David Scott Mitchell collection

In 1907, David Scott Mitchell, one of Australia’s greatest cultural benefactors and collectors of Australiana, gave his incomparable set of books, manuscripts, maps and pictures about Australia and the Pacific to the people of NSW.

Crested white cockatoo, by Neville Cayley

What's in the collection

The Mitchell Library collections focus on Australia, south-west Pacific and Antarctica; documenting the history and society of Australian people including European exploration and colonisation. The collection includes a wide range of formats; books, maps, works of art, photographs, coins, stamps, magazines, ephemera, sound recordings and digital resources. It is the pre-eminent collection of Australiana in the world. The Library continues to actively build on his legacy.

The story of the collection

Sydney-born David Scott Mitchell (1836-1907) began collecting seriously in the 1860s. His interest was English literature, with a focus on Elizabethan drama, fine examples of illuminated manuscripts and incunabula (books printed before 1501). By the 1880s, perhaps inspired by the centenary of the European occupation of Australia, Mitchell had turned his attention almost exclusively to collecting Australiana, with the ambitious goal to collect a copy of every single document, no matter its format, relating to Australia, the south-western Pacific, the East Indies and Antarctica.

Anything Australian was of value to Mitchell; his vast collections mixed the astonishing with the everyday, the big ideas with the commonplace and the greatest names in history and literature with the incidental.

On Mitchell’s death in July 1907, he gifted his collections to the Public (now State) Library of New South Wales with an endowment of £70,000 to fund collection additions. As a condition of the gift, the NSW government was required to construct a separate building to house the collections to be known as the Mitchell Library, now part of the State Library.

The collections continue to expand through purchases and donations and the inclusion of legal deposit material ensures a copy of every item published in New South Wales is acquired. The Library continues to document the history, life, environment, culture and achievements of the people of NSW.

The Mitchell Library’s collections remain an important source for both historical and contemporary research and an integral part of the Australia community.

Borrowing collection material

The Mitchell collection is a reference collection only. Requests for outward loans of collection items from the Mitchell collection to other cultural institutions for exhibition including travelling exhibitions will be considered.