Past Exhibitions

Check our exhibitions page to find out about our current and forthcoming exhibitions.

Vera Deakin’s : World of Humanity
26 April – 8 August 2018

An RHSV exhibition curated by Carole Woods with assistance from David Thompson, Daisy Searls and Julia Jackson.

The RHSV commemorated the centenary of the First World War in 2014 with an exhibition on the Australian Red Cross. The society concludes its war commemoration in 2018 with an exhibition on Vera Deakin.

Vera, daughter of Alfred Deakin, figured in the early exhibition as secretary of the Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau 1915‒18. The bureau’s case files, placed online by the Australian War Memorial, form a huge, invaluable archive.

Vera’s enquiry work was the forerunner of a lifetime of dedicated leadership of humanitarian causes, including for the Children’s Hospital and a society for the disabled. She played a prominent role in the Australian Red Cross during the Second World War and was twice vice-chairman.

In 1920 Vera married Captain Thomas White DFC, a former military pilot in Mesopotamia. He became an Australian cabinet minister and later high commissioner to London. When he was knighted in 1952, Vera became Lady White.

Mr Roger D. Harley, grandson of Vera Deakin White and Director, Fawkner Capital, opened the exhibition on 26 April at 5 pm.

‘Cabinets of curiosities : A wealth of banking’
29 May – 18 June 2018

The RHSV’s collection once again shows a wealth of material, from an 1870s sample cheque book to a charming 1960s booklet from the Commonwealth Banks directed to the youngest savers, Your money in the bank.

The sample cheque book is a superb and rare item – this specimen cheque book produced by Sands & McDougall is for the National Bank of Australia. The cheque book has a green leather cover with gold border and text. The sample cheques are printed on different coloured pastel pages.

In between we have diatribes like Shall the people or the banks rule?, a pamphlet printing a speech from the Minister for Transport and External Affairs in support of banking legislation made in 1945, and another contribution to the same debate: The private bankers propaganda exposed.

Naturally the RHSV collection includes substantial histories of the banks, samples of a bankers’ journal The Bankers’ magazine of Australasia, 1892.

The Death of the Red Baron and the Melbourne connection
31 March – 28 May 2018

Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, the Red Baron was a fearless fighter pilot and a pioneer of air warfare with the German Air Force during World War I. He flew his last mission when he was shot down and killed on 21 April 1918. Who fired that fatal shot is still the subject of interest and controversy and Australian, Canadian and British servicemen have all claimed the credit.

Dr Simon Smith, Adjunct Professor at the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre, Victoria University, historian and author has written a family history of particular note. One of his great-uncles, Melbourne born Joseph Seccull witnessed the death of the Red Baron and commanded the two Australian Lewis gunners who are believed to have shot him down. Seccull was asked by Captain Charles Bean, WWI historian to provide his eye-witness account. To mark the centenary of his death, these letters, never before exhibited, will add weight to the Australian claim.

Standing on the Corner
12 July 2017 – 30 March 2018
Standing on the Corner illustrated how Melbourne’s corners have been used across 110 years. These are corners of Melbourne as they were – so many of them now lost to us. To provide context for the images, the exhibition included a variety of maps of Melbourne for the period 1850-1960.

‘Cabinets of wonder : Extraordinary Collections of Ephemera’
12 July – 24 August 2016

In this exhibition curated by the Ephemera Society of Australia, private collectors unlocked their cabinets and cupboards to share extraordinary curios and treasures from their personal collections in an exhibition of Australiana. Featuring never before exhibited material, this fascinating exhibition offered an evocative and beautiful snapshot of history, design and culture from 1875 to the present day. More than 40 discrete displays contained collections of historic chocolate bars, dance cards, bubble gum tattoos, scrapbooks, badges, blotters, biscuit tins, menus and sport memorabilia


‘Judging for the People : 175 Years of the Supreme Court of Victoria’
11 April – 3 June 2016
Open to the public from Monday 11 April, the exhibition brought to life stories of judges, vexed relations and the movable feast of buildings that the court has called home over the years. The media’s relationship with the court, the system of sentencing and the evolution of how divorce has been  handled was also in the spotlight.

‘Nail Can to Knighthood: The Life of Sir Macpherson Robertson KBE’
14 July – 18 December 2015
The RHSV is fortunate in having acquired over the years a considerable amount of material relating to Macpherson Robertson. This includes photographs, confectionery packaging, recipe books, company documents, scrapbooks and other ephemera, donated by the Robertson family and by former MacRobertson’s staff. This exhibition gave an account of the life and achievements of this remarkable man, about whom the public knows too little.
RHSV-Lady with MacRobertson Hat

‘Portraits of a Tea Cosy’
7 April – 14 May 2015
Stories of family, tradition and the immeasurable consequence of making and passing on hand made objects were all brought to life in the exhibition Portraits of a Tea Cosy. Created by yarn artist Loani Prior and photographer Mark Crocker, Portraits of a Tea Cosy was a celebration of family, history and cultures. An ode to the taking of tea, the making of friends and the keeping of memories.


‘Postcards: Stories from the Mornington Peninsula’
Monday 2 February – Friday 6 March 2015
The exhibition showcased aspects this region’s unique history through eight postcards from the collections of local history organisations. Each is the vehicle for a local history story. Flinders told of its renowned guesthouses; Sorrento, its ‘back beach tram’; Mornington, its early train transport; Rye, its ‘activities on the foreshore’; Somerville, its apple orchards and industry; Hastings, its fishing industry; Balnarring, its Harley Davidson Club; Dromana, the Arthurs Seat lookout.

The Australian Red Cross in The Great War : An exhibition by the Royal Historical Society of Victoria.
8 August 2014 – 16 January 2015

Face2Face: RHSV Collection into the 1940s
19 March to July 2014
Face2Face concentrated on portraiture in its many forms as revealed in the RHSV’s collection. ‘Full length, knee length, side face, bust, studio, plain air, head and shoulders, “happy snap”; we have aimed to include all styles of presenting the human form – but all our subjects are clothed. The RHSV has collected portraits since its foundation in 1909. The subjects of the earliest accessions were clergymen, physicians, lawyers, merchants and industrialists. Since that time the extent and range of portraiture in the collection has broadened, indicative of a collection based on donations. Five broad themes emerge : traditional ownership, power, social contribution, celebrity and family life. Together these portraits provide glimpses of past life in Victoria over nearly a hundred years.  Exhibitions give the RHSV a chance to show some of our special treasures to members and to the public.



VicRoads Centenary : Spraying the Bitumen
November 2013 – January 2014

Spray bituminous road surfacing – a method of sealing gravel or dirt roads – had a major impact on the history and development of Victoria. The technique was adopted in the 1930s. Spray sealing was particularly important to rural communities, but it was also hugely significant in linking the city with the country through a reliable and safe, sealed network of roads. As a result of the efforts of the Victorian Country Roads Board, Australia became a world leader in the development and practice of bituminous road surfacing. In 2009 VicRoads commissioned an oral history project to record, preserve and document the stories and experiences of former and current staff of the Country Roads Board/VicRoads involved in sprayed surfacing. The project also involved the production of a series of themed ‘podcasts’ or audio documentaries that brought the process and technique of spray sealing to life and gave a sense of what life was like on the road in a spray surfacing ‘gang’.


Archie Cowan – A local history in drawing
October – November 2013
Archie Cowan (1938-2011) was born in Scotland. Much of his work consisted of finely detailed pen and ink drawings although he also worked in other media including oils, acrylics, water colour, pastel, pencil and charcoal. His work now hangs in 30 countries. Mr Cowan was for several years a resident of Yarraville, for which he maintained a great affection. He also assisted in the cultural development of surrounding suburbs and country areas throughout Victoria. He gave private tuition on the basic fundamentals of structure and colour. In September 2012 the estate of the Late Archie Cowan donated to the RHSV many drawings of houses, streetscapes and hotels, beautifully sketched by Archie Cowan. Collectively they create a loving and personal local history of the Yarraville and Moonee Ponds areas. A local history in drawings – this exhibition captures the architecture, street life and mood of these areas by an artist who himself became part of the local character. This exhibition displays a number of the donated drawings which provide a valuable record of many distinctive buildings in Melbourne and Victoria.


The Right Royal exhibition
April – October 2013

The Right Royal exhibition explored the pervasive nature of royal symbolism in the continuing identity of Melbourne and Victoria. From Queen Street and King Street, Duke of Edinburgh Gardens and Alexandra Avenue, to indirect references such as the Melbourne suburbs of Coburg, Brunswick, Windsor and Hampton, royal references abound. So many of our most loved institutions in Victoria, such as the Royal Children’s Hospital, Royal Automobile Club of Victoria and our own RHSV, sought to acquire the royal imprimatur, and still proudly wear the title, wherever the tides of republican sentiment might wash. European settlement of Australia began under the rule of the British Empire and during most of the twentieth century the concept of Empire and loyalty to the monarchy continued to dominate Australian cultural identity. While contested by many, the symbolism of British monarchy remains part of our cultural identity. Apart from the name of Victoria, the name of the long serving monarch, and the capital city Melbourne named after the Queen’s serving Prime Minister in the late 1830s many local institutions, buildings and roads carried the royal image. As talk of a Republic surfaces in public debates it remains important to recognize the influence of Empire on the construction of its cultural framework this exhibition aims to tell the story of the imprint of Empire on the state of Victoria and the part it once played. While it is difficult to understand today for generations of previous Victorians the Empire and monarchy had profound significance, and we are still surrounded by this cultural phenomenon. This exhibition provided insight to the impact of royalty on the society and culture of Melbourne, and our identity.

Fear God and Honour the King: HMAS Melbourne (1) 1913 – 1928
February – April 2013

Presented by the  Military History and Heritage Victoria (MHHV), this major exhibition commemorated the centenary of the arrival of Australia’s first light cruiser, HMAS Melbourne, in Port Phillip Bay on 26 March 1913. The ship took the name and crest of the City of Melbourne and its credo ‘Gather Strength as She Goes’. The Melbourne, a 5,600 ton ship with eight 6-inch guns, served the Royal Australian Navy from its commissioning in England in 1912 until its decommissioning, also in England in 1928. She saw war service in the operations against the German colonies in the SW Pacific in 1914, escorted the 1st AIF fleet from Albany, WA; saw service with the West Indies Squadron in 1915-1916; then served with the North Sea Fleet from 1916-1918. In 1922 the Melbourne was involved in a dramatic rescue of the crew of an American schooner in the Tasman Sea, at the height of a hurricane. The exhibition, which took its name from the scroll donated to the ship by the City of Melbourne in 1913, featured the ship’s original crest, memorabilia, photographs and documents kindly lent by the Australian War Memorial, the Australian National Maritime Museum, Museum Victoria, Monash University, the Museum of HMAS Cerberus, State Library of South Australia and from individual donations. The exhibition examined the ship’s war service as well as the crew who served her. Sponsors of the exhibition included the Port of Melbourne Corporation, Navy Health, the Melbourne Naval Centre and Cooee History and Heritage.


Growing History’s Grass Roots – 1960s in Victoria
November/December 2012
Set within the context of one Victoria’s most significant local histories A History of Brighton; the exhibition charts key moments in the evolution of this discipline from the appointment of Manning Clark at the University of Melbourne, 1946, to teach the nation’s first full year course in Australian history; to the significant conferences held in the 1960s, and the great push to establish frameworks for the growth of sharing knowledge and experience. The 1960s is described as A Creative Decade – a period of prodigious talent and publishing – it was also a period when universities were keen supporters of local history. The exhibition examined the technique of researching and writing A History of Brighton – the move away from “scissors and paste” history – where primary material was quoted without theme or structure – to what Bate describes an “building an iceberg” – identifying sources, asking questions and testing hypotheses. As an exemplar of a local history the exhibition beautifully portrayed the history of Brighton: the RHSV thanks Brighton Historical Society for lending so many of its wonderful exhibits.

Check our exhibitions page to find out about our current and forthcoming exhibitions.