Publication Details

D'Arcens, L, ''The last thing one might expect': The Mediaeval Court at the 1866 Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition', The La Trobe Journal, 81, 2008, 26-39.


In his preface to the Guide to the Intercolonial Exhibition of 1866, the exhibition's commissioner John George Knight concludes by underlining the event's principal significance as a showcase for colonial commercial and industrial achievement: The great aim of an Exhibition is to give the fullest possible notoriety to new manufactures and processes, and bring the manufacturer and inventor more closely into contact with the merchant, speculator, and capitalist; and, by this most practical method of advertising, to enlarge the basis of trade.1 Given this avowedly mercantile and progressivist vision—a vision borne out by the numerous displays of colonial manufacture—it might seem something of a surprise to us today to learn that one of the Exhibition's most arresting exhibits was a Mediaeval Court. Nor would our surprise be anachronistic. The incongruity of the Court was not lost on the exhibition's earliest commentators either, among them the reporter for the Australian News for Home Readers, who commented: One would scarcely expect to find a Mediaeval Court in an exhibition of the products of a new colony: but such a court there is, intended to illustrate portions of ecclesiastical architecture; and it constitutes, perhaps, the most pictorially effective part of the whole building.2