History collections at the NSW state cultural institutions

Cultural institution partners

The Sydney Living Museums collection, and its contribution to an understanding of the history of NSW and Australia, is complemented by the collections held by other key NSW collecting and heritage organisations, notably the State Library of NSW and the State Archive and Records Office.

Here we provide a brief summary of those aligned collections, and provide a link to give you access to the rich information held by other public NSW institutions.

The State Library of NSW

The State Library of NSW is one of Australia’s oldest public institutions, with origins going back to 1826. The result of a long tradition of public and private partnership, the modern library is built on the foundation collections of David Scott Mitchell and Sir William Dixson. It is both a research and a reference library, containing extensive and often unique holdings relating to the position of New South Wales and its people in the world. Together, its collections are amongst the most significant assets of the State.

Some of the first European descriptions of Sydney Harbour, its flora and its fauna, as well as significant documentation of the local Eora people and their interactions with the European arrivals may be found at the Library. It  also holds important collections relating to the establishment of the colony — from the visit of Captain Cook in 1770, the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, through to contemporary Sydney, its people and their lives. Collections include not only books, but maps and plans, drawings, paintings, correspondence and photographs that help us imagine how we have come to be who we are today.

NSW State Records and the State Archives

NSW State Archives is the custodian of the largest collection of government records documenting the history of NSW, the State Archives Collection. The Collection is one of the State’s most valuable cultural collections and dates back to before the European settlement of Australia in 1788

The Collection contains many iconic items such as the Charter of Justice issued by King George III in 1787 to establish the first courts in this land, Utzon’s original competition drawings for the Sydney Opera House and Max Dupain’s photos of its construction, the Harbour Bridge photographic Albums, and Ned Kelly papers.

But the Collection is so much more and contains archives which are of immense research value to anyone interested in history. These include records of convicts and the administration of the colonial convict system in NSW. These records have been listed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, immigration records to 1922, 1.8 million maps and plans, records detailing the government’s interactions with Aboriginal people and court records from the earliest days of the colony, divorce records from 1873 and census records including the NSW 1828 Census, one of the most complete and historically significant census record in existence.

Sydney Living Museums

Sydney Living Museums (The Historic Houses Trust of NSW) has a property portfolio that comprises a number of historic buildings dating from between 1793 and 1950, including some of the earliest surviving colonial buildings in Australia, as well as major public buildings of the Macquarie era. All are listed on the NSW State Heritage Register; two are also on the Australian National Heritage List, and the Hyde Park Barracks is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. They are sites of exceptional cultural significance for the people of New South Wales and for the nation. Ten of the properties are open to the public as museums. They are important for a range of reasons: for their architectural value, for their historical associations with key personalities or periods in Australian history, and for their surviving intact collections.

The museum collections comprise a broad range of material culture formats: archaeology collections, furniture and furnishings, family papers, music collections, photographic collections. These collections are extended by the work of the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection with a specialist focus on the history of house and garden design and in connecting the stories of our places to local, national and international audiences.