Why is the recently discovered 1883 International Fisheries Exhibition diploma, designed by Linley Sambourne, unique?

Recently discovered in the Australian Museum Archives is the only known surviving signed awarded Diploma of the International Fisheries Exhibition of 1883.

Exhibitors from around the world packed specimens and fishing equipment and travelled to London to participate in this highly successful yet competitive exhibition. Winners were presented with diplomas, certificates and medals with the Australian Museum collecting awards for both specific fish specimens and for exhibits. Among these were gold medals for “General Exhibit of Seals and other Aquatic Mammals Destructive to Fish” and “Exhibit of Fish in Spirits”.

Extract of a Diploma awarded to the Australian Museum, 1883
Extract of a Diploma awarded to the Australian Museum, 1883 Image: James King
© Australian Museum

Sambourne, best known as a cartoonist for Punch magazine, was chosen to design the Exhibition awards by Sir Philip Cunliffe Owen, Director of the South Kensington Museum. Sambourne frequently visited the exhibition, gathering ideas from the vast array of displays. The elaborate award he designed is crowded with classical and practical marine themes.

Diploma awarded to the Internal Fisheries Exhibition, 1883
The Australian Museum was awarded this Diploma and a Gold Medal at the International Fisheries Exhibition in 1883 for "Stuffed Fish". [AMS169/26] Image: James King
© Australian Museum

Working to a tight deadline Sambourne completed the outline on Friday October 26th and commenced shading the diploma the following day. His timing was close as the exhibition closed a few days later; with the presentation of the awards.

A copy of the fine lithograph Diploma for “Stuffed Fish” presented to the Australian Museum will soon be on display at 18 Stafford Terrace, Sambourne’s London home.www.rbkc.gov.uk/subsites/museums/18staffordterrace/aboutus.aspx