State Library Victoria - history

How to research the history, development, architecture, collections and management of the State Library of Victoria.


The institutions now known as Museum Victoria, the National Gallery of Victoria and Public Record Office Victoria have all shared the site at 328 Swanston Street at various times. In 1869 the Library Museums and National Gallery Act 1869 (no. 357) incorporated the Library with the Museums and the National Gallery. In 1944 the Public Library, National Gallery and Museums Act 1944 (no. 5053) severed the administrative connection with the Museums and the National Gallery. They became three separate institutions, located on the one site. The Library gradually became known as the Public Library.

Museum Victoria

Natural History Museum

After the government allocated £2,000 for the establishment of a natural history museum in 1854, colonial naturalist William Blandowski was put in charge of a small zoological collection in the Crown Lands Office.

In 1856 Sir Frederick McCoy transferred the collection to the University where it remained until 1899. In 1869 the Museum was brought under the control of the Trustees of the Public Library, Museums and National Gallery of Victoria.

New buildings for the National Museum on the Russell Street frontage were opened in 1906. They included what became known as the Baldwin Spencer Hall.

Industrial & Technological Museum

The Industrial and Technological Museum opened in September 1870.  Industrial chemist James Cosmo Newbery was appointed Scientific Superintendent. Items were collected from the former Geological Survey, the Intercolonial Exhibition and the National Museum (then still at the University)

GHF Ulrich was appointed Lecturer in Mineralogy and Mining, and Curator of the Mineral Collection. Lectures in chemistry, metallurgy, geology, physiology, astronomy and telegraphy were held in the Rotunda, and laboratories were established in the old police sheds.  (See Edquist pp. 97-102).

On 13 July 1997 the Museum of Victoria closed its Swanston Street site to prepare for its relocation. On 21 October  2000, the new Melbourne Museum was officially opened by Premier Steve Bracks, beside the historic Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens.

Image of glass display cases in the Technological Museum

Industrial and Technological Museum  H3935

Plan showing technological museum

Barnes, F. J., & Reed, J. (1874). Public Library Museums and National Galleries of Victoria. Block Plan of Grounds and Building [Shed marked FG location of museum laboratories] H4678

Museum sources

 Pescott, R T M, 1954, Collections of a century: the history of the first hundred years of the National Museum of Victoria, National Museum of Victoria 

 Centennial history of the National Museum. Includes list of Museum staff.

 Pescott, R T M,  1949, Report of the Director, National Museum of Victoria, on his visit abroad during June to December, 1948 : together with recommendations for the future development of the National Museum of Victoria while it occupies its present site, National Museum of Victoria

 Covers the Industrial and Technological Museum 1870-1945, Museum of Applied Science 1945-1961 and the Institute of Applied Science of Victoria 1961-1970.

National Gallery of Victoria (NGV)

The Gallery was established in 1859 when Parliament voted for £2000 to be used for the purchase of plaster casts of sculpture. The first objects purchased were displayed in the gallery which opened in the lower floor of the south wing of the Swanston Street section of the Public Library on 24 May 1861.

The McArthur Gallery, completed in 1874 and opened on 24 May 1875, was the first gallery purpose built for paintings. The McArthur Gallery is now the Newspaper & Family History Reading Room.

The Buvelot Gallery (later named Swinburne Hall and now Arts Reading Room) and the Painting School studios followed in 1887, and the Stawell (now Cowen) and La Trobe (shortly to open as the Victoria Gallery) in 1892.

The galleries underwent major renovations in 1928

The National Gallery of Victoria relocated to St. Kilda Road in the summer of 1967-1968.

On 16 November 1999 the National Gallery opened an annex location, called 'NGV on Russell", at the State Library while the St Kilda Road gallery was undergoing renovations. It occupied the areas that were later developed as the Magazine Room, Redmond Barry Reading Room, Manuscripts, Pictures and Rare Printed Collections (now the Victoria Gallery, Arts Reading Room, Newspaper and Family History Reading Rooms, Redmond Barry Reading Room, Russell St entrance) . The entrance was from Russell Street. This annex closed on 30 June 2002.

National Gallery School

NGV Art School and studios were on the upper floor of the Swinburne Building which is Southern end of Little Lonsdale, adjacent to the deliveries entry. That building was built in 1887. Prior to that it appears the schools of art and design were in buildings along La Trobe Street (demolished many years ago).
There are interesting references in this book. L. Bernard Hall [electronic resource] : the man the art world forgot / Gwen Rankin. p.41-42 The book indicates that the 'La Trobe Street Building housed Art School classes till 1892 and drawing classes till 1940s'.
See also this map showing the area referred to in that book. The building marked as Grosvenor Gallery (actually the Buvelot Gallery but named Grosvenor for the duration of an exhibition) is where the Art school moved to in 1892.

These are plans to the building that housed the Gallery Art School from 1892. See notes on the catalogue record
and images
Henderson, A. M., Reed, J., & Smart, F. J. (1887). Melbourne Public Library. Proposed additions. South Wing [Buvelot Gallery and Painting School].

Studio Party L Bernard Hall Image of social occasion at Gallery School at State Library Image courtesy of NGV

Bernard Hall The studio party (c. 1926) oil on canvas 147.5 × 117.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1926
Photo: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

This painting depicts a scene from NGV school and L Bernard Hall's studio at State Library. L. Bernard Hall was director of NGV and the Gallery school, taking up his appointment in 1892.

Further reading

Before Felton, this website provides a comprehensive overview of the art collections acquired by the State Library of Victoria and National Gallery of Victoria prior to 1904.

Cox, Leonard B, 1970, The National Gallery of Victoria 1861 to 1968: a search for a collection, National Gallery of Victoria

McVilly, David, 1975, A history of the State Library of Victoria, 1853-1974 [manuscript] pp 22-26. This work includes a potted history of the establishment of the National Gallery of Victoria.

Fennessy, Kathleeen M. For “Love of art”: the museum of art and Picture Gallery at the Melbourne Public Library 1860-70 La Trobe journal #35 Autumn 2005 [Online]

"Victorian times, Victorian influence. [The influence of the National Gallery of Victoria Art School]." Art and Australia, 23(3), pp. 371–375 [Print]

Color on Parade & Daub - student magazines of NGV School at SLV

There is a very good Wikipedia entry for the NGV School

See details of unpublished material on the NGV School held by Melbourne University which includes digitised student rolls for various periods.

This video below gives an overview of the development of all the buildings.

Public Record Office Victoria (PROV)

The Public Record Office was once the Archives Department of the Library, occupying part of the Swanston Street site. The Archives branch was formally established within the Public Library of Victoria in 1955. From 1965 it was housed in the La Trobe Library basements. 

In 1973 the Public Records Act established the Public Record Office as the state's archive authority, independent of the Library Council. The Office moved offsite in 1977. 

PROV sources

Russell, E W, 2003, A matter of record: a history of Public Record Office Victoria, Public Record Office, North Melbourne

National Gallery

First National Gallery Exhibition at Library in newley completed Queen's Hall

The National Picture Gallery at the Public Library, Melbourne  IAN25/01/65/8 The exhibition opened in December 1864 in the recently completed northern wing of Queen's Hall.

Nettleton, C. (1869). [View of gallery from balcony, showing paintings on walls and screens and seating for viewing] [picture].

  Nettleton, C. (1869). View of gallery from balcony, (located in Great Exhibition Hall, removed for Dome building.) H12958

Gallery with chairs in a row facing paintings

McArthur Gallery, National Gallery of Victoria at Library site (now Newspaper & Family History Reading Room) H11787