18th Century and before

Voyages of discovery

Europeans had been searching for rich new lands in the Southern Hemisphere long before Captain James Cook arrived on the east coast of Australia in 1770. Explore the State Library's incredible maps, journals, drawings and books.

The Art of the Title page

A title page has always told readers what the book is about, but sometimes with an artistic flourish.

The world in a book: the first atlases

In the Golden Age of Cartography, the first atlases combined the skills of the mapmaker with the ingenuity of the publisher.

Eight Days in Kamay

On 29 April 1770, the Gweagal people of Kamay (Botany Bay) discovered James Cook and his crew. 250 years later, those eight days and their impact are still being debated, contested, felt.

The real secret river: exploring Dyarubbin

A list of Aboriginal placenames was a trigger for seeking the ‘real secret river’.

Power and influence on the Cumberland Plain

Sydney’s colonial gentry built mansions, held lavish parties and amassed fortunes beyond the imagination of their English relations.

The Sydney Cove Medallion

An interest by British arrivals in the quality of Sydney clay led to the making of the Sydney Cove Medallion by noted English ceramicist, Josiah Wedgwood.

19th Century

Deeper history

Science and history come together in conserving the swamplands of southern Sydney.

Art of Newcastle: convict artists in Aboriginal Country

An Aboriginal leader’s assistance to the artists of the Newcastle penal settlement led to an unprecedented visual record of the local Indigenous people.

The first sugar: James Williams’ story

Sugar and slavery are intertwined in the hidden story of Australia’s early industry.

Reclaiming our story

A contributor to the Library’s Living Language exhibition reflects on Indigenous resistance, survival, and the New England linguicide.

150 years ago: the Free Public Library

A vital public institution.

Ben Hall, Australian Bushranger

From 1863 to 1865, over 100 robberies are attributed to Ben Hall and his various associates

Mitchell or burn: the Thompson family papers

Sifting through the ‘glorious clutter’ of the Thompson family papers offers a sense of early Sydney life and insights into several significant local families.

20th Century

'Demonstrations were our internet'

Fifty years after the first gay rights organisation was founded in NSW, the activism of the 1970s still resonates.

The Gatherings Order 

A behind the scenes look at the new podcast series exploring the last great influenza pandemic in 1919.

Chalk and church 

The place of religious instruction in public schools has long been controversial. 

‘Unprecedented’: the Library through two pandemics

The extraordinary events of the past few months are unprecedented in our lifetimes, but the response to the Covid-19 pandemic contains echoes of the 1918–19 influenza outbreak. The Library is one of many institutions following the lead of our forebears.

Letters from Bergen-Belsen

Australian nurse Muriel Knox Doherty recorded her experiences and insights after the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. 

Peace with pestilence: the 1918–19 influenza

After four years of war, ‘normal life’ ceased again in early 1919 as an influenza epidemic spread through the country.