Unboxing the museum: Ye Olde Xmas Program

Have you every wondered what Christmas in Melbourne was like in the 19th century.

Manger of the Museum's library Hayley Webster shows us an old program for a Christmas fundraiser held in the Melbourne Town Hall in 1884. It is a window into the world of 19th century Melbourne and is an example of locally produced fine printing of the time. The racks and collections in the Museum's stores and library contain many objects that open a window into our past.


My name is Hayley Webster, I'm the manager of the Museums Victoria Library here at Melbourne Museum, and today I'm going to show you a very special item from our collection.

What we have here is a program that relates to a Christmas fundraiser that was held in 1884 to raise money for this church here, which is the Holy Trinity Church in Balaclava. We collect material about Melbourne's history, the architecture, for instance, the church, but also about the events and the social life of Melbourne. So that's the significance for us.

The pamphlet relates to the fundraiser that was held at the Melbourne Town Hall, and they had decked it all out with swathes of calico draped from the ceiling so that it would resemble a fantastical Christmas Cavern.

And they performed tableaus. In the 19th century that was a popular form of entertainment, where they would take scenes from history or from literature, and they would stage a stationary scene in costume.

So when people were going to the fair, they would also go and see these different tableaus, Shakespearean ones that were aimed at adults. And then there were tableaus that were aimed at children that came from fairy tales. Here is the tableau that was staged on the opening night, which is Beauty and the Beast.

It was printed by the local firm Sands and McDougall, who were quite well known in Melbourne for printing a lot of street directories that historians still find really useful today. Extra special effort has been made so fine printers will specialise on making more elaborate, beautiful items. So they've used old spelling. So here we've got book spelt B O K E, and they've used old lettering as well antiquated styles to evoke the Shakespearean period. I think it's symptomatic of this.

The period people were sort of very much looking to English traditions. As it says, you know, English themed Christmas celebration.

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