Collecting Rare Books and First Editions - Melbourne, New South Wales, before 1850 - Articles about rare books, antiquarian books, manuscripts,...

September 13, 2013 – 14:10
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Association: The Australian and New Zealand Association of Antiquarian Booksellers - Bookseller: Peter Arnold Pty. Ltd.

From 23th to 26 November, 2010, the Australian and New Zealand Association of Antiquarian Booksellers invites dealers and collectors to Melbourne to enjoy the 37th ANZAAB Australian Antiquarian Book Fair. 36 of Australia’s leading booksellers will showcase fine, rare and collectable books – a brilliant chance to explore new fields of collecting.

Melbourne, New South Wales: the literature on Melbourne and the Port Phillip District published before Separation in 1850

By Peter Arnold

Melbourne in 1850, on the eve of the gold discoveries of the following years, was already a thriving port with a settler population of more than 20, 000. There is a considerable contemporary literature on the subject; but, for the collector, it seems much smaller in total because all of the local publications are rare.

Fortunately we have an excellent guide in C.P. Billot’s Melbourne, an annotated bibliography to 1850, published in 1970. Billot includes all contemporary books, pamphlets, periodicals and newspapers published in Melbourne; as well as other publications of the time, except newspapers, that deal ‘at any reasonable length’ with Melbourne and environs; all books by early residents of Melbourne, wherever published; Parliamentary Papers and other official printings; the numerous printed documents of the Port Phillip Association, formed in Van Diemen’s Land in 1835; and colonial maps of the region.

This brief notice is confined to the books and pamphlets of the period that are wholly or largely concerned with Melbourne and the Port Phillip District. The earliest of the local publications is the newspaperman George Arden’s Latest information with regard to Australia Felix, 1840, which is the first book printed in Melbourne and a celebrated rarity. A Sydney directory of 1839 was the first to include Port Phillip residents, but the first local equivalent was Kerr’s Melbourne Almanac and Port Phillip Directory, which reached a second edition in the following year. These are substantial books, good copies of which can still occasionally be had for $3, 000-5, 000. An abbreviated third edition, of 1843, is however, very rare, as are all the subsequent early directories – of 1845, 1847 (two) and 1849.

Three pamphlets on the Aborigines of Port Phillip were issued in 1845 and 1846, by James Dredge, William Hull and William Westgarth; and in 1845 the only political treatise of any substance published in Melbourne during the period, Gideon Lang’s Land and labour in Australia. Of the very few separately published literary works, the most notable is Thomas McCombie’s Australian sketches, lightly fictionalized descriptive sketches, which appeared in 1847.


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