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Charles H. Bertie (1875-1952) – librarian and historian – collected a large number of pictures over his lifetime. These pictures – an encyclopaedic array of portraits, views of Sydney, photos of ships, and all manner of people and places - were presented to the Library by A.B. Bertie in 1953.
Since 1953 they were kept in the Small Pictures File in the Mitchell Library Reading Room – filed in alphabetical order by person, place or ship. Bertie’s thorough collection contains portraits of figures from Australian history dating to as early as 1789. If you were looking for a drawing or photograph of a significant person to illustrate your research, this was the place to look – you could flip through the file and try your luck. The Charles H. Bertie pictorial collection has recently been the focus of a project to itemise and describe each item in the online catalogue – which means the collection is now fully searchable.
The span of the collection is broad - portrait subjects include the expected well known colonial figures such as Captain Arthur Philip, Rev. Samuel Marsden, Lachlan Macquarie and John Macarthur - but the collection also covers artists, journalists, politicians, musicians and writers – anyone of note! Whilst the people in the portrait collection are predominantly male, there are a number of key female figures represented – including writer Dorothea Mackellar, children’s illustrator Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, soprano Catherine Hayes, and Louise Mack – one of Australia’s first female war correspondents.
The places file will take you from Mount Abrupt in Victoria to Zig Zag railway station in the Blue Mountains, NSW, via many detailed views of Sydney - with sub-sections for banks, barracks, breweries, bridges, cemeteries, churches, circular quay, defences, ferries, halls, harbour and islands, hotels, libraries, markets, monuments and statues, parks and gardens, public buildings, railways and tramways, residences, schools, shops and offices, social life, streets, suburbs, theatres, toll bays, water supply and sewerage and wharves.
Charles H. Bertie was a passionate librarian. Originally employed by Sydney Municipal Council as a clerk, he became increasingly interested in literature and began writing articles on the topic from 1904. He was appointed the first librarian of the Sydney Municipal Library when it opened in 1909. He was a supporter of the children’s library movement, having established the first public lending library for children in Australia in 1918. Bertie was also a prolific historian, and published A Short History of the Sydney Municipal Library 1877-1927 in 1927. His other titles include The Story of Sydney (1938), Old Sydney (1911), and Old Colonial By-Ways, (1928), the latter two illustrated by Sydney Ure-Smith. Bertie became a member of the Royal Australian Historical Society in 1909, and was elected to the Society’s council three years later. He served as the Society’s President in 1914, and held various other positions on the council over his 40 years of membership. Bertie committed himself to researching and writing Australian history, and published numerous articles for the Society’s journal, especially after his retirement in 1939. It is possible that many of the pictures he collected were to aid or illustrate his research.
Though the hard-copy pictorial collection may seem quaint compared to today’s offerings in digital picture libraries, it provides a strong holding of historical use: pictures of places that are now substantially changed or demolished and people that may have fallen out of living memory. Now that the collection is fully itemised and described, it is timely to return to it and see what we can discover from people and views Bertie felt important to collect.