Dr. Elizabeth Rushen, Executive Director of The Royal Historical Society of Victoria spoke about the history of the society and its collections.

The Historical Society of Victoria was founded in 1909 as a 'not for profit' organisation dedicated to preserve and present evidence and information about the history of Victoria. As was the custom of the times, the first Committee of the HSV was made up entirely of men. The first President was the Honourable Frank Madden, and an early Vice-President was Alfred Deakin.

In 1920 the HSV united with the Royal Geographical Society of Victoria which had been founded in 1883. It therefore inherited a complete collection of the society's journals as well as its maps and records including information on Papua and New Guinea, and early Antarctic explorations. In 1947, the HSV was incorporated, and in 1952 Queen Elizabeth bestowed the use of the word 'Royal' into the title to commemorate the Centenary of Separation.

The RHSV at present has 1,200 members but is also the 'umbrella' organisation for 260 local and specialist societies, including the Port Phillip Pioneers Group Inc. There are 2 full time, and 3 part time staff members who are aided by 50 volunteers. There is a research service for business organisations and government agencies.

The collections of the RHSV are divided into 3 sections: manuscripts, printed materials and images. There are some 23,000 items in the manuscript section, ranging from official government documents to personal letters and diaries dating back to early days of settlement. The library contains over 11,000 books.

Original old directories can be searched as long as white gloves are worn. By using imagination and lateral thinking, it is possible to find information even about unexpected things. Was your ancestor employed as a Magician between 1854 and 1912? Maybe he was a rower, and then his name might be found in the 1857 - 1919 register of the Victorian Oarsman. Did your family have a telephone in 1882? There is a list of people who arrived in the Port Phillip District up to 1842 who were still alive in December 1867.

The Pioneer Register is of interest. In 1917, the HSV sent registration forms to various countries including Britain, India, America and South Africa to gather biographical information about pioneers who were here before 21st November 1856. This was repeated in 1947 and 1957, but requesting information on residents before 1900. The Society holds over 850 individual files with 253 related to the Port Phillip District.

These records have been written by the pioneers themselves or their descendants. Like death certificates, not all details are correct but they might supply clues that can lead on to other avenues of research.

The RHSV was the first institution in Victoria to collect photographic material. It has more than 30,000 photographs from the 1850s onwards. There are glass negatives, hand painted slides of early Melbourne, and 3,000 post cards. Also, paintings, etchings and lithographs.

The website is worth a look at Log on to HistoryVictoria Database and do a search of the index. Instructions are easy to follow. I did a "broad search" for "chemists" plus "Carlton" as subject and discovered that a photo of my great-great-grandfather's chemist shop in Faraday Street is to be found in the images. The RHSV is located at 239 A'Beckett Street, on the corner of William Street, Melbourne. Its library is open Monday - Friday from 10 am - 4 pm whilst the images are viewed by appointment only. Show identification as a member of the Port Phillip Pioneers Group and search for free.

(The above is a report on Dr. Elizabeth Rushden's address at the General Meeting on
8 November 2003.)

Contributed by Jan Hanslow (PPPG Member No. 1057)

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