History at the Carousel

The Armitage-Herschell portable steam driven, hand-carved wooden carousel was constructed circa 1892 and is one of only 200 in operation around the world. 

Featuring 36 Dare horses and 2 chariots, it was purchased by the Steampacket Place Development Board in 1996 and painstakingly restored.

Reminiscing a golden past

During the restoration process - back to bare wood for a Carousel horse

The Steampacket Place Development Board, a joint team formed by the Victorian State Government and the City of Greater Geelong undertook the $30 million revitalisation of the entire Geelong Waterfront from 1995 to 2000.

As part of the revitalisation, in August 1996, the Steampacket Place Development Board purchased an unrestored c. 1892 Armitage-Herschell portable steam-driven carousel to restore and locate as a major feature on the revitalised waterfront.

The Carousel was manufactured in c. 1892 by the Armitage-Herschell company of New York. The Carousel operated on the Mordialloc Pier from circa 1920s Ð 1950s.

The Allan Herschell Company Inc. was established in 1873 as a general engineering shop, later becoming the North Tonawanda Engine and Machine Company following a merger with James Armitage. In 1876 the name of the company was changed to the Armitage-Herschell Company. The first carousel built by the company was in 1883.

By 1891 over 100 carousels had been manufactured. Despite the commercial success, poor investments saw the company placed in receivership in 1899. Consequently, Allan Herschell and his brother-in-law, Edward Spillman, bought the ailing company and formed a new firm called the Herschell-Spillman Company. They went on to become the largest carousel manufactures in America.

Bringing the horses back to life

Restored horses at the Carousel

Twenty-four of the 36 horses are original, and believed to be rare examples hand-carved by the American master, Charles Dare.

Each horse took 300 hours to restore. Intricate carving, coating, filling, sanding, smoothing, painting and varnishing all contribute to the magical charm of the finished gallopers.

To ensure the result was as authentic as possible, research was needed to determine the original colours. Forty layers of paint were scraped back to reveal the vibrant colourways and elaborate decorations you now see.

The restored horses feature real, and preserved horse hair for their tails, carefully anchored to prevent any damage. The brass sleeves on the horse poles are original, as are the cranks. These were hand-repaired by the restorers.

Restored to former glory

Together with the Victorian State Government, the City of Greater Geelong resolved to revive the splendour of the Carousel as a Geelong landmark.

Restoration took three years and thousands of hours of painstaking research and workmanship. Overseen by the Steampacket Place Project Directorate and Heritage Victoria, Carousel Restorations Pty Ltd of Elphinstone Victoria, were engaged as Project Managers for the carousel component.

They recruited the expertise of specialist historians, artisans and enthusiasts from Australia and North America to carry out the restoration from 1996-1999.

Extensive historical research was undertaken to ensure the result was as authentic as possible. The heritage restoration eventually used about 80% of the original material.

Forty layers of paint were scraped back to reveal the brilliant colours which have been faithfully reproduced in the restoration. Where necessary, materials were imported to guarantee the closest replication of the original, including coach wood sourced from the USA.

An artist drew inspiration from the King Arthur legend to create the 48 original artworks that adorn the Carousel boards.

Look carefully in each painting to find the hidden Holy Grail and the artists initials, JMC. The two chariots are replicas based on originals located in America. Every effort has been made to recapture the character and charm of this old-time wooden masterpiece.

Restored Carousel

The Band Organ

Sounds and sight to delight

Gavioli band organ at the Carousel

The band organ provides delightful carnival-style music - the lively tunes have become synonymous with carousels.

This instrument is part-original and part-replica of a Gavioli 48-key band organ, purchased from an Australian collector.

It was re-built over many years and retains many original Gavioli parts, including the wind chest, bellows and a hand carved conductor.

The distinctive sound is achieved using a set of drums and a glockenspiel incorporated as part of the mechanism.

The original organ was manufactured in Paris circa 1898, and is typical of instruments played at European carnivals.

The Steam Engine

Powerhouse of the past

Hershell-Spillman Company steam engine at the Carousel

Manufactured by New York's Hershell-Spillman Company in 1890, this engine is believed to be the only one of its type in Australia, and possibly one of only five in the world.

This is the actual engine that drove the Carousel as a portable unit until it was converted to electric power circa 1920.

An extensive search located the engine in Sydney where it was purchased and brought back to Geelong for restoration.

The boiler and engine are mounted on a four-wheel horsedrawn carriage, the two front wheels used for steering.

The engine is a twin-cylinder double-acting steam engine capable of 2.4 horsepower.

Although the Carousel now uses electric power, the steam engine is operated on a regular basis for the interest of visitors.

Page last updated: Monday, 28 September 2020