The Great Exhibition was the dream of AC Sinclair, one of the compilers of the annual Handbooks of Jamaica. Sinclair was inspired by the 1851 Great Exhibition at London’s Crystal Palace and spent many years trying unsuccessfully to drum up support for his ambitious project. When Sir Henry Blake arrived as Jamaica’s new Governor in March 1889, Sinclair managed to persuade William Fawcett, director of gardens and plantations and chairman of the Institute of Jamaica (IOJ) to help him present his cause to Governor Blake. And it worked!
The Exhibition, billed as “the most extraordinary commercial event in the history of the Gulf of Mexico and the West Indies,” opened on January 27, 1891. According to the 1891-1892 Handbook of Jamaica: the light and airy character of the (exhibition) structure with its subdued and harmonious colouring, the rich and in many cases brilliant hues of the exhibits, the glitter of bright metal and glass, and the ever-moving, many coloured dresses of the visitors formed a scene never before witnessed in Jamaica and which could not fail to impress both the foreigner and the native. On opening day the grand assembly at Kings House proceeded to the Market Wharf downtown where the pier was decorated in bunting to greet the 25-year-old Prince George. Nearly 8,000 people visited the Exhibition on its opening day.