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Manuscripts, letters & diaries

Manuscripts are the unpublished records of individuals, groups, business concerns and other political or social organisations. The State Library is the guardian and source of Victoria’s documentary heritage, holding over seven linear kilometres of manuscript records.

Typically, manuscript collections come in a variety of forms and include handwritten material such as letters, diaries, journals and notebooks, typescripts, electronic and born-digital records, plus other classes of unpublished records or productions. Many collections also include some printed and published ephemera, and on occasion photographs and film.

The Library's collection has a particular emphasis on Victoria and its inhabitants, and seeks to gather papers and records that reflect the full range of human diversity and undertakings.

With a wide collecting brief, the manuscripts collection is particularly strong in a number of areas:

  • records of the discovery, exploration and settlement of Victoria by Europeans, including the Port Phillip papers relating to the first contact between Europeans and Aboriginal people
  • the diaries and letters of immigrants to Victoria, especially shipboard diaries
  • life on the Victorian goldfields
  • company records, including the very extensive Coles Myer retail collection
  • records of the labour movement and the papers of notable political figures in Victoria
  • manuscript papers from individuals and organisations active in the fields of literature, the fine arts and the theatre
  • collections relating to Aboriginal people in Victoria
  • diaries, letters and photographs from World War I and World War II

Material from the Australian Manuscripts collection is viewed in the Heritage Collections Reading Room or, for certain manuscript collections, in the Australian Manuscripts room.

The use of the Australian Manuscripts collection is subject to the State Library’s manuscripts access policy and can be searched via the Library's catalogue. The Library's Manuscripts collection is held in storage and can be viewed by contacting Library staff to arrange an appointment in the Heritage Collections Reading Room. 

Watch our video for helpful tips on locating or requesting collection items.