“WILD AUSTRALIA” At The Festival of Empire, Crystal Palace, 1911

By Fred Peskett


            One of the highlights of the Festival of Empire was the performance of “Wild Australia”. This was a novel twist on the traditional “Wild West Shows” performed by William Frederick Cody (Buffalo Bill) in the late 1890's and Samuel Franklin Cody with his “Klondyke Nugget” show at Alexandra Palace.

            The act was billed as having all the thrills and spills of a Rodeo with the fun and excitement of the Bushlife of Australia, together with a large helping of slapstick comedy to prompt roars of laughter.

            Three performances were given each day during the exhibition. One on the Pageant Ground at 3-30pm and two on an open area near the Empire Avenue called “The Wild Australia Building”, these were at 6pm and at 8pm each evening. No two performances each day were identical, the acts being selected from the following:- The Australian “Buckjumpers”. Sixty bare-back riders test their skills on riding wild horses, bucking bullocks, and bucking mules. The programme stated that these were the greatest outlaws that could be found in the whole of Australia! There was an act in which the daring and skill was man-handling venomous snakes and hungry crocodiles, rifle shooting by a lady champion with great accuracy and marksmanship. The Stockman's Whip, showing the skill of using a stock-whip over sixty feet long, lassoing and rope spinning, and a demonstration of using the boomerang and throwing spears. The finale of the hour long entertainment were two set pieces, “How to Catch a Horse Thief” and the “Capture of Ned Kelly and his Gang”. These two set pieces had a cast of over eighty performers.

            To see the Wild Australia” show was an additional cost to the entry for the exhibition, at 3/-, 2/-, I/-, and 6d, or you could hire a box to hold six persons at 21/-.

            The programme mentioned that Official Souvenir Postcards of the Wild Australia could be purchased from the Bemrose Postcard Kiosks around the grounds of the Crystal Palace. A facility was also available for writing, and posting the cards in boxes to have the Special Festival Postmark added, doubtless other postcard publishers cards found their way into these boxes, but it does answer the question as to why so many of the Bemrose postcards have the special flag cancel on the stamps.

            The daily programmes for the Festival of Empire Exhibition contained many advertisements canvassing for emigrants to go and live and work in the Colonial Countries, the theme of emigration was also contained within each of the pavilions of the countries. British Columbia claimed that it was “the most British of the Canadian Provinces, a land of fruit, flowers, minerals and immense timber and fishing resources, together with being a paradise for sportsmen”. It claimed to offer high wages, low taxes and free education.

            New Zealand wanted emigrants for farming, mining, timber jacking and fishing, cheap fares were available for farmers, farm hands and single women for domestic servants.

The British Empire Agency Ltd. offered posts in Australia, British Columbia, British East Africa, Canada, New Zealand, Rhodesia, and South Africa for all trades.

            One country that did not canvas for immigrants was India, The literature available indicated that unless you were already in the Colonial or Civil Service, or were the owner or prospective owner of a tea plantation there was not really a place for you to come and live the exclusive life enjoyed by those already there.

            Originally the Pageant of London was scheduled to have the final performance on the 21st July 1911, but owing to the great success it exceeded the hopes of the Festival of Empire Council and with the co-operation of the 15,000 performers it was extended until September 16th. Mr Frank Lascelles continued as the Master of the Pageant, as did the band of fifty musicians and chorus of five-hundred to provide the background music for the Pageant.

            The whole of the interior and much of the Upper Terraces of the Crystal Palace were devoted to the All-British Exhibition. It was a showcase for all that was best in British design and manufacture. Most of the exhibitors had a facility whereby the goods on show could be ordered. Charles Baker, Tailor, was one such outlet who had on display their lightweight rainproof Hurlingham overcoats, these could either be obtained from stock at “ready to wear” prices of 29/6d, 39/6d, or 49/6d, or “made to measure” at 34/6d to 59/6d. For the ladies, John Noble from Manchester offered Mail Order dresses, by sending Mail Order Catalogues, patterns, and self measurement forms for orders direct from the Brook Street Mills.

            But perhaps the most encompassing item for sale was the “Thermos Flask” as the invention of merit. It was claimed the flask was used in Canada for the coldest of places, to give a life saving hot drink for the weary settler and intrepid hunter. In the blazing sun of India the Thermos Flask is



One of a set of four post cards published by Bemrose & Sons featuring Ned Kelly and his gang.


priceless in furnishing the cold drink for the traveller and businessman. In Africa the heat of the daytime can be quenched with the cold drink and in the frosty nights a hot cordial from the flask is a godsend. The advert invited visitors to come and see the interesting experiments with Thermos Flasks during the Festival of Empire.


© Exhibition Study Group 2011