State Library of South Australia

Dress up and get your skates on!

Date: 28 November 2016

On a winter's Monday evening in 1888 the Columbia Elite Roller-Skating Rink Company held a fancy dress roller-skating carnival in the Jubilee Exhibition Building on North Terrace. A newspaper article published the following day, together with the very charming souvenir given to participants, portrayed an event which must have been quite a social extravaganza.


Exhibition Building in Adelaide c 1887 B 3922
Exhibition Building, Adelaide, c 1887, B 3922

The article, The Carnival on the Rink, was published in the South Australian Advertiser (available via Trove). It reported that over 2,000 people attended the carnival (in 1888 that was about 2% of Adelaide's population), 600 to 700 of them were on skates. The article goes on to describe many of the costumes, shenanigans and competitive races:

... and the varied and kaleidoscopic scene which was produced by the brilliant and multicolored figures which floated past the spectators in quick succession may be better imagined than described. The pleasing incongruities inseparable from a fancy dress entertainment added much beauty and piquancy to the scene.

The Jubilee Exhibition Building no longer stands but fortunately the State Library holds a number of photographs, like the one above, to prove it did once grace our grand cultural boulevard. Channel 7's SA Life program featured this magnificent building in a recent episode - The Exhibition Building - Adelaide's Lost Landmark.

I was at the Grand Fancy Dress Rolling Skating Carnival souvenir poster 1888 ZPS 5477
I was at the Grand Fancy Dress Rolling-Skating Carnival souvenir poster, 1888, ZPS 5477

The beautiful souvenir, given to participants, is printed on delicate Japanese rice paper and is exquisitely illustrated around the border with birds, insects and flowers. In the centre are three intriguing figures on roller-skates, which appear to be Robin Hood, a girl in academic garb and a Chinaman. Two lists of fancy dress characters including Mother Hubbard, Red Riding Hood, Little Nell, Oliver Twist, Dick Deadeye, Mephistopholes, Esquimaux, Dudes, and many more are printed on the sides.

At the top is printed:

I was at the Grand Fancy Dress Roller-Skating Carnival, July 30, 1888, at the Jubilee Exhibition Buildings, Adelaide, South Australia, given by the Columbia Elite Roller-Skating Rink Company. I represented the character of .......................................................................

And at the bottom:

Any Person presenting this Souvenir at any of our RINKS THROUGHOUT THE WORLD will receive a cordial welcome, and be admitted for one week.
Signed A.N. Ridgely and C.M. Raymond

This precious artefact is held in the State Library's extensive ephemera collection. It makes one wonder that if the Columbia Elite Roller-Skating Rink Company gave all participants a souvenir, are there other copies lurking in ancestral chests and attics? Perhaps you have an ancestor who once dressed up as Mother Goose and went roller-skating one winter's evening.

When Library staff were invited to suggest their favourite collection items for the exhibition A few of our favourite things: Treasures from the Collections of the State Library of South Australia I didn't hesitate to nominate this one. The exhibition is showing until 5 February 2017.

Story by Janet Wilkinson, Coordinator Metadata

Back to Summer 2016 stories

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