[VICTORIA PUBLIC] LIBRARY
HISTORY OF THE INSTITUTION.
To find the beginning of the movement from which was evolved the grand design of a national public library and museum it is necessary to go back to the time, more than 10 years ago, when the people of the colony and the Government of the day were considering what would be a fitting permanent memorial of the Queen's Jubilee. Those were the days when a small and transient boom had stirred the feeble pulse of the colony. The revenue had increased in a degree which was, in 1886 and 1887, marvellous, and though the promise was not sustained — for the succeeding years were some of the most dismal in the history of the colony — for the time the Government was affluent, in fact and in prospect. The days of responsible government had not yet come, and the ideas of the Government in determin- ing how to celebrate the jubilee, natur- ally, therefore, to some extent centred round London. The Imperial Institute had been decided upon, and the authorities of that Institute were appealing for funds to
colonists. The Western Australian Govern- ment, though the colony had a popu- lation of not more than 35,000, de- cided to devote £5,000 to the cele- bration of the Jubilee, and of this sum it was decided that £2,000 should be devoted to the Imperial Institute, while the remaining £3,000 should be used to fund a "Victoria Jubilee Institute" in Perth. The distribution of the funds was at all events possessed of one saving feature — the larger half of the money was retained for the local institution. On the
whole, considering the population of the colony and the amounts voted by the
other and richer colonies of the group, Western Australia had been liberal in-
When the Legislative Council met on June 16, 1887, the preparations for the establishment of the library had been made. A committee appointed by the Gevernor, Sir Frederick Broome, during the recess had prepared a report in which the distribution of the £5,000 on the basis described was advised. In his address to the House the Governor stated these facts, and announced that the foundation stone
of the library would be laid on Jubilee
Day. It was laid accordingly by the Governor on June 21, 1887, on the block of ground next the Perth Boys' School, which was the site selected out of three men- tioned by the committee, and there it remained until it was lately removed and given a place in the walls of the building now in course of erection in James-street.
A Bill dealing with the institu- tion was introduced in the Council by Mr. C. N. Warton, then Attorney- General in December, 1887. The Bill
provided for the establishment and main- tenance of the institution, and arranged for the appointment of trustees and a board of management. The trustees, it was set forth, were to be appointed by the
Governor. The House altered the term to "Governor-in-Council," although it was
pointed out that in practice the former meant the latter. The Bill was passed by the House, but was vetoed by the Governor. It is a curious fact that a search for this historic bill proves wholly unavailing. The archives of the colony do not contain a copy nor is there one in the possession
of either the clerk of the old Legis- lative Council, nor the Government Printer, nor the authorities of the Colonial Secretary's department. Mr.
J. C. H. James, who was once a member of the committee subsequently formed in connection with the library, dis-
covered a copy which for a few brief moments was shown to some of the members of the committee, but it too dis- appeared, and nothing has been seen of it
The Governor, however, on his rejec- tion of the measure set to work without an Act of Parliament. He appointed a committee by a minute dated May 11th, 1883, to take over and apply the vote. The committee consisted of the following — Sir Malcolm Fraser, Chairman, Mr. Sept. Burt, Mr. F. J. Hick- ling, manager of the National Bank, Perth, Mr. J. W. Hackett, and Mr. M. F. A. Canning. The committee held its first meeting on May 21st of the same year, at which Mr. Canning was appointed hon. secretary. At the next meeting, five days later, Messrs. Hackett, Hickling and Canning were appointed a sub-committee to prepare a list of books to be purchased in England as a first in- stalment towards the stock of the library. The vote of £3,000 which was still avail- able had only been depreciated to the extent of about £100 by expenses incurred in laying the foundation stone of the in- stitute. The foundation stone remained a monument to the intentions of the parents of the institute, but it had been decided to purchase books instead of bricks and mortar, and in the Governor's minute establishing the committee it was stated that the old premises of the West Aus- tralian Bank, in St. George's-terrace, which still [housed] the library, had been leased for the purpose. It was here that the committee held its meetings.
The institution received several small
donations, but the library could scarcely be said to have had any existence until the first shipment of books arrived in the end of 1888. These consisted of 938 volumes, which had been selected by the sub- committee above-named, and which had cost £202 2s.6d. in England. A library clerk had already been appointed, Mr. W. C. Townsend having been successful out of 38 applicants, and the beginning of 1889 may be said to have seen the library positively in existence. It was, in fact, formally
opened on January 26 (Anniversary Day), 1889. Thus was the institution established. Since 1889 it has been maintained by an annual grant of £500, increased in 1892 to £1,100, and in 1896 to £2,500. The com- mittee has undergone several changes apart from that brought about by the inclusion of the national art gallery and museum under the control of the same body, which alteration took place in 1895, and will be presently referred to. In 1890 Sir Malcolm Fraser resigned the chairmanship, on his appointment as Agent-General for the colony, in London, and he was succeeded by Sir James Lee-Steere, who still holds office. The institution has had three librarians.
Mr. B. Porter was appointed in March, 1890, and held office till 1895, when he became blind. He is now an inmate of the Destitute Asylum. He was succeeded by Mr. J. S. Battye, B.A., LL.B., the present librarian. The institute's store of books
has been steadily augmented either by gift or purchase. In August, 1891, the library contained between four and five thousand volumes ; in August, 1894, 5,728 ; in June, 1895, 8,300 ; in June, 1896, 13,033 ; and at the end of last month, 16,199.
The Perth Museum, as now constituted, is an institution of more recent date than
the Victoria Library. The colony has long possessed collections of curios, gathered by public officials and private citizens, which were worthy of being trea-
sured in a museum such as is maintained by every enlightened State. It had been the design of the founders of the "Vic- toria Jubilee Institute" that it should embrace a museum and art gallery as well as the free public library, but circumstances operated against the immediate realisa- tion of the idea. In the meantime, however, a small museum was instituted in connec-
tion with the Geological Department, and the collection which was gathered was placed in a room belonging to the Perth Gaol, from which the prisoners had been transferred to Fremantle. The beginnings of this museum were of a very humble character, and in the Appropriation Act of 1891 the expenses on account of it were provided by a vote of £50, with £100 for the salary of a caretaker. Under the care of the Government Geologist, Mr. H. Page Woodward, and the Curator, Mr B. H. Woodward (now Curator of the Perth Museum), the collection slowly but steadily increased, but as practically no funds were provided, its advance could scarcely be expected to be rapid. The museum had been opened in 1891 by the Governor, Sir William Robinson, as the Geological Museum, and the title was altered in the following year, when the Government purchased the Museum of the Mechanics' Institute. The present gallery was opened by the Administrator, Sir Alexander Onslow, in July, 1895. One of the principal steps towards extending the scope of the "Victoria Jubilee Institute" was taken in 1895, when the committee con- trolling the institute was increased from five to eight members, and was given charge of the museum and art gallery as well as of the Library. The three new members were Sir George Shenton, Dr. Harvey, and Mr. Justice Stone. Since the enlargement of the committee fairly liberal votes have been provided for the maintenance of both sections of the combined institution, and greater progress has therefore been possible. The museum has gained by donations from private citizens and from similar institu- tions in other colonies, and now possesses the nucleus of a fine collection. The prin- cipal collections which it has absorbed are as follows :— The ethnological, biological and botanical specimens purchased from the Mechanics' Institute, the geological collections made by Dr. F. von Sommer, Messrs. Gregory Bros., the late Captain Roe, Mr. H. Y. L. Brown, Mr. E. T. Hardman, Government Geologist of Western Australia, in 1882 and 1883, Mr. H. P. Woodward, Government Geologist, 1867-95, collections accumulated by the Rev. C. G. Nicolay, for the geological museum founded by him at Fremantle and transferred to Perth in 1890, the four special collections of minerals prepared for and exhibited at the Melbourne Exhibition of 1881, Paris, 1878, Colonial and Indian Ex- hibition, London, 1886, and the Mining and Metallurgical Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, London, in 1890, and the collection of native weapons made by the Police De- partment. One of the most striking ex- hibits in the museum is the collection of relics of the wreck of the Dutch vessel, Zeewyck, on the Abrolhos Islands in 1727. The museum is maintained at present by a vote of £4,000 per annum.
The collection of art works is at present not extensive nor noteworthy. It com- prises, amongst others, several works of Eng- lish artists purchased in Tasmania by the chairman of the committee, Sir James Lee- Steere, the funds being provided by a special Parliamentary grant for the pur- pose of acquisition. There is also the Cal- vert collection, comprising a few portraits, which do not flatter the originals, and which are not hung in the company of the purchased works. The gathering of an art collection is a task which must necessarily extend over many years as funds become available and opportunity presents itself, and at present the West Australian Na- tional Art Gallery is an institution of very immature development.
DESCRIPTION OF THE BUILDING.
The building at present in course of
erection at the corner of James and Beau- fort streets is the first portion of a com- plete scheme for a block of buildings intended for the Museum, Library and Art Gallery, which when completed will have a frontage to James, Francis, Beaufort and Museum streets. The basement and ground floor of the portion now being erected will accommodate the Victoria Public Library, whilst the whole of the first floor is set apart for the Museum.
The basement, 12ft. high from floor to ceiling, contains the board room 24ft. 6in x 18ft.; librarian's room, 12ft. x 18ft.; news- paper reading room, 73ft. x 18ft; caretaker's room and the necessary offices for attend- ants, repairing rooms, and a room for files of old papers ; also ladies' and gentlemen's lavatories.
The ground floor is accessible by two flights of Meckering granite steps, 18ft. wide, leading to a vestibule 13ft. x 13ft.
in which are the usual registering turn- stiles, and from which the main reading
room is entered. This room is 180ft. 6in. x 38ft. Right in front of the main entrance to this room is a circular lobby fitted with umbrella stands, etc., etc. On the right and left of the vestibule are the staircases leading to the Museum on the first floor and to the newspaper reading room, etc., in the basement, and also to the spacious piazza, 12ft. 6in. wide, extending along the whole front of the building, on the ground floor. Direct communication between the base-
ment and ground floor is also afforded by an iron circular staircase. The staircases to the first floor and the basement on either side of the vestibule are arranged in pairs so as to serve only for up or down traffic respectively. The height of main reading room from floor to ceiling is 20ft., and the ground, as well as the first floor is constructed of fire-proof materials, sup- ported by strong cased beams of rolled steel.
The room for the Museum, on the first floor, is of corresponding size to the main reading-room on the ground floor, but a portion of the ceiling of this room is raised about 9ft. between the longitudinal beams of the roof, thus showing the construction of principals, which are placed 12ft. 6in. apart, and are decoratively designed, all supported by pilasters finished with curved beams running parallel to a boldly covered ceiling all round the room.
The design of the building is Romanesque and the materials specified for the struc- ture, as regards the elevation, are as fol- lows:— The whole of the work, front foundation to level of ground floor, [will be] carried out in rock-faced uncoursed granite from the Meckering quarries, the balus-
trading, piers, arches, main entrance, cornices, sills, tracery window over main entrance, also label heads and finials, are to be carried out in Rottnest stone, with chiselled face, caps and other ornaments carved to details ; all other walls will be carried out in red brickwork. The roofs of the piazza, as well as the main roof, will be covered with red tiles, and the combi- nation of tints of the various materials
should be of a very pleasing character, and give the whole structure an imposing and picturesque effect.
The section of the building included in
the current contract will comprise about a third of the proposed front, the contract price being £16,133. What will be the total cost of the building has not yet been closely
estimated, but the scheme which is in view will probably involve a total expenditure of about £130,000.