18th Century and before


Hundreds of delightful and intriguing endpapers can be found in the State Library of NSW collection.

A Map of Africa, Asia and the East Indies, 1599, by Evert Gijsbertsz

Throughout the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries decorated wall charts documented recent discoveries and expeditions, served as planning tools for future trading ventures, and attested to the wealth and power of their owners. But few wall charts are as beautifully illustrated as this example from 1599.

Matthew Flinders: placing Australia on the map

Flinders proved that Tasmania was an island, traced the coasts of the Australian continent and was the first person to use ‘Australian’ to describe the inhabitants of this land. He named nothing after himself.

Magna Carta

The Library holds a rare manuscript version of the 1297 statute of the Magna Carta that was signed by King John at Runnymede.

The Spanish quest for Terra Australis

Spanish explorer Pedro Fernandes de Queirós' quest to discover Terra Australis is documented in a number of rare 'memorials' held by the Library.

Captain Cook’s voyages of discovery

Terra Australis Incognita – the unknown southern land. The existence (or not) of this mysterious, mythical place had been puzzled over since it was first hypothesised by the ancient Greeks and Romans


19th Century

Sydney's Bungaree

Bungaree (c 1775–1830) is a remarkable and enigmatic figure in Sydney and Australia’s colonial history. 

The cabin in the woods

The madness of a free settler and a convict found expression on the outskirts of the new colony.

Claiming space

The histories of people with disability in Australia can be found if you read ‘against the grain’.

Sydney Female Refuge Society, 1848-1925

A remarkable insight into the world of prostitutes in nineteenth-century Sydney.

The Treaty of Waitangi, 1840

On 6 February 1840, after discussion with chiefs on the lawns of the British Resident’s house in Waitangi, some 45 chiefs signed a treaty of cession, now known as the Treaty of Waitangi.

Memories on glass: extraordinary images of late 19th and early 20th century Sydney

In the days before digital and film photography, images were often taken on glass. But from the 1880s, development of ready-to-use 'dry plate' negatives and simpler cameras saw the rise of amateur photography.

An unknown warrior: mysterious portrait of an unknown, handsome young Aboriginal man

This mysterious portrait of an unknown, handsome young Aboriginal man is believed to have belonged to Governor Lachlan Macquarie, described as ‘One of the NSW Aborigines befriended by Governor Macquarie’. Part of the Works in Focus series.

20th Century

A nice little business: NSW’s circulating libraries

Part of daily life in the mid twentieth century, circulating libraries have left charming traces.

Betty Archdale: leading the way

The daughter of a courageous suffragette, Betty Archdale excelled in several fields that rarely admitted women.

Ancestry tree: a family’s escape from genocide

A collection of papers traces one family’s escape from the Armenian genocide.

Mythical country: Vietnam in 1950s posters

Looking through Vietnamese art posters collected in the 1950s elicits complicated feelings all these years later.

Daidee and Eric: the first Mrs Dark

Intimate letters from 100 years ago paint a detailed self-portrait of a young Australian woman.

The Library at war: 1939–1943

While the Nazis had conquered Western Europe in 1940 and threatened Britain’s very existence, the State Library had continued on much as it had before the war.

The Redfern All Blacks in 1946

We've recently digitised a remarkable series of  photos showing players from the Redfern All Blacks rugby league team taken at Redfern Oval in 1946.