The 1888 Melbourne Cup

Past Event: 27 October 2010 to 21 November 2010

The 1888 Melbourne Cup
The 1888 Melbourne Cup.
Source: Museum Victoria

This Spring visit Melbourne Museum to view the magnificent 1888 Melbourne Cup.

'Nowhere in my travels have I encountered a festival of the people that has such a magnetic appeal to a whole nation. The (Melbourne) Cup astonishes me!'
Mark Twain (Bernstein 1969:2)

The year 1888 was the hundredth anniversary of British settlement in Australia and while the various colonies were not yet welded into one federated nation, new Australians in all the colonies joined in a year of celebrations to mark the first century of the new land.

In Melbourne the climax of the celebrations was the Centennial Fair held in the Exhibition Building in the spring of that year. Like the initial exhibition of 1880 (for which the building was built) the exhibition was a great success and attracted visitors from all over the world. It was still in progress during Melbourne Cup week when Melbourne's hotel accommodation was so taxed that 'intercolonial' steamers lying in port were converted for the time being into temporary hotels.

The Melbourne Cup trophy of that year was known as the Centennial Cup and had been ordered from England (Elkington & Co Birmingham). The Centennial Cup features three magnificent horses cast in silver weighing 282 ounce (800 grams) surmounted on a large silver plated base. It was particularly large due to the importance of the centenary. The Victorian Racing Club also lifted the prize-money by adding 3,000 gold sovereigns (sovereign = £1) to the race, thereby making the race the most valuable handicap in the world.

There were twenty-eight runners in the 1888 Cup, based on past performances a number of them should not have been in the race. They were eager to win part of the new £50,000 sweep run by Mr George Adams (the owner of the company that began Tattslotto).

The 1888 Melbourne Cup will be on display at Melbourne Museum until Sunday 21 November.

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