State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 72 Spring 2003


The State Library of Victoria: A Chronology 1853–2003

1853 July
Library Trustees appointed.
Competition for building on two-acre Swanston Street site.
First prize of £150 won by Joseph Reed.
1854 3 July
Foundation stone laid by Governor Hotham.
1856 11 February
Melbourne Public Library opens.
Official opening of southern part of Swanston Street building.
Building lighted with gas.
First Librarian, Augustus Tulk, appointed.
1858 Construction of South Wing.
1860 July
Travelling Library scheme inaugurated (discontinued 1900).
1863 Construction of North Wing.
1868 4 January
Visit by the Duke of Edinburgh.
23 November
Purchase of William Strutt's painting,‘Black Thursday’.
1869 Act of Parliament incorporates the Public Library, Museums and National Gallery, with a single Board of Trustees headed by Barry.
State Copyright Act provides for Library to receive a copy of every book and magazine published in Victoria.
1870 Work begins on the portico, completed in 1871.
1874 Royal Society of Victoria presents papers of the Victorian Exploring Expedition (Burke and Wills).
1880 23 November
Death of Sir Redmond Barry, President of the Board of Trustees.
1883 Electric light first provided by Australian Electric Light Co.
1886 2 September
Opening of Barry Hall (first floor of the South Wing).
1887 23 August
Statue of Sir Redmond Barry (modelled by James Gilbert and completed after Gilbert's death in 1885 by Percival Ball) unveiled.
1889 Bronze statue of St George and the Dragon by Sir Joseph Boehm (1834-1890) purchased from the Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition and placed in the forecourt.
1891 Card catalogue completed.
1892 8 August
Lending Branch opened to the public.
1901 23 January
News received of Queen Victoria's death: Library closed and columns of the entrance draped in black and purple.
6–11 May
Library and other city buildings illuminated for the opening of the Commonwealth Parliament.
1907 February
Bronze statue of Jeanne d'Arc (replica of statue by Emmanuel Fremiet in Place de Rivoli, Paris), which had been acquired by the Felton Bequest in 1906, placed in forecourt.
1909 26 October
Foundation stone of the Dome building laid by the Governor of Victoria.
1913 14 November
Domed Reading Room opened by the Governor-General.

Public Library, Melbourne. 1853. Lithograph after a drawing by Joseph Reed. H3948. La Trobe Picture Collection.


Nicholas Chevalier, 1828–1902, artist. The Public Library. 1860. Watercolour. H27931. La Trobe Picture Collection.


H.N.E. Cook, artist. Melbourne Public Library. 1883. Oil on canvas. H84.135. La Trobe Picture Collection.


Frederick McCubbin, 1855–1917, artist. Melbourne gaol in sunlight from the Public Library grounds [ca. 1884]. Oil on canvas. H29648. La Trobe Picture Collection.

1915 Completion of classification of Reference Library according to Dewey Decimal System.
1924 The two metal lions removed from Swanston Street steps.
12 February
Unveiling of Septimus Power's War Memorial Mural in the staircase hall outside the Queen's Hall.
1937 Two statues of Great War soldiers, ‘Wipers’ and ‘The Driver’, by Charles Sargeant Jagger, erected on front lawn.
1938 Moreton Bay figs removed from forecourt.
1939 Wrought iron gates removed.
1944 Act of Parliament provides for ending the joint administration of Library, Gallery and Museum established by the 1869 Act.
1945 Library Board established.
1948 Opening of Library Training School.
1951 2 July
Foundation stone of the La Trobe Library laid.
1953 June
Royal coat of arms hung on portico to mark coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
1956 Appointment of first Manuscript Librarian.
1960 Official title changed to State Library of Victoria by Act of Parliament.
1965 6 September
La Trobe Library opened.
1966 16 November
Friends of the La Trobe Library formed.
1968 April
First issue of La Trobe Library Journal.
1970 Appointment of first Field Historian.
1977 Public Record Office of Victoria moves from Library to its own repository.
1984 Friends of the La Trobe Library change name to Friends of the State Library of Victoria.
1990 Construction begun on the first new buildings on the Library site since 1965.
1992 North-East and South-East Wings on Russell Street completed.
1993 Heritage Collections (Rare Books, Maps, Pictures and Manuscripts) move to North-East Wing.
1997 3 March
Opening of the Trescowthick Information Centre.
1998 Friends of the State Library merge with the State Library of Victoria Foundation.
‘Wipers’ and ‘The Driver’ relocated to Shrine of Remembrance.
The Herald & Weekly Times Newspaper Reading Room opened to public.
1999 Domed Reading Room closed for renovation.
2003 28 February–25 May
‘Kelly Culture’ Exhibition draws record number of visitors.
8 July
Re-opening of the Domed Reading Room as the La Trobe Reading Room.
Original version prepared by Ian Morrison, updated and expanded by John Barnes and Sandra Burt.

Public Library, National Gallery and Museum with New Concrete Dome (Largest Span in the World). [ca. 1913]. Shirley Jones Collection of Victorian Postcards. H96.200/514. La Trobe Picture Collection.

Public Library, Melbourne [ca. 1945-ca. 1956]. Glass negative. H91.50/2444. La Trobe Picture Collection.

Library of Victoria Photographic Section. Facade of Library [ca. 1993] Colour transparency.


Barnett Johnstone, 1832–1910, photographer. [Queen's Hall Reading Room, Melbourne Public Library, 1859] Albumen silver photograph. H4322. La Trobe Picture Collection. This photograph was taken at the request of Sir Redmond Barry, present at its capture — a fact that unnerved the photographer. While purporting to show members of the public using the Library, it actually depicts Augustus Tulk the Chief Librarian sitting at the end of the table, with his assistants as well as some workmen employed on the building all posing as readers. At the time of the photograph's execution, the South wing of The Queen's Hall had just been completed, hence the presence of the workmen. It was not until 1864 that the North wing was constructed, thus completing The Queen's Hall to its present form.