Watson’s Living Curiosities

This poster for "S. Watson's American Museum of Living Curiosities", which dates from 1885, can be found at the British Library site. All the exhibits seem like pretty standard stuff for a 19th-century museum: the stoutest lady in the world, the two-headed marvel, snake charmer, etc. It's the "Australians" exhibit that puzzles me. They don't really look like Australians. Are those outfits something that Aussies often wear?


Posted on Tue Feb 19, 2008


I wouldn't say we dress like that often...

In fact, I don't believe stokings and dresses for blokes were ever really big here.
Posted by Scriitor  on  Wed Feb 20, 2008  at  01:14 AM
Nope, nothing I've ever worn either. Considering it's from 1885 I'd have guessed if they were exhibiting 'Australians' it would have been some of the indigenous population. Or a platypus.
Posted by Nettie  on  Wed Feb 20, 2008  at  01:22 AM
The costumes look like Alpine peasant costumes. Surely it's not an erroneous insertion of a picture of Austrians?!?

On the other hand, maybe it's their dull eyes and prognathous, low-browed visages that mark them as Australians - our antipodean colonials were (then as now) the regrettable products of rampant inbreeding between uncouth convicts.
Posted by outeast  on  Wed Feb 20, 2008  at  02:46 AM
Australia was far enough away and hard enough to reach in those days that it was an exotic label for oddities. After all, few of the visitors to such shows would ever go to Australia to check out the accuracy.

They appear to be the usual "pinheads" (microcephalics) touted as sometimes touted as Aztecs (another exotic place most folks wouldn't be able to visit themselves).

I believe it's just advertising puff, using a faraway land to hint at something wild or exotic.
Posted by Sarah (Messybeast)  on  Wed Feb 20, 2008  at  04:03 AM
Australians have always been a curiostity to me. Where is this show going to be? :D
Posted by Dan Sz.  on  Wed Feb 20, 2008  at  10:07 AM
>>I wouldn't say we dress like that often... In fact, I don't believe stokings and dresses for blokes were ever really big here.<<

Pity. I had a great image in my head of a bunch of Australians gathered around a barbecue dressed like this.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Wed Feb 20, 2008  at  10:09 AM
Sarah's right. They're pinheads from the picture, and it was common practice to label a particular type of 'freak' (forgive the term but in the context it's the best) as being from some far-flung place.

As if they ALL looked like that. In terms of costume, it's possible that the guys who were calling them 'Australians' hadn't got a clue what Aussies (or, possibly, Aboriginies which may be what they were getting at. Exotic civilisations and all that) and just dressed them as Austrians.
Posted by Renquist  on  Wed Feb 20, 2008  at  11:03 AM
Sarah and Renquist are probably right (although I have to say that - costumes aside - most of the Australians I've known have looked pretty much like that).
Posted by outeast  on  Wed Feb 20, 2008  at  11:05 AM
What a lot of great stuff the British Library has got up its figurative sleeve!

I reckon that 'Australians' were such an exotic concept in 1851 that the poster artist just made something up.

Heaven knows how they would depict Canadians (my neck of the woods being Canada)!
Posted by Laura  on  Mon Mar 17, 2008  at  12:35 PM
When I (an Australian) lived in Boston in 1991, I was repeatedly asked what it was like hosting the Winter Olympics (which wouldn't really be possible in Australia).
Posted by Alan  on  Sun Mar 25, 2012  at  05:16 AM
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