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 ofsubjects 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.