Carved elephant, maker unknown, purchased from F Krantz, Germany 1884
For most of the hundred plus years this graphite elephant has been in the Powerhouse Museum's collections it has been inextricably tied to the Garden Palace fire of 1882. The main reason for this has been the ongoing claims that the elephant was one of the only Museum objects to survive the flames. These claims have, over the years, increased its significance and given it a special place within the Museum's collections. But research over the past few years has revealed a very complicated tale, and while this elephant has played a starring role, it is perhaps not quite as heroic as once thought.
Contemporary claims that nothing survived the fire were at odds with the Museum's own claims that the elephant, and a few other select objects which included crucibles and an iron wheel, survived the fire. Once we started researching this it became clear the MuseumÂ?s own records threw doubt upon these claims. Perhaps the most conclusive evidence for dispelling any questions about what survived the fire came from the Annual Report of the Committee for Management of the Technological Industrial and Sanitary Museum for 1882 and submitted on the 3 April 1883. This clearly stated that only the heaviest of iron specimens survived, and surely by this time a graphite elephant that had survived the fire would have received a mention in this report tabled more than 6 months after the fire. Even if it had been picked up by some person scouring the ruins it seems likely something would have written about this miraculous event by this time.
It turns out the graphite elephant was the 6189th object acquired by the museum. It was purchased from a German mineral dealer F. Krantz in March 1884. Interestingly the significance of this object remains inextricably linked to the claims it survived the fire, even though discredited, as this is now part of the provenance of this object.
Geoff Barker, Curatorial, 2012
Baker, R. T., 'Technological Museum', in the Australian Technical Journal of Science and Art, Vol. 1, No. 2, 30 March, 1897
Commissioners of theSydneyInternational Exhibition, 'Official Record of theSydneyInternational Exhibition1879', Thomas Richards, Government Printer, Sydney 1881
Davison, G., Webber, K., Yesterday's Tomorrows; the Powerhouse Museum and its Precursors 1880-2005, Powerhouse Publishing in association with the University of New South Wales Press, 2005
P., Proudfoot, R. Maguire, and R. Freestone (eds.), Colonial City Global City, Sydney's International Exhibition 1879, Crossing Press, Sydney, 2000
Sydney Morning Herald, October 1880
The elephant is thought to have been made in Ceylon and was purchased from F. Krantz, a mineral dealer, in 1884. The maker of the elephant is unknown.
This elephant was purchased by the museum from F. Krantz a German minerals dealer in 1884. Sometime around 1900 the museum began to claim it had survived the Garden Palace fire. This was disproved as a part of the research conducted by the Total Asset Management Project (TAM) in 2009-2010.