State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 72 Spring 2003


Address Presented by the Trustees to His Excellency Major-General Macarthur, Acting Governor, at the Opening of the Library, 11 February 1856

IT affords the Trustees much satisfaction that it is at last in their power to ask your Excellency to throw open to the Public the doors of this Institution; on which occasion they have the honor to submit to you a Report of their Proceedings.
The necessity for making provision to meet the literary wants of the community forced itself upon the attention of Her Majesty's Government and the Legislature at an early period of the history of the Colony of Victoria. Accordingly, in the year 1853, the sums of £3,000 for the purchase of books, and £10,000 in aid of the erection of a suitable building, placed on the Estimates by His Excellency Mr. LaTrobe, were voted by the Honorable the Legislative Council; and in the following year like amounts, placed on the Estimates for similar purposes, were also cheerfully voted.
Towards the close of 1853 the Trustees were appointed; and when the dedication to the public of a piece of land—containing nearly two acres—as a site on which to build was officially announced to them, they called for plans; and invited,—with the offer of liberal premiums, —the competition of all the professional men whose services were available.
From those sent in, that of Mr. Reed was selected. The portion of the building already erected, and the drawing of the whole, as it is proposed to complete it, will enable your Excellency to judge of the design preferred by the Trustees; their desire was to secure for the Public a building combining internal convenience with external propriety of style, which would admit of extension without violating the proportion of that part of the structure, the erection of which was at the time contemplated, and of a class in accordance with the improved taste and prospects of the country.
It is due to the other competitors to remark, that several of the plans, — in particular that of Mr. Burgoyne, to whom the second prize was awarded, — were deserving of honorable mention.
The more pressing exigencies of the public service, and large demands upon the revenue, interrupted for some months the further proceedings of the Trustees; and it was not until the 3rd July, 1854, that the chief Foundation Stone was laid by His Excellency Sir Charles Hotham, a day deservedly memorable as that upon which was also laid the chief Foundation Stone of a kindred institution —the Melbourne University.
The portion of the building to be now opened consists of the centre, a square of 50 feet by 52 feet in height, forming an entrance hall, well adapted for a museum, or for the reception of statuary or works of art; and a chamber above —lighted by windows and a dome, — the dimensions of which are 50 feet by 50 feet, with a height of 32 feet. The extent of bookcases at present finished will receive about 8,000 volumes; the space will admit of shelving for several thousands more.
The outlay, including the fittings, furniture, and other incidental expenses, has been £16,000.
By the immediate intended enlargement, Two Wings will supply accommodation for the Librarian, and additional room for objects of Natural History, and a complete collection of Geological Specimens, also a Reading-room, which, with that already built, will be about 150 feet in length; and a staircase and portico, the absence of which deprives the building of its most striking architectural features. As two side walls and a back wall are already erected, the whole may be finished for — as has been estimated — about £13,000, a sum which, when placed at their disposal, the Trustees will be delighted to expend with the strictest regard to economy.
As soon as circumstances permitted, the Trustees forwarded to England £2,500 for the purchase of books; and being anxious to consult the wishes of those who would become the readers, requested the Public, by a series of advertisements inserted in the newspapers for some months, to favour the Trustees with catalogues and lists of such works as might be required. They also wrote to several gentlemen—members of this community, then in Europe— with the hope of enlisting their co-operation in London and elsewhere in the selection of the books ordered, and in obtaining by gift or purchase from the British Museum, the Libraries of the Universities or Colleges, or from other public or private Societies, copies of any works of value.
They, moreover, addressed a letter to the Principal Secretary of State for the Colonies, forwarded by his Excellency Mr. LaTrobe, informing him of the establishment and nature of the Institution; of the necessity for procuring many works of approved merit, which the means at their disposal would not allow them to order; and suggesting, that such as the Statutes at Large, the Statutes of the Realm, the various Records, State Papers, Voyages, Travels, Surveys, Maps, Charts, Plans, and Reports published by the various Royal and Parliamentary Societies and Commissions, or by the Admiralty, &c. &c. might be supplied.
It is with no slight regret that the Trustees are compelled to say that their advertisements were disregarded; the letters, with one exception —a refusal,— unacknowledged; and that His Grace the Secretary of State for the Colonies informed them “that he was unable to furnish any books unless payment were made for the same by the Colonial Government.”
They met with still further disappointment in not being able to obtain payment of the two sums of £3000 and £3000, voted by the Honorable the Legislative Council in the years 1854 and 1855 respectively, for the purchase of books, and are therefore able to present a very small number only of those ordered.
The collection comprises such of the leading standard writers and compilations on the chief subjects of literary inquiry as the funds allowed them to buy, and their order has been complied with by the bookseller—Mr. Guillaume —in a manner of which your Excellency and the public will, it is hoped, form a favourable opinion. It also contains 84 volumes, presented by His Excellency Mr. LaTrobe; and a copy of the “Times” newspaper of the year 1800, presented by Mr. G. M. Gallot — the only donations of which it can as yet boast.
That this collection is not larger is thus accounted for. But the Trustees are by no means discouraged, and look forward with sanguine expectation to the future.
It is possible that the interest which the public of this country is known to feel in all subjects connected with the Arts, could not be effectually brought into action, as regards this Institution, until it was placed on a declared footing; and there is every expectation that when the liberal principles on which it is established are known—all persons being free to enter who observe the decencies of dress and manners—and the advantages it will afford are appreciated, it will be warmly and generously supported.
Contributions of books, pamphlets, maps, charts, prints—especially relating to the early history of this and the adjoining countries, and any presented by authors, — donations of coins, medals, works of art, of natural curiosities, will be gratefully received; and the Library may be rendered more comprehensive and varied if Visitors will oblige the Trustees by inserting in the Order Book the titles of such works as it is desirable should be obtained.
The Trustees will enter into direct communication with the conductors of the European Libraries, and the officers of the different literary, philosophical and scientific Institutions and Societies, and solicit that assistance which the promoters of learning and science are always ready to give; and they—if supported as they expect to be — hope that in a short time, in addition to an extensive collection of English general literature, they may, through the instrumentality of the representatives of the ministers of different Foreign States, succeed in possessing themselves of that of other countries, as well as of a body of authentic official information emanating from the departments of the useful arts, commerce, education, crime, and social and economical statistics.
The misfortune of the lapse of the votes for 1851 and 1855, may be repaired by the honorable the Legislative Council, with the sanction of your Excellency, making up the deficiency. Such a recognition of the value of this Institution, none will acknowledge more gratefully than


Edward Macarthur (1789-1872), the eldest son of the famous John Macarthur, became commander-in-chief of the armed forces in the colony in May 1855, and when Sir Charles Hotham died in December that year he became Acting-Governor.
Joseph Reed (1823?-1890) had arrived in the colony from England in 1853 or early 1854. He established what was the first major private architectural office in Melbourne, and was responsible for the design of such well-known buildings as Wesley Church, Scots Church, Wilson Hall, the Trades Hall, and the Exhibition Building.
The attempts of the Trustees (in effect, Redmond Barry) to build up the collection of books and works of art will be discussed in some detail in the next issue of The La Trobe Journal.

J.W. Lindt, 1845–1926, photographer. Joseph M. Reed [ca. 1885].Albumen silver cabinet photograph. H4701. La Trobe Picture Collection.