Australian Manuscripts collection

Our Australian Manuscripts collection includes unpublished records of individuals, companies, and political and community organisations.

These collections come in a variety of forms and include electronic and born-digital records, microfilm, typescripts, handwritten material – such as letters, diaries, journals and notebooks –  and other types of unpublished records or productions.

Many manuscript collections also hold some printed and published ephemera and occasionally photographs and film.

We acquired our first significant collection of Australian manuscripts in 1872, when letters written by early European settlers in Victoria were deposited by the colony’s former first lieutenant governor, Charles La Trobe.

This acquisition made the Australian Manuscripts collection one of the earliest in Australia.

In 1874, the records of the Burke and Wills expedition were deposited by the Royal Society of Victoria.

Other important acquisitions made during the 19th century included the Port Phillip papers, journals kept by John Batman and William Todd, and John Helder Wedge's field book.

The Australian Manuscripts collection features items about Victoria and its inhabitants. The collections record and reflect all aspects of life including, politics, the arts, society, business and science.

Collection strengths

Although the scope of the Australian Manuscripts collection is broad, its strengths include records of:

  • discovery, exploration and settlement of Victoria by Europeans, including records of first contact between Europeans and Aboriginal people
  • immigrants and travellers to Victoria
  • exploration and discovery
  • Victorian political parties, politicians and activists, across a wide political spectrum
  • service by Victorians in the colonial and Australian military forces
  • social-welfare organisations, especially those relating to children in non-government institutional care
  • individuals and organisations active in literature, fine arts, performing arts and theatre
  • life on the Victorian goldfields
  • Australian retail archives, such as Coles Myer
  • the Aboriginal people of Victoria

Material collected

In deciding whether to acquire material for the Australian Manuscripts collection, the following criteria are considered:

  • the intrinsic cultural value of a collection, or collection item, and its significance as an original document in its own right
  • whether the acquisition will build usefully on an existing strength or address an existing weakness
  • the significance of an item or collection as a source of information
  • any restrictions which the owner may wish to impose as a condition of its acquisition by the Library
  • whether the acquisition includes obtaining copyright or the right to make further copies
  • the extent to which an item will support the Library’s exhibitions program
  • the Library’s capacity to catalogue, conserve and accommodate a collection to appropriate standards

If an archive or collection of records is so large it presents a resource problem for the Library, a key factor in determining whether to accept it is the willingness of the donor to contribute to the financial costs associated with the Library’s acquisition of the material.

Original material is acquired for the collection through gift, bequest, donation under the Cultural Gifts Program and purchase. In some cases where material is privately owned, the Library acquires a copy rather than the original item.

The Library acquires original manuscript documents in handwritten, typed and digital formats. It also sometimes acquires copies of documents produced in photocopy and microform formats.

Where appropriate, non-manuscript material is kept with the documents to which it relates, otherwise it is transferred to more appropriate collections within the Library.

Material not generally collected

The Library doesn't collect government archives. These are held by the Public Record Office Victoria and the National Archives of Australia.

We work cooperatively with other archival institutions – for example, the National Library of Australia, the University of Melbourne Archives, and other state heritage institutions – to ensure that material is placed in the most appropriate repository and that collections are not unnecessarily split between institutions.

As a general rule, we don't collect research notes, secondary published materials, press clippings, or photocopies of extant materials.

The Library doesn't house manuscript items or other personal collections on long-term loan.

There are a number of fields in which the Library collects representative examples only and doesn't aim to collect comprehensively; for example church and architectural records.