The Reference Collection is designed to operate as an active extension of the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute Collection


Some 16,000 books, 1592 volumes of newspapers, periodicals, documents and artefacts that have been acquired progressively since the opening of the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute in 1859.

Videos: You can also view videos explaining the conservation works carried out in 2022.

BMI Audio and Visual

The Audio-Visual Collection consists of photographs, audio, & film predominantly in digital form in line with the Collections criteria. 


This BMI’s Archives Collection dates from c. 1857, and consists of documents, minute-books, letter-books, ledgers, illustrations, photographs, digital images, artefacts and objects directly related to the BMI.


This BMI’s Archives Collection dates from c. 1857, and consists of documents, minute-books, letter-books, ledgers, illustrations, photographs, digital images, artefacts and objects directly related to the BMI.

Collection acquisition scope and process

An acquisition committee assesses donations to the BMI collections.

Key collecting areas are:

  • Digital audio-visual material and paper ephemera relating to Ballarat city life.
  • Books for both lending library and Research Collection as per our collection criteria of relevance, condition etc.
  • Ongoing collection of the Ballarat Courier.
  • Heritage items relating to Ballarat city life.

Collection news

Researching at the BMI

Researchers are asked to send a Collection Research Request or visit the library desk with inquiry or research need and an appropriate time will be organised for assistance. This may not be immediate. (If anyone wishes to view a particular paper or range of papers they must provide notice one week prior to the viewing to allow the papers to be brought up for viewing.)

Note all image collection inquiries will first be referred to BMI’s Victorian Collections page.

– Fees: Research access is free for members or $20 per day for non-members (fees may vary for shorter or longer assistance requirements)

Research assistance is largely done by volunteers so this contribution helps the institute in its ongoing operations. Becoming a member allows you to enjoy the lending library and research facilities as well as discounts on venue hire and events, and the knowledge that you are supporting this historic cultural hub to continue into the future.

– Once on site, researchers will be asked to enter information into researcher log to capture contact details and research areas and given an outline of information and guidelines for researching within the BMI.

Some highlights of the Collection include;

  • Ballarat & district books and materials including Directories & Dickers mining guides
  • Full run of Ballarat Courier, and some Times and Star newspapers
  • Max Harris Photography Collection dating back to the 1860s and growing digital audio visual collection
  • A leading Australian example of a Mechanics’ Institute library of Heritage books spanning topics from philosophy and travel to music and mining, and rare items
  • Journals including The Australasian, The Builder, London Illustrated News, Punch
  • BMI institutional archives including original minute and correspondence books dating from 1864

Reference Collection

The Reference Collection is designed to operate as an active extension of the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute Collection.  It allows material, assessed by the Collections Committee and Acquisitions Committee as suitable for long-term retention, to be retained for research purposes.

Material held in both the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute Collection and the Reference Collection is not normally available on loan. 

This is a static reference collection and as such, does not acquire or withdraw material.

The collection contains some 16,000 books (predominately non-fiction), 1592 volumes of newspapers (predominantly Victorian), periodicals, documents and artefacts that have been acquired progressively since the opening of the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute in 1859. The main part of the collection is in print format and was acquired by the Institute during the second half of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century. It is a rare example of the range of reading material available to the citizens of Ballarat and District at this time.

The collection is considered to be of State and National significance and was registered with Heritage Victoria on 9 August, 2007 – Heritage Register No. 2096.

The BMI has a collection of books and newspapers that has been acquired from the time the Institute opened, most of which can now be found in the BMI Collection Database >

These consist of a total of 26,961 fiction and non-fiction books. Of these 15,189 are considered worthy of conservation.

They include:

  • 176 books published before 1800
  • 5,255 published 1801-1900
  • 5,155 published 1901-1950
  • 4603 our volunteers are still confirming the date of publication

The many plates on the books reflect the diversity of their origins. Most plates have Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute provenance, however, the range indicate that when other institutions closed or discontinued services, the BMI gained a variety of titles.

The plates include:

  • Creswick Mechanics’ Institute
  • Institute City of Ballarat Free library
  • Talbot M.I.
  • Ballarat East Public library
  • Smythesdale M.I.
  • Newtown Library
  • Carngham M.I.
  • Ararat City library
  • Clunes M.I.
  • Bllt. Young Mens Debating Soc
  • Skipton M.I.
  • Bacchus Marsh Public Library
  • Beaufort M.I.
  • Young Men’s General Debating Society
  • Dean M.I.
  • Victorian Subscription Library
  • Armhurst M.I.
  • Smeaton Free Library
  • Snake Valley M.I.
  • Tallygaroopna Free library
  • Warraknabeal M.I.
  • Methodist Ladies College
    Melbourne Athenaeum M.I.
  • Scarsdale Public Library
  • Maryborough Free Library
  • Ballarat Municipal Library
  • Lexton Free Library
  • Ballarat Ironworkers & Polytechnic Assoc.
  • Clunes Free library
  • Ararat Regional library
  • Talbot Public library
  • Mullin’s library
  • Ballarat Commercial Club
  • Sebastopol Free Library
  • Lydiard Street Lending library
  • Skipton Public library
  • Public Library of Victoria
  • RMIT Libraries
  • Aquinus University Ballarat.
  • Central Highlands Regional Library
  • Barham Library
  • Ballarat Caledonian Society
  • Ballarat Rate office

Collection Restoration Works

Between 1874 to 1876, the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute was a recipient of three herbariums compiled by Baron Sir Ferdinand von Mueller, titled the Educational Collections of Victorian Plants, Under the Auspices of the Victorian Government. Mueller was the first government botanist for the Colony of Victoria, serving from 1853 to 1896. He was also the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria from 1857 to 1873.

In 2021, the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute was supported by the Victorian Government to undertake conservation work on the herbariums and literature, as well as rare books and a painting in the collection, through a Living Heritage

Community Grant. The extensive and painstaking work was completed by conservators at Grimwade Conservation Services in December 2022.

The Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute is grateful to the Victorian Government and Grimwade Conservation Services for their support in ensuring that Mueller’s Educational Collections have been preserved and will be seen by the public for years to come.

Conservation of botanical speciments and fragile oil painting

Ferdinand von Mueller Collection of botanical specimens

Conservation of botanical specimens 

Conservation of botanical specimens

Conservation of fragile 19th century oil painting

Newspaper Collection

The BMI has a collection of nearly 80,000 newspapers that have been acquired from the time the Institute commenced in Ballarat. It has 1586 volumes archived – containing at least one month of issues in each volume.

Please note, access to newspapers is currently limited due to ongoing conservation works. We thank everyone for their patience.

The newspapers that currently remain unavailable are:

  • Couriers June 1910 to current, and
  • The Argus post 1860.

All others can be requested through the library.

Collection Research Request >

BMI Collection Database >

Newspaper collection news

Government records include:
  • Official year book of the Commonwealth of Australia l90l-1969
  • Proceedings of Parliament 1861-1862
  • Victorian Government Gazette 1856- 1969
  • Victorian Papers presented to both Houses 1857-1858
  • Victorian Papers presenled by Command 1856- l9l5
  • Victorian Parliamentary Debates 1866- 1964
  • Victorian Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly 1855-1878
  • Victorian Hansard 1856- 1865
  • Victorian Year Book 1877-1975
  • Western Australian Parliamentary Debates 1877
Newspapers Archives
  • Ballarat Courier 1861-2004 (all issues, on-going)
  • Ballarat Star 1857-1924
  • Melbourne Argus 1853-1949
  • Ballarat Times 1856-1861
  • Ballarat Weekty Times 1857- 1858
  • Ballarat Stock & Station Journal 19l3-1965
  • Australasian 1864- 1905
  • Bell’s Life 1860-1865
  • Port Phillip Herald 1845
  • Ballarat Evening Post 1873-1892
  • Ballarat Evening Echo 1895-1923
  • Ballarat Evening Mail 1870-l872
Newspapers in the Reference Collection
  • Moore’s Rural New Yorker 1862
  • The Queen Ladies Newspaper 1895
  • The Field Gentlemans newspaper 1877- 1878
  • The Home News for Australia 1864-1870
  • Atlantic Monthly 1882-1888
  • Revue des Deux Mondes 1862-1875
  • The lllustrated Sporting & Dramatic News 1870- 1882
  • The Nation Review 1970-1972
  • Illustrated London News 1842-1979
  • *Buninyong & Creswick Advertiser 1854
  • *London Gazette 1768
  • *The English & Chinese Advertiser 1857
  • *The Sphere 1953

*Denotes reproduction issues. Please note some date ranges may not include all issues within the range.

BMI AV Collection

The Audio-Visual Collection consists of photographs, audio, & film predominantly in digital form in line with the Collections criteria. This includes The Max Harris Photography Collection consisting of historic Ballarat photographs in negative, printed, and digital formats and audio recordings of interviews with local people. The collection has been compiled by collector Max Harris, from various collections and private sources.



Image: Max Harris Collection. Drawn from the survey of Mining Surveyors, Davidson Fitzpatrick & Cowan and the plans in the Surveyor General’s Office by J Brachs, 21 October 1861.

heritage image of a map of Ballarat
The Max Harris Photography Collection

This collection of historic Ballarat images, 1860s to 1960s and beyond is a great addition to the BMI’s collection and its role in telling Ballarat’s stories.

Members and visitors can visit displays from the collection in the BMI lending library and order image prints, with all funds going towards the ongoing running of the BMI as an independent cultural hub.

Some of our Collection images are on this site however the majority of images are on the Victorian Collections website 

Image Usage

Your support will assist in the ongoing sustainability of the BMI Ballarat, our independently run cultural hub of arts, learning & community.

View over 1500 images from the collection on the Victorian Collections website.

From framed prints for the home, to collages for new businesses, book projects, digital storytelling, history walks and more, our photo collection can enrich and enliven! We can supply a printed image or a digital file for you to reproduce (restrictions apply to the use of these files, see image request below). 

We also have postcards and DVDS available in addition to prints of your chosen photos.

Postcards 1.50 or 5 for $5

DVDS $25 with slideshow of hundreds of images.

Collection Research Request >

BMI Collection Database >

We thank our supporters and welcome more benefactors to get in touch. A majority of the collection has been catalogued on Victorian Collections (see button above/below).

We also have some popular image requests here >

Image collection news

BMI Archives Collection

This BMI’s Archives Collection dates from c. 1857, and consists of documents, minute-books, letter-books, ledgers, illustrations, photographs, digital images, artefacts and objects directly related to the BMI. Much of the material in the collection is fragile so a system of databases has been established to manage access to the archives.

The databases are set up in the FileMaker database program and are designed to reduce handling of fragile archival material while still allowing access to useful information held in the Institute’s archives.

Topics covered by the databases include: inward and outward correspondence, minutes, photographs and images, artefacts, theatre/events, committee/board register, record of tenants, business and trade advertisements and maps and plans.

Meetings and Lectures 1859 – 1863

The Meetings and Lectures database contains information of activities undertaken by the Institute in the years 1859-1863.

This period includes the inauguration, start of educational lectures, the move from the Ballarat fire brigade station in Barkly street to the new building in Sturt street, and the early entertainment and fund-raising functions.

This information is taken from contemporary issues of the ‘Ballarat Star’, and the reference to these particular issues is also shown in the database to allow further research, as a few of the longer reports are curtailed on-line to conserve download time.

All original copies of these newspapers are in the BMI collection.

Collection Research Request >

BMI Collection Database >

Collection Research Request

    If yes and request is under the same name, move straight to payment.
  • Please determine the Newspaper Name to be researched, the month(s) to be researched and the year(s) to be researched.



The BMI can provide public tours of the building. Get in touch with us to book in a tour for your group.

Historical Significance

The Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute Collection is of historical significance as the largest and most intact collection of material relating to Mechanics Institutes in Victoria. The collection includes not only some rare and valuable items but also demonstrates the tastes and interests of the inhabitants of a major regional centre in Victoria.​

The Institute’s own records document the development of the collection and offer an insight into the activities of a Mechanics Institute from its beginnings in the mid-nineteenth century.

The collection is also of historical significance for its strong association with the Mechanics Institute movement and the important role it played in the intellectual, cultural and social development of Victorians throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century.

Comprising books, journals and newspapers acquired by the Institute since its inception in 1859, as well as the Institute’s own archive of records and objects, the collection includes 16,677 books and journals, 1592 volumes of newspapers (approximately 80,000 issues) and institute records dating from c. 1857 including minutes, correspondence, annual reports. lithographs, artifacts and objects.

The main part of the book and newspaper collection was acquired by the Institute during the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century and is shelved and housed within the Mechanics Institute building.

The Mechanics’ Institute first met unofficially in 1854 and was inaugurated in 1859. Space was provided for a reading room in the Ballarat Fire Brigade building and in July 1859 a circulation library started with a collection of 400 volumes inctuding 89 volumes donated by John Pascoe Fawkner, By 1860 another 500 books had been added to the collection, possibly after it moved to its home on the ground floor of the new Institute building.

The first stage of the lnstitute’s permanent home opened on 19 December 1860 with the remaining spaces completed later. The Institute acquired the old Mining Exchange Hall in 1935 and the library and reading room moved there the following year.The collection includes newspapers, journals and periodicals from Ballarat, Victoria and overseas from 1845 onwards.

The book collection, predominantly non-fiction, is largely nineteenth century in nature, although it does include a book published in 1586 and other early publications. It includes early Ballarat and Australian colonial publications, and books of a range of subjects including mining, engineering, natural science exploration and history.

Collections of notable individuals are held such as Fawkner and John Basson Humffray (l824-1891), Ballarat Reform League secretary and later member of the Legislative Council, and an unpublished history of the Institute by Nathan Spielvogel (1874-1956). The Library has also acquired material from a number of other Mechanics Institutes including Clunes and Creswick.

BMI Artefacts Collection

Von mueller collection

The Ferdinand Von Mueller collection of Australian plant specimens.

Hogarth's Engravings

We have a complete volume of the works of William Hogarth.

Heritage Books & Poems

Extensive heritage collection of rare books.

Ballarat Collection

We have a wonderful range of books on local history.

Heritage Newspapers

We hold a variety of heritage newspapers.

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