Literary Victoria

Victoria in story, memory, and the imagination. A guide to stories and works about Victoria and Victorians in fiction, personal narratives and non fiction works.

Introduction

State Library Victoria's collections are rich in first hand accounts of people and places in Victoria, ranging from the papers of well known figures from Victoria's past such as Ned Kelly, Charles Latrobe and Redmond Barry, to the accounts of ordinary people, including convicts, immigrants, settlers, gold diggers, journalists, soldiers and more. Together, their voices form a unique and colourful picture of Victoria's history. This page will help you find published and unpublished letters, diaries, autobiographies and memoirs about Victoria in the Library. It will introduce you to some of our most popular topics, and show you how to find primary source material using our eresources.

Published collections

There are many diaries, memoirs and correspondence about Victoria in the Library's Australiana collections. Some sources, such as the Letters of Charles Joseph La Trobe, have been collated and published in books. Others, including many of the personal papers in the Manuscripts collection, remain unpublished (although some have been digitised by the library).

The good news is that published collections are the easiest to find:

Browse the shelves

You can find many historic published diaries, memoirs, and collections of letters and correspondence about Victoria in the La Trobe Reading Room ("the Dome") on level 3 of the Library. Try browsing in the subject area of Victorian history at LT 994-994.5. 

Search the library catalogue

1. Go to the library catalogue and enter one or two keywords in the Search box to describe your subject of interest. Keywords might include words such as letters, diary or diaries, "personal narrative", journal or journals, memoirs etc. 

Hint: Use an asterisk * to maximise your Search results eg diar* will search for 'diary' and 'diaries'

2. Press Search. 

3. You can filter your results to display published items only by selecting 'Books' from the Resource type facet on the right of the screen:

You can see from the catalogue that there is a published copy of Geogiana McCrae's journal in the La Trobe Reading Room:

If the item you would like to see is in onsite storage, you can request it with your Library membership. You can find more handy search tips in the Quick guide to using our catalogue.

Unpublished collections

You can find unpublished letters, diaries, journals and more in the Library's Manuscripts collection. Some important and popular resources, such as the Charles Evans diary, have been digitised by the library for ease of access and are now available to read and/or download online. In other cases, you will need to make an appointment with heritage staff to view the items in the Heritage Collections Reading Room.

To find resources in the Manuscripts collection, you will need to use the Library catalogue. Just enter one or two keywords in the Search box and select Manuscripts from drop down list to the right.

You can request items from the Manuscripts Collection by phoning Library staff on 8664 7009. Items are delivered to the Heritage Collections Reading Room on Monday to Friday three times per day, at 10am, 1pm and 4pm

Some of the Library's unpublished diaries, letters and journals have been digitised. Look for the words DIG Digitised item and Available online:

To view a digitised resource, click on the link that reads Available online.

Eresources

You can find primary source material, such as letters, diaries, personal narratives and other forms of correspondence, about Victoria in the Library's eresources. If you are a Victorian resident and you join the Library, you can access these resources from home:

You can see a full list of databases the Library subscribes to through our A-Z databases menu.

Popular topics

The Library holds many original diaries, letters, journals and other forms of original documentation relating to the early explorers. 

The State Library holds an extensive archive of documents relating to the Burke and Wills expedition. Many of these primary resources have been digitised and are available to view online through through Dig, the Burke and Wills Research Gateway. 

Crossing the Terrick-Terrick Plains, Aug. 29. 60 [art original]. Watercolour by Ludwig Becker; H16486

Other popular personal narratives and correspondence relating to Victorian explorers include:

A short account of a voyage round the globe in H.M.S. Calcutta 1803-1804 by Nicholas Pateshall 

Gives an account of the voyage of HMS Calcutta which left Portsmouth, accompanied by the Ocean, on 5 Feb. 1803 with more than 300 convicts and their wives. They were bound for a new colony to be established on the Australian mainland under the command of Lieutenant Colonel David Collins. Describes conditions on board for the convicts and visits to Teneriffe, Rio de Janeiro and the Cape of Good Hope. They arrived at Port Phillip Bay on 9 Oct. 1803 and settled at Sullivan Bay. Describes the findings of Lieutenant Tuckey's surveying expeditions around the bay, an expedition to find fresh water, difficulties encountered at the settlement, removal of the colonists to Van Diemen's Land on 19 Dec. 1803, visit to Sydney where they assisted with the quashing of the Castle Hill rebellion, and departure for England on 15 March 1804. Describes the terrain, weather, flora and fauna, and customs of the Aboriginal people at Port Phillip Bay and in Sydney. On the voyage home,  the author describes a visit to New Zealand and customs of the Maori people. Rounding Cape Horn a very heavy storm is encountered before a return visit to Rio de Janeiro and arrival in England on 24 July 1804.

Experiences in Port Phillip; extracts from letters , ca. 1860-1900 

Extracts of letters Russell wrote about his experiences in Victoria 1842-1847. They contain vivid descriptions of early Gippsland and the depression of the mid 1840's. The letters, whose provenance is obscure, are copies, probably made in the late nineteenth century. It is not known to whom they were addressed. The Library gave them the binder's title 'Experiences in Port Phillip 1842-1847 by Robert Russell' La Trobe Library Journal Vol 2, no 6, 1970.

Field book 1835-1836 by John Helder Wedge

This journal was kept by explorer and surveyor John Helder Wedge. It documents his initial survey of the land from Indented Head to Port Fairy claimed by the Port Phillip Association, and includes a glossary of Indigenous words, sketch maps and 46 drawings.

Journals by Angus McMillan

These journals document explorer Angus McMillan's voyage to Australia as an emigrant on board the ship Minerva, and the first months of his Alpine Expedition (Gippsland) 9 March - 5 June 1864. 

Journey of discovery to Port Phillip, New South Wales, by Messrs. W.H. Hovell and Hamilton Hume in 1824 and 1825.
Compiled by Dr. W. Bland from the journals of the explorers.

Papers relating mainly to Gippsland exploration

These papers in the Library's Manuscripts collection include 4 letters by explorer James Riley to his mother and stepfather in England 1838-1840, plans for Count Paul Strzelecki's expedition across the Australian Alps, as well as maps and drawings.

Blackhill 21 Febrav [i.e. February] 1854 [art original] by Eugene von Guerard; H26004

In 2013,  UNESCO added three 19th century goldfields diaries from the State Library Victoria's collections to the Australian memory of the world register. The diaries are:

The life and adventures of E. Snell, 1849-1859
Edward Snell was an engineer, surveyor, artist, adventurer, and a diarist. He writes about his voyages to and from the colonies and tells of his experiences in South Australia, Tasmania, and Victoria. Edward Snell’s diary records his firsthand experience during two important historical moments in Victoria – the gold rush and the railway boom.The diary is illustrated with black and white sketches and detailed studies of insects and animals, many in colour.

Diary of Charles Evans, 1853 September 24 -1855 January 21
The 'Lazarus' diary is a rare goldfields diary containing an eyewitness account of the events surrounding the Eureka Stockade. The diary recounts many of the key events associated with the uprising, from the burning of the Eureka Hotel to the bloody aftermath of the storming of the stockade. The diary, which does not bear the author's name, was originally attributed to Samuel Lazarus, a nineteen year old from Liverpool, but historian Clare Wright has since demonstrated that auctioneer and printer Charles Evans was the most likely author.

Diary of a miner working on the Ballarat goldfields, 1855 Jul. 8 - 1856 Jan. 1
Describes the daily life of a miner at Ballarat and surrounding goldfields.  Describes weather conditions, chores, meals, and many local events including visits to theatrical performances by Lola Montez, Charles Thatcher and others, deaths and near fatalities by fire and in mining accidents, the murder of a butcher, the escape of a Bengal tiger from the Montezuma Circus, and trips to Melbourne to visit the Botanical Gardens and to witness construction of a bridge across the Yarra River at Richmond Point.

The following personal narratives are also popular:

An artist on the goldfields : the diary of Eugene von Guerard / introduced and annotated by Marjorie Tipp
Diary of artist Eugene von Guerard, who sailed from England for Victoria in 1852, and kept a diary of his time on the Ballarat goldfields. Includes sketches.

A lady's visit to the gold diggings of Australia in 1852-53 : written on the spot / by Mrs. Charles Clacy ; edited by Patricia Thompson

Mrs Charles (Ellen) Clacy (1830-1901) was a clergyman's daughter who, in 1852, travelled to the Australian goldfields. Published in 1853, on her return to England, this work, the first edition of which sold out almost immediately, is essentially a guide for prospective emigrants. It includes, within the lively narrative, practical advice on the cost of living, the labour market, gold-digging regulations, and marriage prospects.

Diary of Frederick Charles Standish, 1857
Goldfields diary kept by Capt. Frederick Standish while serving as Assistant Commissioner of the goldfields at Sandhurst (Bendigo) and also as Protector of the Chinese.

The various collections that collectively make up the Port Phillip papers are a major strength and collecting focus of the Australian manuscripts collection.These seminal records of early European settlement include journals, diaries, letters and reminiscences of key figures such as John Batman, John Helder Wedge, John Pascoe Fawkner and William Buckley. Popular writings include:

John Batman's journal, 10 May – 11 June 1835

Batman’s journal describes his expedition from Launceston to Port Phillip in the schooner Rebecca, and includes his famous declaration, made on 8 June 1835, that 'this will be the place for a village'. His diary also details his meetings with Aboriginal people and the signing of the deeds that established a land use agreement between the Indigenous Elders and the Port Phillip Association. 

[The Landing Place and Market Reserve in 1839].Water colour painting by W.F.E.LiardetH28250/5

John Helder Wedge's Field Book, 1835 -1836

This journal documents Helder Wedge's initial survey of the land from Indented Head to Port Fairy claimed by the Port Phillip Association. It also includes a glossary of Indigenous words, sketch maps and 46 drawings.

Reminiscences of William Buckley

These reminiscences describe Buckley's early life as a soldier, conviction for theft, transportation to the new colony at Sullivan Bay in 1803 and escape with two other convicts just before the settlement removed to Van Diemen's Land, and close relationship with the Aboriginal people, particularly in the Barwon River region, until John Batman and his party arrived in the Port Phillip District in 1835. Includes descriptions of the Watourong people's diet, hunting and gathering methods, marriage and funeral customs, weapons and warfare, and spiritual beliefs. Gives an account of the fate of his fellow escapees. The reminiscences were recorded by George Langhorne (1810-1897), a missionary, who arrived in Melbourne in January 1837. Langhorne incorrectly gives the name as James Buckley.

Many of the following published writings can be found on the shelves of the La Trobe Reading Room ("the Dome"):

The birth of Melbourne edited and introduced by Tim Flannery
Extracts from writings of the founders and pioneers of early Melbourne.

Letters from Victorian pioneers: a series of papers on the early occupation of the colony, the Aborigines etc. addressed by Victorian pioneers to His Excellency Charles Joseph La Trobe, Esq., Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony of Victoria - C.E. Sayers
Comprises a unique collection of letters to Charles Joseph La Trobe from squatters and other early settlers recalling their experiences as pioneers in the colony.

Personal recollections of early Melbourne & Victoria - William Westgarth
William Westgarth was an early Victorian merchant and historian who arrived in Melbourne in 1840 and played a significant role in its social and institutional development. His Recollections were published in 1888. The index has also been digitised.

Georgiana's journal by Georgiana McCrae; edited by Hugh McCrae, grandson of the diarist
Georgiana McCrae arrived in Melbourne in 1841 and lived in various parts of Victoria. She was closely associated with many of the leading political and cultural figures in the colony and her journal records her observations, reactions and daily experiences.

The letters of Henry Howard Meyrick May 1840- November 1841 and January 1845-April 1847; transcribed and introduced by Jeremy Hales and Marion Le Cheminant
These letters were sent by Henry Howard Meyrick from Western Port and Gippsland to his family in England detailing his life as an aspiring squatter. See also: Life in the bush (1840-1847): a memoir of Henry Howard Meyrick by F.J. Meyrick.

A woman of importance : Emily Childers in Melbourne, 1850-1856 by Jean Uhl

Biography of Emily Childers, wife of Hugh Childers. The Childers rented the cottage generally known as Upper Jolimont from Governor La Trobe after Bishop Charles Perry and Mrs Perry vacated it in 1853.  The author has quoted extensively from Emily’s diaries, giving the reader a first hand account of life in Melbourne in the 1850s, especially from a woman’s point of view.

Self-portrait aged 20. Watercolour by Georgiana McCraeH89.181/3

Georgiana's journal : Melbourne 1841-1865 by Georgiana McCrae; edited by Hugh McCrae, grandson of the diarist

Much loved colonial journal of one of Melbourne's first European settlers. Her genteel yet candid voice introduces Port Phillip as a rustic outpost before prosperity, culture and urbanisation put Melbourne on the map. With her eye for detail and a natural way with words and pictures Georgiana shares the colourful lives of people who built a colony in the wilderness.

The French consul's wife : memoirs of Céleste de Chabrillan in gold-rush Australia. Translation, with introduction and notes, by Patricia Clancy and Jeanne Allen of Un deuil au bout du monde (1877)

Miss D & Miss N : an extraordinary partnership : the diary of Anne Drysdale edited by Bev Roberts

Records the daily domestic and farming lives of Anne Drysdale and Caroline Newcomb in the Bellarine Peninsula and Barwon River districts in the 1840's.

Nobody's valentine : letters in the life of Valentine Alexa Leeper, 1900-2001 edited by Marion Poynter

Valentine Alexa Leeper was born in Melbourne on Valentine's Day, 1900, the daughter of Alexander Leeper (1848-1934), the brilliant but argumentative first Warden of Trinity College. Her long life might seem unremarkable: she lived simply in the family's Victorian suburban home, neither marrying nor travelling overseas, and was regarded by many as an eccentric, at times tiresome, blue-stocking. The hoard of letters Valentine Leeper wrote and received over nearly a century reveals her, however, as a remarkable woman. The letters also provide an intimate view of issues, great and small, of the turbulent twentieth century, through the eyes of a clear-minded observer. 

Yarn spinners : a story of friendship, politics and a shared commitment to a distinctive Australian literature, woven through the letters of Dymphna Cusack, Florence James, Miles Franklin and their congenials edited by Marilla North

Dymphna Cusack, Miles Franklin and Florence James come alive on these pages through their friendships, their aspirations, their passions and achievements, their disappointments, insecurities and triumphs. In Yarn Spinners Marilla North tells the tale of their personal and professional lives through their correspondence, meticulously curated, edited and woven together with subtle narrative links.

The Library holds a wide range of diaries, letters and personal narratives of World War I, from solders' war experiences and reflections, to accounts by nurses and friends and family at home. Search the catalogue under the heading World War 1914-1918 personal narratives to find a listing of diaries and personal accounts of the war. Use the string: World War 1914-1918 letters, or World War I correspondence to locate correspondence.  Use the sub-categories on the right to filter your results. 

A list of resources on Gallipoli can be found in 'Having a lively time': Australians at Gallipoli in 1915: a catalogue of material held in the Australian Manuscripts Collection, La Trobe Library, State Library of Victoria by Shona Dewar.

Here are some popular published resources:

Bean's Gallipoli : the diaries of Australia's official war correspondent edited and annotated by Kevin Fewster

Probably no person saw more of the Anzacs in battle on Gallipoli than C.E.W. Bean. After sailing with the first convoy, he landed with them on that fateful first morning of April 25, 1915, and remained until the evacuation, despite being wounded. Even in the fiercest battles, Bean would sit in the frontline trenches taking notes or making sketches. In his dugout at night he would record everything he had seen and done.

Smoke ho ! Sutton Veny, March 1918. Sketch by Australian soldier John Martin Paterson; H29070/5

From the trenches : the best Anzac writing of World War One edited by Mark Dapin

Drawn from diaries, memoirs and letters, as well as poetry, reportage and prose, journalist and author Mark Dapin has selected writing from those on the frontlines as well as behind the scenes, from officers and soldiers to nurses, engineers and reporters. The result is a collection of gripping, awe-inspiring and sometimes terrifying accounts of life at the front, recorded by those who lived through the fighting.

War letters of General Monash by John Monash with an introduction and historical notes by A.K. MacDougall

These extraordinary, intimate letters from General Sir John Monash to his wife and daughter, record his experiences throughout the First World War, from landing at Gallipoli to leading decisive battles on the Western Front. Monash describes with great candour the challenges of ordering the lives of tens of thousands of troops and meeting with various dignitaries, including King George.

The Western Front diaries : the ANZACs' own story, battle by battle edited by Jonathan King

Using hundreds of brutally honest and extraordinary eyewitness accounts of the diggers in the muddy and bloody trenches, Western Front Diaries reproduces their private diaries, letters and postcards to tell of their heart-rending experiences, battle by bloody battle. Written chronologically, this book reveals the little-known Australian achievements on the Western Front.

Pompey Elliott at war : in his own words by Ross McMullin.

The wartime letters and diaries of Pompey Elliott, Australia's most famous fighting general, are exceptionally forthright. They are also remarkably illuminating about his volatile emotions. Pompey not only wrote frankly about what happened to him and the men he was commanding; he was also frank about what he felt about both.

Postcards

[Australian postcards, World War I]H99.166/165

Postcards were enormously popular during World War I. Millions were sent to and from those at war and those at home. They often carried sentimental or patriotic messages, being designed to promote patriotism and encourage enlistment.

The State Library holds nearly 300 World War I postcards in the Shirley Jones collection of military postcards.

They have been digitised, so you can view them online. Many include messages from soldiers, like this one below:

[Australian postcards, World War I]; H99.166/159A

Diary of a gold miner

Diary of a miner working on the Ballarat goldfields, 1855 Jul. 8 - 1856 Jan. 1. This work is in copyright; MS 13681 

You can read more about this manuscript in our blog, Tiger in the goldfields, and also in an article from the 100th edition of the La Trobe journal. 

Soldiers writing letters home

[Men sitting at a table writing letters using fountain pens, ink well in centre of the table, two soldiers standing behind them]. From the Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs; H99.201/473               

Jerilderie letter


"I have been wronged and my mother and four or five men lagged innocent and is my brothers and sisters and my mother not to be pitied also who has no alternative only to put up with the brutal and cowardly conduct off a parcel of big ugly fat-necked wombat headed big bellied magpie legged narrow hipped splaw-footed sons of Irish Bailiffs or english landlords which is better known as Officers of Justice or Victorian Police who some call honest gentlemen."

(Ned Kelly, the Jerilderie letter)

Diary by Ah Sing Jong

Diary by Ah Sing Jong. This work is in copyright; MS 12994               

Oral histories

From the mid-1970s, author and Manuscripts Field Officer Patsy Adam-Smith began taping a series of oral history interviews for the Library.  She completed some 300 interviews with World War I veterans, as well as interviews pertaining to the shearing industry and railways, migrants to Australia and the role of women who had served with the Australian armed forces.

Patsy Adam-Smith's oral history interviews are now held in digital form in the Manuscripts collection. If you would like to listen to them, please phone Heritage staff in the Cowen Gallery on: 8664 7009 to place a request, or submit an Ask a librarian form.