room The drawing room at Emmarine II, the Twycross family home at 23 Seymour Road, Elsternwick, showing various pieces of the John Twycross collection displayed in the home during the mid-20th century.  

chess pieces Ivory puzzle ball chess pieces from a set carved in China in the late Qing Dynasty, circa 1870-1880. Will Twycross played with these as a child.
Image: Benjamin Healley
Source: Museum Victoria

Will Twycross is the great-grandson of Melbourne merchant and art collector John ‘Top Hat’ Twycross. The wonders of Will’s childhood home were originally bought by John and his wife Charlotte ‘Lizzie’ Twycross at the 1880 and 1888 Melbourne International Exhibitions. There they acquired several hundred paintings, pieces of furniture and decorative items for their grand house in Caulfield. Through the years, the Twycross family cared for the collection until 2009, when they donated over 200 objects to Museum Victoria's Royal Exhibition Building Collection. "We decided to return it to the place it had come from," notes Will. "The decision seemed to have a certain symmetry to it."

People at an exhibition Illustration of the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition bustling with visitors.
Source: Museum Victoria

Today marks ten years of World Heritage status for our beloved Royal Exhibition Building, and we're celebrating with the release of a book and accompanying website about the extraordinary Twycross Collection. In Visions of Colonial Grandeur, curator Dr Charlotte Smith has researched not just the Twycross legacy and the collection itself, but the impact of two international exhibitions – which were, at the time, the largest events held in Australia.

The Royal Exhibition Building is no longer surrounded by the temporary annexes that housed the grand courts of the Melbourne Exhibition Building, but it remains the only Great Hall of its era to survive in its original setting and the world's oldest continuously-operating exhibition hall. On 1 July 2004, the REB was the first Victorian site and the first Australian building to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It followed the 1980s listings of places of outstanding natural and cultural significance such as Kakadu National Park, the Tasmanian Wilderness and the Great Barrier Reef.


Visions of Colonial Grandeur website:

Visions of Colonial Grandeur book

John Twycross Melbourne International Exhibitions Collection on Collections Online

Australian sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List

Of wreckage, ships and dinosaur bits

by Wayne
Publish date
26 July 2013
Comments (3)

I stare out to sea, a heaving blur of grey with white-capped breakers. Two thoughts occur to me – why didn’t I bring better wet weather gear, and how did this place get this odd name?

view of the ocean A lovely, clear Autumn day onsite at Eric the Red
Image: Wayne Gerdtz
Source: Museum Victoria

I am perched on a rock in a sheltered pocket of the beach and near some dune vegetation, the wind and rain intermittently reminding me of my inadequate clothing. Between myself and the sea is a small pile of grey rock which I have been progressively breaking open with my hammer and chisel, searching for fossils. A few metres beyond some of my fellow crew are swinging sledgehammers at a large section of this rock, working on extracting more material to be broken down in a search for more fossils.

Digging at Eric the Red site A group of volunteer diggers brave the elements onsite at the 'Eric the Red' fossil dig.
Image: Wayne Gerdtz
Source: Museum Victoria

We are sitting on a beach near the Cape Otway Lighthouse in late March, close to a location called “Eric the Red”. The grey rock we are processing were once sediments laid down in a streambed in a rift valley over 100 million years ago. Amongst the grey sediments are seams of fossilised plant material, and very occasionally, fossil bones of animals that lived and died nearby.

A rock onsite at Eric the Red A rock ready for breaking onsite at Eric the Red - who knows what fossils it might yeild? As it turns out - none.
Image: Wayne Gerdtz
Source: Museum Victoria

I am here as part of a Museum Victoria field trip to collect these fossils; amongst me is a wonderfully diverse group of people; Palaeontology students and academics, Museum staff, amateur enthusiasts and assorted interested folk. Together, our aim is to process this Cretaceous rock, search for fossil bone, record our finds and package them carefully for their voyage to the Museum Victoria Palaeontology collections, housed in the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens.

But...’Eric the Red’? What’s that name all about?

Weeks later, in the decidedly more dry and comfortable setting of the Museum, I decide to research why the site is called “Eric the Red”. It turns out that ‘Eric the Red’ was a vessel that was shipwrecked close to the shoreline of where we were digging; it ran aground in 1880 on a reef composed of the very same unit of rock we were excavating. The vessel was wrecked on the final leg of its otherwise uneventful voyage from New York to Melbourne, carrying a cargo of exhibits for the USA pavilion at the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition – silverware, toys and pianos were among its diverse manifest. An interesting coincidence was that the ultimate destination for the Cargo of the Eric the Red was the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens in Melbourne – this is also the destination for the fossils we were extracting from the site, as Museum Victoria’s Palaeontology Collections and laboratory are in the basement of the Exhibition Building.

Royal Exhibition Building The Royal Exhibition Building - the intended destination of the cargo of Eric the Red, and in part, home to Museum Victoria's Geoscience collections
Image: Museum Victoria
Source: Museum Victoria

Thankfully the fate of our diggers and our precious cargo was less tragic than that of the crew and cargo of the ‘Eric the Red’; the wreck resulted in the loss of life of some crew. You can read a full account of the wreck of “Eric the Red” on Heritage Victoria’s website, and also a the reportage of the tragedy in “The Argus” via Trove.

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.