About the Collection

The RHSV Collection is one of Australia’s significant historical collections focusing on the Victorian experience in Australian history. It was established in 1909 with donations from early settlers, their descendants, amateur and professional historians. The collection continues to expand with donations from the public, historical societies and community organisations. This has created a rich and diverse collection covering social, economic, political, and cultural aspects of Victoria’s history. For further information about the materials we collect, see the RHSV Collection Policy, and for a glimpse, see Diaries of Jane Macartney and items of interest in the Collection Lounge.

If you have items which you are interested in donating to the RHSV Collection please click here for more information

Accessing the collections

  • Search the RHSV collection for manuscripts, books, images, ephemera, vertical files and the Pioneer Register
  • If you require assistance with researching any of the collections, you may send us a research enquiry
  • If you want to visit and make use of the collections, please make an appointment. You then use your time productively as we can confirm whether we have the material you need. Call 03 9326 9288 or email office@historyvictoria.org.au
  • Location, hours and what to bring

Small special collections

About the collections:

  • Library collection
  • Manuscript collection
  • Pioneer Register
  • Image collection
  • Exhibitions

Library Collection

The RHSV Library collection is one of the oldest and most important historical collections in the state. As well as books, the collection consists of rare pamphlets, documents, ephemera, newspaper cuttings on a variety of topics in the Vertical Files. The Library also contains journals and newsletters of historical societies, organisations and schools, and published and typescript family histories. Directories in the Collection include Victorian Municipal Directories (incomplete), Sands & MacDougall Directory (1857-1974) and Bradshaw’s Guide.

Manuscript Collection

The society’s collection of manuscripts range from official government documents to personal letters and diaries.

The Manuscript Collection, which exceeds 20,000 items, holds a rich archive of documents, private papers, research articles and memorabilia donated to the Society. Letters from the goldfields, the log-book of the Oliver Lang (Liverpool to Melbourne 1854), and the diary of Rev. Francis Hales (1874), are examples of references which can be used.

Several series of newspaper cutting books, all indexed will attract much interest. Particularly strong in shipping, local history and biographical information, the books supplement published material.

Pioneer Register

The RHSV has collected and maintained a register of early colonists in the state of Victoria which is of great historical value. It contains more than 2200 forms.

In 1909 the Historical Society of Victoria (becoming the Royal Historical Society of Victoria in 1952) was formed by people determined to capture the history of the state of Victoria. This was to be achieved by creating the ‘Register of early colonists who arrived in Victoria before 21st November 1856′, that captured information about early Victorians. Later this register a was broadened to become the ‘Historical Register of Persons Who arrived or were born in Victoria before 1900, and/or their descendants’.

People were invited to fill in the forms of their relatives and associates in order to capture information about individual colonists as well as their familial relationships.

Information requested in the registers included: full name; date and place of birth; name of the parents and their residences; date of arrival in Victoria and name of ship; places of residences in Victoria and with dates; public offices held; literary work, publications, inventions or other work of public benefit; date and place of marriage; name of wife in full, with parents names and place of residence; names of children; portrait if available; signature and relationship of the information provider.

Image Collection

The RHSV’s image collection of over 30,000 objects includes items of national significance, such as a painting by the Aboriginal artist William Barak, an engraving by Tom Roberts, drawings by Jane Cannan and lithographs by Eugene von Guerard, Nicholas Chevalier and S.T. Gill. Apart from original artworks, the Images Collection also includes postcards, maps and parish plans, and items of museum ephemera.

The RHSV holds approximately 2,000 maps that range from rare manuscript maps to parish plans tracing the history of land occupation throughout the State.

The society’s collection of historical photographs dates back to the 1850s and 60s and includes daguerreotypes, albumen prints, silver gelatin prints, glass negatives and glass slides. Major subject areas are portraiture, street scenes – both Melbourne and many Victorian country towns, architectural and occupational.


The RHSV holds regular exhibitions which draw from our collections. For more information check the What’s On page.