Behind the Scenes


Embodying Romanticism - Napoleon Bonaparte, Our Special Collections Romantic Hero

14 November 2019

In anticipation of the forthcoming Embodying Romanticism conference at UNSW Canberra, 21-23 November, we have been delighting in the splendid late 18th and early 19th-century rare book holdings of Special Collections.  Pre-eminent amongst the fine selection is an elegant 10-volume catalogue of 720 artworks, plundered by Napoleon Bonaparte during his conquests of Italy, Spain and the Netherlands, and hung in his Musée Napoleon (the forerunner of the present-day Louvre).  Originally issued in 120 parts between 1804 and 1813, the Galerie du Musée Napoleon contains meticulous reproductions of the paintings by master engraver Antoine Michel Filhol (1759-1812), who curiously shares the same death date (5th May) as the French emperor.

At first sight the set clothed in worn green covers seems unremarkable, like any other commonplace series from the period.  But closer inspection progressively reveals clues to the collection’s distinctive pedigree: the front and back covers are embossed with a gilt eagle, framed at the corners by four golden bees, and the noble design is perfected by a gilded crown impressed at the top of each spine.  It transpires that the stately green binding is that of the Library at the Palace de Tuileries (the principal French royal palace 1814-1830) and the imperial motifs are those of none other than Napoleon I, providing compelling evidence that the books were Napoleon’s personal copies.

This theory is confirmed by notes recording the chain of ownership pasted inside the front covers.  It is recorded that after Napoleon’s death, the remainder of his Tuileries Library was dispersed and this specially bound series passed into the hands of a Parisian bookseller named Colin, one-time printer to the French Revolutionary, Jean-Paul Marat (1743-1793).  The Irish statesman and writer, John Wilson Croker (1780-1857), whose special interest was the French Revolution and Napoleon 1st, made many purchases from Colin, including this set for which he paid £29 ‘and thought that he was rather lucky to get it’. 

After Croker’s death, the books passed to his brother-in-law, Liverpool politician John Bramley-Moore (1800-1886), who in turn gave the set to George Wellesley, grandson of the Duke of Wellington (and in later life resident of Vaucluse, Sydney).  Wellesley gifted the books to the Duntroon Library in 1939-1940, along with several other volumes from Wellington’s own collection, which now take pride of place within the rare book section of Special Collections, UNSW Canberra.  The close Wellington parallels with the volumes are intriguing, as the second owner Croker was the Duke’s best friend and the last person to speak to the Waterloo hero, on the day before he died.

Although there do not appear to any markings in Napoleon’s hand on the volumes, one point of fascination remains.  The worn covers are not of a type that one would normally associate with refined use in a royal library or study, or in the hands of subsequent aristocratic owners.  As well as being a brilliant general, Napoleon is remembered as the best read military commander in history, who employed his own personal librarian to choose books which accompanied him on campaign.  Each new campaign selection comprised several hundred volumes, packed into special travelling trunks and purpose-made portable libraries that opened into bookcases when stood on end.  It is tantalising to speculate that the green leather set now held in Canberra may well have travelled into the field with Napoleon, where the artworks were savoured under candlelight in his battle tent, or in the monotonous waiting periods between contests.

Featured Researcher & Collection - MSS 145 Sir Cecil James East

24 September 2019

Our researchers come from far and wide, and when living overseas they often opt to use our digitisation on-demand facility. However last year we had a visit in person from Professor Ian Beckett an eminent and well known British military historian. Professor Beckett retired from teaching at the University of Kent in 2015 but remains an Honorary Professor in the School of History.  He has held chairs in both the UK and the US, including the Horner Chair in Military Theory at the US Marine Corps University, Quantico, Virginia as well as being Visiting Professor at the US Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. He was also on the academic staff of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst for 15 years. Ian has an international reputation for his work on the First World War and on the history of the British Army. He is a regular speaker on modern and contemporary history on cruise ships having completed 37 voyages and has led battlefield tours to France, Gallipoli and, especially, to South Africa. On this occasion, he hopped on a plane and travelled 17,379 km’s around the world from his home in Penzance, Cornwall to visit us in person. A round the world trip may make you wonder what he came to look at.

For his research about promotion in the British Army for his latest book, he consulted MSS 145 the Papers of Sir Cecil James East a British Army Officer. Sir Cecil East  (10 July 1837 – 14 March 1908) was a British Army officer who became Governor and Commandant of the Royal Military College Sandhurst. Our manuscript collection comprises three journals covering East’s military career from 1854 to 1898. The journals take us around the world from England to Corfu, South Africa, Singapore, India, Italy, Switzerland, Algeria, and Germany before back to Sandhurst. On first glance the journals do not appear to be very interesting, but that all depends on your research perspective. They do not cover in any great detail his involvement in front line actions going on at the time e.g. the Crimean War, the Anglo-Zulu Wars, the Third Burma War and the Indian Mutiny, but instead focus with rather relentless detail on routine military and social activities especially all the dinners he attended. For example, he goes into great detail about a visit to the Maharajah of Mysore in October 1893.  He outlines all his dinner engagements, where they were and with whom he attended and spoke to. After reading all three journals Professor Beckett was able to get a very good idea of how the wheels of promotion may have been greased for Beckett in this context. The hand of East is not very easy to read, and very kindly on our request Professor Beckett kindly wrote a summary of the contents of each journal for us after he had read them, which we have now added to the finding aid to help other researchers explore these items.

Professor Ian Beckett’s latest book:  A British Profession of Arms: The Politics of Command in the Late Victorian Army’ (published by Oklahoma University Press 2018), has been shortlisted for the Templer Medal of the Society for Army Historical Research, awarded annually by the Society for Army Historical Research to the best book on British military history published in the previous year. The Academy Library has purchased it as an e-book.

Welcome to Poet in Residence Angela Gardner

23 September 2019

We welcome the 2019 ACT Writer in Residence, poet Angela Gardner to UNSW Canberra Special Collections. Angela is the award-winning author of seven poetry collections. Her poems have repeatedly featured in the Best Australian Poetry series and are anthologised in numerous prestigious collections. Her honours include a Churchill Fellowship, an Australia Council Literature Residency and the Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize. She is also a practising visual artist and edits the web-based poetry journal Foam:e.

During the month of September Angela is using our Special Collections to find creative inspiration for her topic ‘air’. Being hosted by the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS) at UNSW Canberra Angela will also run a workshop for the ACT Writers Centre, offer a lecture within the EMS first year course and deliver a public lecture to be held at the Academy Library, UNSW Canberra at ADFA on 26 September at 6pm. Book here.

Angela is pictured finding and reading items in our extensive contemporary manuscript collections. She has also referred to rare and unusual books in our collections on a wide range of topics providing her with inspiration for her next creative endeavour.

The ACT Writer in Residence program is a joint initiative of the ACT Writers Centre and UNSW Canberra, with funding support from the Copyright Agency Ltd. 

Rear Admiral’s Pick - Visit of Colonial Premiers & the Houses of Parliament to Portsmouth 1907 - Souvenir Handbook

2 September 2019

This week one of our regular researchers Rear Admiral James Goldrick has kindly written a piece for us about one of his favourite Special Collections items, outlining its significance and context for the development of the Royal Australian Navy. He is reading this item for his research on Australian Naval Leaders for a chapter he is writing in an upcoming book.

Visit of Colonial Premiers and the Houses of Parliament to Portsmouth 1907- Souvenir Handbook. Reference: Special VA459.P67 V84 19097 Barcode 381240

“This beautifully bound and gilded volume was produced by the Royal Navy as a handout for the Dominion and Colonial delegates to the April 1907 Colonial Conference as well as the Members of the Houses of Parliament who visited Portsmouth to see the Royal Navy at work. Amongst their number was Alfred Deakin, who was increasingly concerned about the need to develop effective naval defences for Australia. Imperial defence was a key topic. As part of the conference program, a visit to Portsmouth Naval Dockyard was organised, for which this book was issued. Masterminded by the flamboyant Admiral of the Fleet Sir John ‘Jackie’ Fisher, the First Sea Lord, the Royal Navy’s latest innovations were on show during the day. Many were the direct result of Fisher’s own initiatives and drive. They included the revolutionary all big gun, turbine engine battleship Dreadnought, as well as submarines and destroyers. The high production quality of the booklet indicates the importance Fisher attached to the visit, as well as his own flair for publicity. The delegates witnessed a mock amphibious assault inside Portsmouth Harbour and were taken out in tugs to see submarines and light craft conduct torpedo attacks. They also had the chance to inspect a battleship under construction, as well as submarines and destroyers in dock. Although the Conference itself did not result in a clear way ahead for the Dominions and the development of local naval services – that would have to wait on the 1909 Conference – the visit helped Deakin clarify his thinking on naval technology. Deakin’s efforts eventually resulted in the 1909 order for the destroyers which would become the first new construction units of the Commonwealth of Australia’s naval forces and a foundation capability of the Royal Australian Navy.”

Explanatory significance statement written by James Goldrick, 24 August 2019

Collection Highlights - Naval & Military Exploits that have distinguished the reign of George the Third, 1820

3 September 2019

We are happy to announce that we now have a rotating display of digitised items from our collections, which can be viewed on the Special Collections webpage. This visual enhancement, enabled by our web development team has enabled us to highlight some of our collection items to researchers.

By clicking on an image, you will be able to see it full size and will be provided with interpretative text about the item. We shall gradually be increasing the number of digitised collection highlights available on our webpage. Please contact us if you would like to provide us with significance statements or interpretive text for Special Collection items to be featured here.

Our first item is a wonderful plate of Strachan’s Victory from the Rare Book ‘The naval and military exploits which have distinguished the reign of George the Third, 1820’, by Jehoshaphat Aspin. Jehoshaphat Aspin (d. 1853?) was a cartographer and historian whose works were published by Samuel Leigh and other London publishers in the first half of the 19th century. 

This pocket-sized account of the ‘splendid achievements’ of the reign of George III, contains 33 small hand-coloured aquatints engraved by Scotsman John Heaviside Clark (c. 1771-1863), nicknamed ‘Waterloo Clark’ for the illustrations he made in the field after the famous battle. 

The delightful circular scenes animate some of the principal episodes from George’s rule, creating the impression of viewing the events at distance as if through a telescope.  This illustration portrays the moment of capture of four escaped French ships off the Spanish coast of Ferrol in November 1805 during the Battle of Trafalgar, in a victory commanded by Colonel Richard Strachan for which he was knighted soon after. 

Napoleon & Wellington 250th Anniversary - Open Day Event 

10 August 2019

2019 marks the 250th anniversaries of the birth of two of history’s most famous military figures: Arthur Wellesley (better known as the Duke of Wellington) born on 1st May 1769, and his arch-rival Napoleon Bonaparte, on the 14th August 2019. To honour this UNSW Canberra Special Collections is preparing a special display for the ADFA Open Day on 24 August. Visitors are invited to come along to the John Howard Reading Room in the Academy Library at ADFA to see rare and special items from our collections including Wellington’s autograph, rare books from both Wellington’s and Napoleon’s own personal libraries, and hand-coloured engravings of their last infamous battle won and lost at Waterloo. Get up close and personal with these special treasures and hear the highlight Curators talks by Rose and Susan. 

The black and white engraving entitled ‘The latest portrait of Napoleon’ is from Papers of Lieutenant-General Sir George MacMunn, UNSW Canberra, Special Collections, MSS 21/Box 4/Folder 30.  List of items held in Special Collections on Napoleon and Wellington.

RAAF History & Heritage Publishing Symposium

10-11 July 2019

We welcome 200 historians to the RAAF History and Heritage Symposium being held on campus today and tomorrow. View our display of manuscripts, rare books and photographs on the RAAF in the Special Collections John Howard Reading Room and listen to our presentation by Susan Thomas, Assistant Curator on tips for using our Special Collections.

Special Collections prepare for Admirals & Naval Leaders - King-Hall Seminar

6 June 2019

We are looking forward to the 2019 King-Hall seminar on June 12! On this occasion, the John Howard Reading Room will host a display of items about the Australian Navy from our rare books, manuscripts and posters collections.  The seminar this year focuses on themes that are emerging as our Navy Admirals led by Rear Admiral James Goldrick progress on a collective study of the Chiefs of the Australian Naval Staff from Federation until 1997. The project, which aims to produce a book, is seeking to understand the problems and challenges that each admiral faced in the past, as well as the vision they had for the future of the Service that they led and the priorities they set to achieve their goals. It is aiming to understand the strategic, political, financial, social and bureaucratic contexts in which they operated and how they navigated and overcame opposition or misunderstanding – or did not.

Australia’s National Anthem

4 June 2019

There has been some discussion recently about the National Anthem and how to make it inclusive of First Peoples. It's interesting to look back on the history of the National Anthem. In the recently acquired UNSW Howard Library collection there is a Result Slip from the electorate of Bennelong when they were voting in a national plebiscite to choose Australia's national song in 1977. 

The four options were: Waltzing Matilda; the then current anthem, God Save the Queen; the now current anthem, Advance Australia Fair; and Song of Australia. Advance Australia Fair won by quite a large margin, followed by Waltzing Matilda. 

Professional Development Day 

31 May 2019

Yesterday the special collections Team took time out to share their specialist skills with each other. Our internal training day covered a wide range of archival and curatorial topics and we all learnt new things from each other. 

Firstly Gwenn gave a demonstration of the new digital scanner that has been purchased for researchers to use in the John Howard Reading Room. It is easy to use with a touch screen and automatic recognition of books and manuscripts. Next Annette provided advice to the team about types of display showcases and ergonomics when using them, to help create specifications for showcases. We will soon be ordering some showcases for displaying collection items in the John Howard Reading Room. Annette also displayed her newly learnt archival box making technique. 

Susan ran a session on arrangement and description of manuscript collections, to help when processing manuscript collections. She emphasised the importance of retaining original order and context and undertaking an initial survey of all the boxes before making any decisions on how to tackle the processing and archival housing of the items. 

Rose gave a session on mould prevention, awareness and training, with a practical component using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) on what to do if you encounter mould on donations or collection items. 

Lastly we all had a group discussion and refresher on the creation and use of Finding Aids for manuscript collections, and continual improvement of our client Enquiry procedures with a focus on excellence in customer service. 

Photo left to right of Special Collections team: Susan Thomas - Assistant Curator, Rose Holley - Curator, Gwenn Minois - Archivist, Annette Carter - Exhibitions Officer.

Curator’s pick – Establishment of His Majesties Land Forces March 1775

20 May 2019

I love this important “little red book” from our collection. It has a delightful cover gold embossed with a royal crown and flowers and such beautiful neat handwriting inside fit for a king. The establishment of his majesties land forces records the number, location and cost of British Land Forces and Garrisons throughout the world in March 1775. The item was written for King George III, who reigned for 60 years. During his reign there were many military conflicts involving his kingdoms (England, Ireland, Hannover), much of the rest of Europe, and places farther afield in Africa, the Americas, and Asia. Early in his reign, Great Britain defeated France in the Seven Years' War, becoming the dominant European power in North America and India. However, many of Britain's American colonies were lost in the American War of Independence. Further wars against revolutionary and Napoleonic France from 1793 concluded in the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. King George therefore had great interest in how much his defence forces around the world were costing him and this record sums it up concisely.

The daily and annual payments to all ranks from brigadiers to privates are listed, as well as a detailed record of the number of officers and enlisted men in each location. It enabled King George III to know exactly how much the army was costing him in 1775 to try and retain the ‘colonies’ (America) and France. There is a detailed record of the number of officers and enlisted men in:

  • The First and Second Troops of Horse Guards, The First Troop of Grenadier Guards, The Royal Regiment of Horse Guards, The 1st (or the King's) Regiment of Dragoon Guards, The 2nd (or the Queen's) Regiment of Dragoon Guards, The 17th Regiment of (or Light) Dragoons, 1st Regiment of Foot Guards, 2nd (or Coldstream) Regiment of Foot Guards, 1st Battalion of 1st (or Royal) Regiment of Foot, 2nd Battalion of the 1st (or Royal) Regiment of Foot, 7th Regiment of Foot (or Royal Fusiliers), 21st Regiment of Foot (or Royal North British Fusiliers), 29th Regiment of Foot, 41st Regiment of Foot (or Invalids), 60th Regiment of Foot (or Royal Americans), indicating the number of Companies, Battalions etc.
  • Also included are the numbers in various parts of the world including A Corps of Foot in Africa and 26 Independent Companies of Invalids. The disposition of the Forces on the British Service in Great Britain, Gibraltar, Minorca, West Indies, North Africa, North America; 'Particulars of pay of General and Staff Officers in Great Britain'; 'Charge of the Garrisons in Great Britain' in alphabetical order; 'Regulation of Fire and Candle for the several Guards and Barracks in the Garrisons in Great Britain'; details of pay for 'General and Staff Officers and officers attending the forces in North America', 'Garrisons in North America & the West Indies'; 'Charge of the Garrisons of Gibraltar and Minorca'; 'Additional staff and other officers in North America'. The 9 page section on 'Forces on the Irish Establishment' provides details on the 1st Regiment of Horse, 5th (or Royal Irish) Regiment of Dragoons, 8th Regiment of Dragoons, 17th Regiment of (or Light) Dragoons, 1st (or Royal) Regiment of Foot - 1st Battalion and 'Abstract of the forces on the Irish Establishment'.

In the latter part of his reign George III had recurrent, and eventually permanent, mental illness. Although it has since been suggested that he had bipolar disorder or the blood disease porphyria, the cause of his illness remains unknown. After a final relapse in 1810, a regency was established. George III's eldest son, George, Prince of Wales, ruled as Prince Regent until his father's death in 1820, when he succeeded as George IV. Portrait of King George III (1765?) is held at the Art Gallery of South Australia. Image courtesy of the Google Cultural Institute.

Collaborative Digitisation Project: Journal of the Royal Military College (RMC)

16 April 2019

We are working on a collaborative project led by Richard Lamb (Duntroon class of 1966), with the National Library of Australia to digitise the Journal of the Royal Military College, 1913-1973. The project makes the journal freely accessible and full text searchable for researchers. The first 5 years are now available via Trove with digitisation ongoing and completion expected by October 2019.

Richard Lamb initiated the project, organised the fundraising, and liaised with the National Library, Special Collections, and the Australian War Memorial Research Centre. This project was funded by 120 RMC graduates from Classes 1966, 1967 and 1968 (including ex-Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove) who contributed $6,350 for the digitisation of all 53 journals. Special Collections have provided most of the journals, undertaken digitisation assessment and provided copyright clearance and other advice over the last 6 months. The Australian War Memorial Research Centre have also contributed journals with the National Library undertaking the digitisation and making the digitised journal accessible in Trove.

The journals are a remarkable record of the first few decades of the RMC life and the digitisation project has brought together a complete set online which are now available for researchers not only of military history but also for family and social historians. They provide a record of very early Canberra by bringing to life the world of Duntroon cadets in another era. The journals show the significant social and economic linkages between the College, both cadets and staff, and the 1,700 or so people of the Limestone Plains stations and villages. Even by the end of WW2 the region’s population was only 13,000. The establishment of the RMC in 1911 was the new Commonwealth’s first major capital expenditure in the federal capital region, contained its earliest houses, and pre-dated Walter Burley Griffin’s winning capital design for Canberra. Read more about the fascinating history and contents of the Journal of the Royal Military College in an article by Richard (R.J.) Lamb: ‘Digitisation of RMC Journals’ in the April 2019 edition of the Duntroon Society Newsletter vol 1/2019 ISSN 2207-0400

Cover of first edition Journal RMC 1913 with picture inside of Brigadier General W.T. Bridges first Commandant of Duntroon.

Canberra Day: The First Book Published in Canberra

10 March 2019

Happy Canberra Day! We love Canberra and everything about it. Our exciting news today is that we have just found what we believe to be the first book published in Canberra: Frederick Walter Robinson’s Canberra’s first hundred years (Sydney: W.C. Penfold & Co, 1924), which was also Robinson’s first published work.

As well as being a much-admired teacher and man of letters (affectionately known as Doc Robbie), Robinson had a special interest in the history of the Canberra, kindled when he first moved to the region to join the staff of RMC in 1913.  The book itself is not exceptionally rare (approximately 10 other libraries in Australia hold the first edition), but our copy is special because it is Robinson’s own copy and he has also annotated the title page with some interesting information about its publication history. Robinson notes that whilst the book was printed in Sydney, it was actually ‘published’ in Canberra, in the sense that printing of the publication was initiated and paid for by the Canberra publisher (the Clergy of St John’s, Reid), and the work was first issued/distributed publicly ‘via the Church Door’, RMC canteen and Hotel Canberra bookstall in April 1924. Sydney we believe was the place of printing (as it appears that there were no printing presses in Canberra in April 1924), and Canberra the actual place of publication (where it was first publicly issued/distributed).

National Handwriting Day

23 January 2019

Today is #NationalHandwritingDay! Our Special Collections holds a great number of records, including this handwritten poem from 1895 by Dame Mary Gilmore, contained in MSS 62 the Papers of Dame Mary Gilmore manuscript collection.

Opening Access to Manuscript Collections

3 January 2019

Since mid-September 2018, two specially engaged Project Archivists, Paul Dalgleish and Brenton Clifford have made accessible 37 new literary manuscript collections. The completion of the four-month project funded by a UNSW Research Infrastructure Grant has opened access to a rich resource of original material including papers, posters and audio-visual materials. 

These include the papers of the notable poet Dorothy Porter and playwright Dorothy Hewett, prominent writer and literary critic Barry Oakley (former literary editor of The Australian), writer and poet Jenny Boult (also known as Magenta Bliss), broadcaster John Croyston (co-producer of ABC Radio’s The Poet’s Tongue), female multicultural poet Vasso Kalamaras, singer-songwriter Neil Murray (co-founder of Warrumpi Band), lesbian and gay-genre writers Margaret Bradstock and Louise Wakeling, poet and sculptor Richard Tipping, together with the records of the respected poetry journal, Island Magazine.  Also included are Barry Andrews, Sandra Burchill, Larry Buttrose, Michael Dugan, Robert Habost, Rory Harris, Myron Lysenko, Fiona McHugh, Selwyn Pritchard, Keith Richards, Andrew Sant, Adam Shoemaker, Gerry Turcotte and Elizabeth Von Leven.

As a group the collections capture a snapshot of an interconnected generation of Australian writers, poets, dramatists, publishers, broadcasters, academics and literary critics who were active in the 1970s through to the 1990s, from grass roots level through to national prominence.  The rich web of correspondence, literary drafts, diaries, notebooks and associated papers, contain a seam of unresearched primary source material beckoning to be mined by scholars. Explore these collections by browsing our Finding Aids portal. 


John Howard Library Opens

5 December 2018

It was a busy day yesterday and the accumulation of 2 years of hard work. The UNSW Canberra Howard Library was officially opened in its historic location inside Old Parliament House (now the Museum of Australian Democracy). The current Prime Minister Scott Morrison did the honours in front of a large crowd and in attendance were the Honourable John Howard (Prime Minister 1996-2007) and his family, UNSW Canberra Rector Michael Frater, Director of the Library Professor Tom Frame, and the Special Collections Team: Annette Carter, Exhibitions Co-ordinator; Susan Thomas, Assistant Curator; and Rose Holley, Curator. The personal collection of John Howard comprising objects and manuscripts will complement the National Archives Commonwealth Collection of John Howard, also held by UNSW Canberra Special Collections. The galleries are now open to the public. Pictures: A large crowd awaits the arrival of John Howard in the Great Hall; Annette Carter talks about her favourite collection item as Michael Frater, John and Janette Howard and Tom Frame look on; Rose Holley and Susan Thomas chat to John Howard; acknowledgements to those who enabled the opening of the Prime Ministerial Library.

Acquisition of the Peter Hastings Collection

15 October 2018

The papers of the well-known journalist Peter Hastings (MSS 374) are now available for access by researchers. His widow Jolika Hastings recently donated the collection to UNSW Canberra. An Australian journalist specialising in reporting from South East Asia and the Pacific, Peter Hastings was editor of the Bulletin (1962-64) and foreign affairs writer for the Australian (1966-70) and the Sydney Morning Herald (1970-74, 1976-90). The collection spans his reporting, research and political interests from 1950 to 1990 and includes photographs recording his work and travels. Of particular note are records and reporting on Australia’s political relations with Papua New Guinea, including correspondence with then Governor General Sir John Kerr, and Australia’s relations with East Timor including a visit to the country with Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1982. The 20 boxes contain rich and interesting content for researchers and complement the collection of journalist Michael Richardson MSS 190.

Official Opening of New Repository

3 May 2018

Yesterday we had the official opening of our new repository. Francesca Beddie performed the honours, gave a speech and cut the ribbon. Rose Holley gave a vote of thanks to the people involved. A large crowd watched and then had a walk through the new facility. Watch the news clip.

Anzac Centenary Project - WW1 Diaries Digitised

25 April 2018 

There have been many special projects over the last 4 years and billions of dollars spent to commemorate 100 years since the start and end of the Anzac involvement in the First World War. The project that Special Collections undertook in 2014 was the digitisation of our World War 1 diaries.

In partnership with the State Library of New South Wales, UNSW Canberra Special Collections digitised World War 1 diaries held in our manuscript collections. These are accessible online to researchers hosted through the State Library of New South Wales catalogue. The State Library’s extensive World War 1 Diary Digitisation Program includes a collection comprising approximately 2000 diaries from the State Library of New South Wales.

Our collection has 13 significant diaries belonging to 6 different individuals from 5 manuscript collections. These tiny diaries were designed to fit into a small pocket to record social appointments and usually came with a stub pencil. Soldiers ended up recording the most significant experiences of their lives in them, often writing words from their last days in the trenches. Some of the most significant diaries we have are those of Colonel Alfred Hobart Sturdee, a doctor on a hospital ship and his son, Captain Vernon Ashton Hobart Sturdee.

Their diaries record that they both arrived in Gallipoli on separate ships a few days before the landing on 25 April 1915. Remarkably they both survived and also remained until the final evacuation, except for a brief period when they were evacuated due to serious illness. They were able to meet up and visit each other during their time in Gallipoli, mentioned in their respective diaries.

Sadly some of the other men were not so fortunate and the harrowing last entry of General Arthur Fulton reads 5 August 1916 “Arrived in trench 7 pm. Rotten night. Shelled like hell all night with H.E. Only 2 men killed, fortunately. Absolute Hell.”  Arthur died the next day in France. 

George Hugh Morrison also died in Belgium, aged only 21, and only a year after his older brother aged 26 died in France. The relative who donated Morrison’s diary to us  “I am donating this to you so that all cadets in training should become aware of the full horrors of war. I hope his diary is of some use in educating them first-hand”. 

Find out more about these diarists in our WWI Diaries Research Guide:

  • William Hilton Saunders who enlisted at the Coo-ee march in Wongarbon 1915.
  • Sir General Vernon Ashton and his father Colonel Alfred Hobart Sturdee who landed at Gallipoli together 25 April 1915 and were there until the evacuation and both survived the war.
  • George Hugh Morrison who died on the western front in Belgium in 1917 age 21 (a year after his older brother age 26 died in France).
  • Major Arthur Leeman Fulton who died in France 7 August 1916.
  • Willie Neville Majoribanks Chester. 

The Strategic Rebuilding & Repositioning of Special Collections UNSW Canberra 2014-2018

13 April 2018

The 30-minute presentation given by Rose Holley, Special Collections Curator at the VALA Conference in Melbourne this year is now available to watch. Hear about the projects undertaken over the last four years and the strategy ahead. 

Re-discovering the photographs of Timor’s Declaration of Independence on 28 November 1975

4 April 2018

Prompted by an enquiry from John Waddingham the co-ordinator of the Clearing House for Archival Records on Timor (CHART) Project we took a closer look at the manuscript collection of Michael Richardson MS 190.

Michael Richardson, South-East Asia correspondent for The Age newspaper (Melbourne), visited Portuguese East Timor and Indonesia several times in 1974-75. From both sides of the Indonesian border in late September 1975 he reported the last days of the civil war, seeing retreating UDT leaders move into Indonesian West Timor. In November/December, he reported and photographed pre-invasion Indonesian military operations in Timor and also Fretilin’s unilateral declaration of independence on 28 November 1975.  To our excitement we discovered prints from 4 rolls of film, not before seen.  We have now digitised these and made them available for researchers.  In conjunction with the CHART website that John Waddingham co-ordinates we are appealing for help in identifying the people and places in the photographs. Read more about the discovery and how you can help identifying the images from John’s blog.

Photo: Fretilin’s unilateral declaration of independence, Dili, 28 November 1975. Photographer: Michael Richardson/The Age.

UNSW Canberra 50th Anniversary Digitisation Project 

3 April 2018

The UNSW Canberra 50th anniversary digitisation project was completed today after 12 months of work. The project was a joint collaboration between UNSW Sydney Library, UNSW Canberra Special Collections and UNSW Records and Archives, Sydney.

The result of the project is that a complete virtual set of 50 years of high use UNSW Canberra historical publications are now digitally available and easily accessible. These comprise the UNSW Canberra/ADFA Degree Conferral Booklets (Graduation Ceremonies) and UNSW Canberra/ADFA Handbooks from 1968-2017.

They can be accessed here through the Special Collections Finding Aid pages.

New Repository is Completed!

15 March 2018

We are so excited that our new repository has finished being built.  It gives us more space on site. It was a big project for us, firstly moving the staff out of the office space, then moving our collections off site, demolishing office walls, laying down tracks, building a false floor, installing compactus, and adding environmental control. With many thanks to our shelving design consultant Ross Stewart of Dinkum Business. His experience, professionalism and an eye for detail were unsurpassed and helped us kick off the project. Our shelving was manufactured and supplied by APC and their project manager Gary Wren was outstanding at listening to our needs and giving us a perfect solution. John Barry's team of Shelvmaster did the install to their usual high standard. Read more about it.

Associate Dean (Special Collections) Appointed

28 February 2018

From Professor Michael Frater, UNSW Canberra Rector

To support the ongoing development and expansion of Special Collections the new position of Associate Dean (Special Collections) has been created. I’d like to congratulate Professor Nicole Moore who has been appointed to this role. She will provide strategic oversight to the continued growth and management of the collection, whilst driving philanthropic activities to support further development and expansion. Nicole brings a wealth of experience to the role from her research interests in Australian Literature, including her current ARC Future Fellowship working on a biography of the Australian feminist poet Dorothy Hewett. The special collections in the UNSW Canberra Library are of national significance. Nicole will take the lead in their ongoing development for a five-year term.

Special Collections Curator, Rose Holley is Honoured with Award

13 February 2018

From Professor Michael Frater, UNSW Canberra Rector

I’d like to congratulate Special Collections Curator Rose Holley who was awarded the prestigious Robert D. Williamson Award at the recent VALA digital technologies in libraries conference.
Rose was judged by her peers to have shown leadership, excellence, curiosity and innovation by championing the development of IT and digital technologies in libraries, including implementing the award-winning Trove discovery service for the National Library of Australia, prior to her role facilitating access to the Special Collections here at UNSW Canberra. Rose Holley received the award from Robert Williamson’s 97 year old widow, Enid Williamson. Watch the presentation.