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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

Twycross the big spender

by Charlotte Smith
Publish date
30 November 2010
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This guest post is by Charlotte Smith, Senior Curator, Public & Institutional Life, who is in Paris researching the John Twycross 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition Building Collection for an upcoming book. This collection comprises 175 exquisite decorative arts objects purchased by wealthy wool merchant John Twycross at the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition.

Detail from the plan of the French Court Detail from the plan of the French Court at the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition.
Image: C. Smith
Source: Museum Victoria

I thought my finds last Friday at the Archives Nationales de Paris were pretty impressive – floor plans of the French courts, showing where each exhibitor was located, with a key – but today things got even better. I uncovered a document titled Section des Beaux-Arts. Oeuvres vendues a Melbourne [translation: Fine Art Section. Artworks sold in Melbourne]. The document is a list of 47 artworks. It describes the artist, title of work, purchaser and purchase price. What is really exciting for my research is John Twycross is mentioned eight times!

A record of purchases from the French Court. A record of purchases from the French Court. Twycross is listed third from the top.
Image: C. Smith
Source: Museum Victoria

He spent £806, the equivalent to a little over $63,000 today. While we don't have these paintings in the Twycross Collection, knowing more of what John purchased at the exhibition is really exciting, and adds to our understanding of the scope of the collection he amassed at the 1880 Exhibition.

Accompanying documents describe how artworks could be purchased from the French Court; one had to go to the French Consulate office on Collins Street between 10 and 4 on weekdays, where a clerk was always 'ready to give the prices asked for such paintings by the artists'.

Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower in Paris was built for the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle. This was one in a series of World's Fairs that included the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition. The tradition of World's Fairs took off after the 1851 Great Exhibition in London.
Image: C. Smith
Source: Museum Victoria


The Twycross Collection

The 1880 and 1888 International Exhibitions

Royal Exhibition Builidng: Site of two World Fairs

About this blog

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