State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 69 Autumn 2002

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2. George Russell's Library

The personal library of George Russell, which came to the State Library of Victoria as part of the Golf Hill bequest, comprises some 185 titles in 430 physical volumes. A complete inventory of Russell's library, arranged by shelf order, was compiled by Philip Brown at Golf Hill on 4 June 1954; an accompanying note indicates that some of the books listed in George Russell's own catalogue of his library were missing at the time this inventory was carried out. Russell's catalogue to his library is held in the Australian Manuscripts Collection of the State Library of Victoria (MS 7845).
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Russell's practice of signing and dating books acquired after 1850 indicates that the bulk of the library was purchased during his visits to England and Scotland in the early 1850s and the 1870s. Approximately 77 titles are annotated with the date 1873, and a further 79 titles are dated 1878. The 1878 books were all acquired from a single source, the London bookseller Henry Sotheran & Co., who was also responsible for rebinding the books prior to shipment to Russell's pastoral property in Victoria.
The bulk of Russell's library comprises standard titles in the field of literature and history. There is an emphasis on collected editions, and a bias towards Russell's Scottish ancestry. The latter is reflected in such works as Walter Scott's Miscellaneous Works (1870-71, 37 vols) and Waverley Novels (1865-68, 48 vols), Lockhart's Memoirs of Sir Walter Scott (1869, 10 vols), John Hill Burton's The History of Scotland (1873, 8 vols), and History of the County of Fife (1840, 3 vols). Standard historical works include David Hume's The History of England (1826, 2 vols), Henry Milman's History of the Jews (4th ed., 1866, 3 vols), and George Bancroft's History of the United States (misc. eds, 1861-1872). Literary works include The Works of Samuel Johnson (1825, 6 vols), the John Hawkesworth edition of The Works of Jonathan Swift (1778, 18 vols) and Henry Hallam's Introduction to the Literature of Europe (new ed., 1872, 4 vols). Other authors represented include Gibbon, Darwin, Burns, Prescott, and Cervantes.
While Russell acquired the majority of his books from English booksellers, the receipts amongst his papers at the Library do provide evidence of his dealings with the local trade in Victoria. He regularly acquired stationery from George Mercer and Henry Franks in Geelong, and Samuel Mullen in Melbourne, and maintained subscriptions to a number of journals, including Punch, Chambers Journal, and Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine.
George Russell's fellow-Scot and fellow-pastoralist Edward Curr, in his Recollections of Squatting in Victoria (1883), wrote of the difficulties of putting together a collection of books on the frontier in the 1840s:
In the matter of books I believe we were better off than most of our neighbours, those in our possession had been got together in a haphazard sort of way, at various times and without any idea of making a collection for the bush… It arose from the circumstance that books were hardly obtainable in Melbourne in those days (pp. 359-61).
Russell, with his greater wealth, was in a position to complete his library in a way that Curr was not. Its research value resides not so much in the individual titles, as in the collection as a whole. While it is clear from the pristine condition of the books that many remained unread by Russell, the library nevertheless informs us about the tastes and attitudes of a nineteenth-century Scottish emigrant far from home.
Des Cowley