2010 marks not only the 200th anniversary of Governor Macquarie arriving in Sydney, but perhaps more importantly for Sydney’s history, it is also the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Mitchell Library.
The Mitchell Library is the premier research facility in NSW, if not Australia. If you are currently researching anything in Sydney, NSW or Australian history and you have not been to Mitchell then you probably have not done your research properly. There would be few books, articles, movies or TV shows on any aspect of Australian society that have not used some of the resources of the Mitchell in their creation.
So how did this extraordinary resource come to us?
Incredibly it came through the generosity of a remarkable collector, David Scott Mitchell. Mitchell, born 19 March 1836, was in the first intake at Sydney Uni, loved the theatre and became an obsessive collector, almost a hoarder. With family money from mining interests behind him, he began to collect poetry and drama before turning his attention to Australiana.
From his house in Darlinghurst, he would venture out to bookshops in Sydney buying all manner of books, manuscripts and other material concerned with Australian history. He was soon well known amongst the sellers in Sydney and internationally who would eventually seek him out to sell things to. His collection grew to a groaning weight in his house.
By the 1890s Mitchell had the best collection of Australian material in private hands and was encouraged by his cousin, Rose Scott, to consider bequeathing the collection to the state. At the time the public library was located in an old building in Bent Street. One of the conditions of Mitchell’s hand over was that a special room or wing be added to the library to hold his material. The state eagerly agreed but dilly dallied on a decision of a site or even money to build a library. Not until 1905, when Mitchell put an ultimatum that if a building was not provided within one year of his death that the bequest would lapse was any serious thought put into it.
In the end the site in Macquarie Street was chosen, work was underway in 1906 and in 1910 the library was opened. Sadly Mitchell had died in 1907 never seeing his precious collection of 61,000 volumes safely housed.
The library is celebrating the 100 years since the opening with an extraordinary exhibition, One Hundred. For One Hundred Mitchell Library has one display 100 of their most precious, fascinating and important items from Mitchells original collection as well as later material gathered in the last 100 years. It shows for 100 days and I would strongly urge you to get down to see it next time you are in Sydney.
Amongst other things on display are Kate Granville’s note books from writing the Secret River, Joern Utzon’s sketch for the Sydney Opera House, original Frank Hurley photographs, colonial paintings, journals, a holey dollar, a lock of Matthew Flinders’ hair and a 15th century illuminated prayer book.
These are just a sample of the great treasures of the Mitchell Library. Get down there and get amongst it.