Like the spring roses of Melbourne’s Flemington Racecourse, we are slowly emerging from a brutal yet necessary lock-down. For many, this time has provided us with an opportunity to get into our gardens, seeking solace and inspiration. Generally, the later end of Spring heralds the blooming of rose gardens; from heritage varieties to miniature shrubs, dormant prickly plants begin to reveal their beauty. In the dimly lit depths of our Special Collections, roses are also taking blossom. Behold the intricate and delicate beauty of our very own “Melbourne Rose”.

The Melbourne rose. Part II honour to the brave in memory of John King, R. O’Hara Burke [and] William John Wills”, 1862.

Commencing printing in 1860, several varieties of this novelty roseate souvenir were produced till the end of the decade, celebrating both Victoria’s natural and engineered beauty. Each rose includes 28 steel engraved and chromolithographed images of Melbourne, Geelong and Ballarat. Although the method of lithography had been in use for some time before this publication, the method of chromolithography, or the process of producing various colours by printing on a flat surface using chemicals, was a relatively new technique. The process of chromolithography was a relatively expensive method of printing and it could take a skilled printer a considerable amount of time to produce an end product.

Some might recognise these images from the work of Samuel Thomas Gill’s sumptuous 1857 and 1862 editions of, “Victoria Illustrated”. Presented and issued in a beautiful gilt-printed envelope each circular roseate can be folded to form a small bouquet of pink pink roses. When opened the viewer is presented with miniature vignettes of various scenes.

The settlement of Ballaarat East as seen from the camp reserve.
A view of Bourke Street Melbourne.
Looking towards Mack’s Hotel (formerly the Wool Pack Inn), Geelong.

This extravagant and delicate gold rush era souvenir is indicative of the sudden influx of wealth to the cities of Melbourne, Geelong, and Ballarat. Prospectors from England, North America, China, and native Australians swarmed to 1850s Victoria, seeking fortune from both the gold mines and its subsequent prosperity. At a cost of approximately 1s 6d, or approximately $8.00 aud, the “Melbourne Rose” was not a prohibitively expensive souvenir for some. In the popular tradition of gifting flowers and in this case roses to friends or loved ones, the “Melbourne Rose” was a rather ingenious method of continuing this custom, allowing intrepid travellers and prospectors to send a bouquet of paper roses home.

Melbourne’s first Exhibition building, now the site of the Old Royal Mint in Williams Street.
Looking towards Melbourne’s Public Library.

Monash University Special Collections is privileged to hold two versions of this unique ephemeral item. An 1860 edition and an 1862 edition to commemorate the ill-fated expedition to cross Australia from South to North, and in particular, John King, R. O’hara Burke and William John Wills.

An original accompanying envelope to house “The Melbourne Rose Part. II and commemorating John King, R. O’hara Burke and William John Wills.

If you would like to know more about these beautiful items or how you could utilise them for your teaching or research, please do not hesitate in contacting our Special Collections team,

Daniel Wee is Special Collections Librarian at Monash University Library.