Maps for local history

A guide to using maps to aid your Victorian local history research.

Suburban Melbourne

The following checklist suggests resources to use when researching localities in suburban Melbourne.

1. The Melbourne and suburban map bags. These map bags contain copies of many of the most useful and frequently consulted maps for the city and suburbs. They are available for viewing in the Heritage Collections Reading Room without an appointment.

2. Library catalogue. To find relevant maps in the catalogue, choose Maps from the drop-down menu and then try searching with various keywords relating to your area of interest, such as the names of local suburbs, street names, or the names of local parks, buildings or landmarks. Once you have a list of results, you can refine your results using the options on the left. For example, you can limit by creation date.

3. Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works plans. These maps created by MMBW from 1895 onwards, plot the outlines of features such as buildings, roads, parks and tramlines of the city and suburbs in detail.

4. Auction plans. These posters and flyers were created by real estate agents to promote land sales around Melbourne (and to a lesser extent, across the state). They include maps, which are often quite basic, showing the location of the lots for sale in relation to local amenities.

5. Street directories. There have been several street directories of Melbourne, including Moultons, Morgans, Melways, Gregory's and UBD.

6. Cityscope (suburban). These provide information about commercial properties such as the names of occupants and owners, sales histories, building names, addresses, and dates of construction.  Coverage includes areas in Camberwell, Eastern Melbourne, Richmond and South Yarra.

7. Township, parish or county plans. These show the boundaries of each property in the area. They mark the first owner/lease-holder to take possession of allotments from the Crown, but do not indicate the names of subsequent owners or lease-holders. They also provide more general information about an area.

8. Other resources. Depending on the nature of your research, you might also consider looking at a variety of other resources, such as directories, topographic maps, gazetteers or the historical plans collection.

Melbourne and suburban map bags

The Melbourne and suburban map bags contain photocopies of frequently used maps. Coverage ranges from 1837 to the late 1980s. They are a great place to begin your research because they are available for viewing without an appointment.

There is not a separate bag for every Melbourne locality, but most areas are covered. For example, there is not an Abbotsford bag, but you will find maps that cover the Abbotsford area in the Collingwood bag. Check the index to find the appropriate bag for your research.

The Melbourne and suburban map bags (and their index) are kept in the Heritage Collections Reading Room.

MMBW plans

Beginning in 1895, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) produced several series of maps of Melbourne and her suburbs. The Library holds an extensive collection of MMBW plans.

MMBW detail plans

From 1895 until the mid 1950s, the MMBW surveyed the whole of metropolitan Melbourne. The maps drafted to record the survey findings, at a scale of 40 feet to 1 inch (1:480), are know as the MMBW detail plans. 

The exact level of detail recorded varies during the decades of surveying reflecting varying financial constraints. For this reason, plans from different eras may present slightly different levels of detail.

It is important to be aware that most areas were only surveyed once. This means that if your house was built in the 1920s, but your suburb was surveyed in 1905, there will not be a record of your house in the detail plans.

All of the MMBW detail plans in our collection have been scanned and are available via the online catalogue, but be aware that although we have close to 3,000 plans, we do not hold every plan in the series.

Refer to the research guide on How to read the MMBW 40ft to the inch detail plans for more information.

MMBW 160 feet to 1 inch series

Although these plans are at a larger scale (1:920), and therefore don't generally provide as much information as the detail plans, this series sometimes reveals the construction materials of buildings.

Other MMBW maps series: The State Library holds examples of several other map series drafted by the MMBW. All of the alternate series are at smaller scales than the "detail plans", so they generally provide less detailed information.

Find MMBW plans in the SLV catalogue: To find relevant maps in the online catalogue, select Maps from the drop-down menu to the right of the search box, and combine the keyword "MMBW" with the names of local suburbs or streets. Using the names of two intersecting streets usually works well.

Auction plans

From the late 1800s through to the early 1900s land across Victoria, especially in the vicinity of Melbourne, was rapidly being sub-divided and developed, particularly at the height of the land boom of the 1880s. To promote sales of these sub-divisions, real estate companies produced bold posters and flyers featuring maps of the lots for sale at upcoming auctions. These are what we call "auction plans".

Most of the Library's auction plans were donated by real estate agencies from their own collections. The plans feature suburban areas, (which were typically being developed as Melbourne's train and tram lines were extended), but we do have some auction plans of rural areas. Generally the maps on the auction plans concentrate on a very small area, showing the location of the blocks of land that were to be sold, and highlighting some of the most desirable features of the local area, such as the local shops, train stations and public parks.

Many auction plans are very plain black and white posters, showing only the date and time of a sale, the terms and conditions, and a simple map of the subdivision. Others are highly decorative, featuring colourful illustrations, decorative fonts, cartoons and even verse. Buyers are frequently wooed with the promise of free train tickets and lunch under a marquee.

Be cautious of the information presented on auction plans. They often feature exaggerated claims about the areas for sale, and the maps that illustrate them regularly distort distances to make the lots for sale appear to be closer to valued amenities such as shops or transport (look for any break in the lines - these means that a section of a street has been omitted). Sometimes auction plans even refer to railway stations or tramlines that were never opened.

To find auction plans in our catalogue: Choose Maps from the drop-down menu to the right of the search box, in our online catalogue, and search for auctions victoria as a subject.

For more information, see our website page about auction plans.

Street directories

There have been several street directories of Melbourne including Moulton's (1911-1916), Morgan's (1917-1971), Collins' (1922-1952), UBD (1955- ) and Melway (1966-

You don't need a special appointment to view street directories. Many editions of the Moulton's, Morgan's and Collins' directories can be viewed online. To access printed directories, simply request the items from the catalogue, before 5.30pm, and they will be delivered to the Information Centre for you to use.

The University of Melbourne have digitised a selection of Melway street directories between 1966-1999.

Cityscope (suburban)

Cityscope provides information about commercial properties. Entries vary and are typically quite brief, but information may includes names of owners and occupants, dates of construction and refurbishments, sales histories, valuations, building names and addresses.

Suburban areas covered by Cityscope include Burke Road, Camberwell (from 1989-) Bridge Road, Richmond (from 2007-2014), Richmond (2015- ), Chapel Street and Toorak Road, South Yarra (from 2004-), and Eastern Melbourne (selected properties from the eastern edge of the CBD to Doncaster, Mitcham, Clayton and Mulgrave from 1994-).

Directories

The precursor to today's telephone directories, directories provided listings of addresses of businesses and/or householders.

Well-known Victorian directories included the Sands & McDougall Victorian directories (1912-1974), the Sands & McDougall Melbourne directories (1862-1911) and the Sands & Kenny Melbourne directories (1857-1861).  One in every five Sands & McDougall directories from 1860 to 1940 have been digitised. The University of Melbourne has digitised every year of the Sands & McDougall directories from 1857 to 1880.

There were also many other Victorian directories, most of which have been microfiched and are available in the Library's Genealogy Centre (GMF 98).

Some directories included maps, either as part of the main volume, or as a separate sheet. At the Library, some of these separate sheet maps are held in the Maps Collection. For example, we hold several maps produced by Sands & McDougall.

Morgan's, Moulton's and Collins street directories for 1912-1952 have been digitised and include maps, street name indexes, and advertisements.

A decorative auction plan

Decorative auction plan for Stonyhurst Estate, Auburn

Aerial photography

The University of Melbourne has an extensive collection of historic aerial photographs covering Melbourne and Victoria, many of which have been digitized and are free to download.  See the university's online research guide, Aerial photography resources for Melbourne and Victoria.  Within the guide is an online application that compares Melbourne in 1945 to modern times.  It includes coverage of suburban Melbourne.

Airspy is a collection of photographs taken from aeroplanes. The photographs cover some Victorian suburbs from the 1920s to the 1960s. Search the catalogue using keyword 'airspy' and the suburb you are interested in, for example, airspy essendon.

Additional historic aerial photography is available for public viewing at the Land Use Victoria Aerial Photography Library.

Digitised map collections at the University of Melbourne

The University of Melbourne have digitised a selection of Australian and international maps, including maps of Melbourne and Victoria.

Suburban planning schemes

A planning scheme is a statutory document setting out objectives, policies and provisions for the use, development and protection of land in the area to which it applies. It regulates the use and development of land through planning provisions to achieve those objectives and policies.  Planning schemes include maps that show how the land is zoned and overlays affecting the land.

Current and historical planning scheme records are available online through the Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning website.

The Department have also created an interactive map using data from planning schemes.  The map allows searching by a property address, Melways reference or lot and plan number and the ability to view planning zones and overlays with the facility to customise your view of each planning scheme.

Planning scheme records from 1946-1997 are available at the Public Record Office of Victoria (PROV).

You can find a number of items relating to the suburban planning schemes by searching the Library's online catalogue.  Use the name of the area followed by the words planning scheme for eg. Darebin planning scheme.