Image 'First velocipede race on the Melbourne Cricket Ground', 1869

TLF ID R2794

This is a black-and-white print that depicts the first velocipede (bicycle) race held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in 1869. The race was contested by three riders, two of whom are shown astride their velocipedes, cycling past two men. The third competitor, who is depicted on the right of the print, rides a three-wheeled velocipede. The competitors are watched by a large number of spectators. The print is from a wood engraving by artist Samuel Calvert.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset shows the two-wheeled velocipede - the velocipede was one of the first bicycles to use pedals; it had a heavy cast-iron frame and metal-rimmed wheels with wooden spokes; the velocipede's pedals were attached to, and drove, a large front wheel; the first mass-produced velocipedes were manufactured by the Michaux Company in Paris in the early 1860s.
  • It shows a three-wheeled velocipede - less common than the two-wheeled velocipede, these bicycles were slower but easier to balance and ride; they were popular among women and smaller men in the 1880s.
  • It indicates that velocipedes were ridden in Australia in this period - the velocipede first appeared on the streets of Melbourne in 1868, launching a national craze; the velocipede remained popular both as a form of transport and for sport and leisure until the 1870s when it was superseded by the lighter-framed high-wheeler (also known as the 'penny-farthing' or the 'ordinary').
  • It provides a record of the first official velocipede race held in Australia - the race, which was held on 10 July 1869, attracted only three entrants but about 12,000 'curious spectators'; the 2-mile race (about 3.2 kilometres) was won by a Mr Finley in 11 minutes 29 seconds; the race took place only one week after the formation of the Melbourne Velocipede Club.
  • It suggests that bicycle racing was a huge spectator sport in this period - bicycle racing quickly became the new mass spectator sport for men and women in Australia, Britain, France and the USA; race meets, which were often run in conjunction with other athletic events, were used by bicycle manufacturers to promote their products; the events also attracted bookmakers.
  • It shows an aspect of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in this period - the MCG was founded in 1838 and, after several moves, finally found a permanent home at its present site near Richmond in 1853; the building depicted in this engraving may be the MCG's original wooden Members' Stand, which was built in 1854 and sold to the Richmond Cricket Club in 1881.
  • It provides examples of clothing worn by men in this period - the frockcoat, worn with a waistcoat, a tie or cravat and 'peg-leg' trousers, was fashionable in this period; the first cyclist wears what may be knicker bloomers (loose pants gathered at the knee) that have been pushed up to the thigh, and calf-length boots which were favoured by cyclists.
  • It suggests that the wearing of hats in public was the convention in this period - it was considered immodest to appear bareheaded in public; the top hat worn by the official on the left may indicate his social superiority over the second official who wears a bowler hat; bowler hats were originally worn in England by gamekeepers and hunters, but by the 1860s they had been adopted by the middle and lower classes.
  • It provides an example of the work of the artist Samuel Calvert - one of Australia's best known wood engravers, Calvert (1828-1913) emigrated from London in 1848 and settled in Melbourne four years later; from 1855 to 1890, Calvert produced hundreds of engraved illustrations for numerous publications, including the 'Illustrated Melbourne Post', 'Melbourne Punch' and the 'Illustrated Journal of Australasia'.
  • It is an example of the type of illustration that appeared in newspapers and magazines in this period - engravings and line drawings were used to illustrate newspapers and magazines until the early 1900s when they were superseded by photographs.

Other details

  • Author
  • Person: Samuel Calvert
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Description: Content provider
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: Samuel Calvert
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements