• Lara Atkin
  • Sarah Comyn
  • Porscha Fermanis
  • Nathan Garvey
Open Access
Part of the New Directions in Book History book series (NDBH)


This introduction outlines the primary arguments and methodologies of the book, including new imperial history models, networked conceptualisations of empire, and comparative and transnational history. It argues both for the existence of transnational institutional connections and reading audiences across the colonial southern hemisphere, and for the importance of local and regional variations in the reproduction of the British public library model. It concludes by outlining the book’s primary sources, as well as introducing its six case study libraries from colonial Australia, South Africa, and Southeast Asia.


Library studies Book history Public libraries Catalogues Southern hemisphere 

This book traces the emergence of public libraries from within a flourishing, but uncoordinated and often precarious, culture of community and commercial libraries in the British colonial southern hemisphere and Straits Settlements in the nineteenth century. Once dismissed as an aspect of provincial attempts to create ‘Little Britains’ in the colonies by replicating metropolitan institutions and standards of taste, the colonial public library is now understood as a major nineteenth-century cultural phenomenon that did much more than simply supply books to readers.1 For the ‘southern colonies’,2 the public library became richly symbolic of various types of proto-national cultural self-assertion, as well as providing an institutional framework for a range of intersecting ideological disputes, from debates about self-governance and citizenship, to racial hierarchies and the acculturation of Indigenous peoples, to questions of taste and cultural capital. Colonial readers, too, were much more than just passive recipients of books imported from Britain and other metropolitan centres, instead selecting, consuming, and interpreting texts in diverse and often locally specific ways.

Moving away from institutional library history towards a cultural and social history of the library,3 this book asks a series of critical questions. What roles did early public libraries play in colonial societies? How did these roles vary or converge across different colonial spaces? Who were the reading publics addressed and enabled by public libraries? And how did the public library provide a forum or opportunity for various forms of identity formation, and knowledge production and dissemination? By looking at these questions within a particular historical and geographical context—from Singapore to Cape Town to Melbourne—one of the book’s primary aims is to assess the degree of cross-fertilisation between early colonial public libraries and their users. A second aim is to think about these libraries at various levels of scale from the discrete local conditions that shaped their establishment to wider global developments in library provision. A third aim is to consider the ways in which early public libraries contributed to the self-fashioning of colonial identities and polities in the nineteenth-century Anglophone world.

Drawing on James Belich’s influential ‘Anglo-divergence’ model of the nineteenth-century settler explosion,4 we argue that the colonial public library helped to create reading publics that reflected the shared, but also locally distinct, civic identities of multiple emerging colonial states in Australia, the Cape Colony, and the Straits Settlements. In the case of the Cape Colony and Singapore, public libraries also played an important role in establishing the cultural hegemony of an Anglophone literary culture that worked in tandem with efforts to anglicise administrative and legal systems in previously Dutch spheres of influence, as well as helping to institutionalise the ethnographic and philological knowledge that underwrote increasingly racialised colonial social orders. At the same time, such libraries addressed and engaged with public spheres that transcended their colony’s ‘national’ boundaries and Anglophone linguistic cultures, from regional networks of readers, collectors, and associational groups, to longer-range interactions with metropolitan institutions, continental European collecting cultures, and global émigré and diaspora communities. If these connections did not necessarily result in a fully articulated transcolonial or transnational reading public,5 they nonetheless point to the existence of shared practices and experiences of reading, collecting, and archiving across and beyond the Anglosphere world. Examining these kinds of cosmopolitan mind-sets and transnational connections, as well as the international flows of knowledge they enabled, allows us to ‘recast national histories’ and their ‘long traditions of exceptionalism’, while simultaneously throwing into relief the central role that public libraries played in shaping questions of colonial nationhood in the nineteenth century.6

Beyond a National History of the Library

With the notable exception of transatlantic studies, there has been little sustained attempt to consider the formation of colonial libraries comparatively across different national, geographic, and linguistic borders. The reasons for this range from the field’s methodological ‘predilection for the micro-historical case study’ to the prevalence of nation-centred library histories.7 As Robb Haberman and Lynda Yankaskas’s work on provincial nationalism has shown us, the ‘library project … was explicitly part of nation-building, a tool to create a new citizenry for a new country’, but studies of the nature of nation-building have increasingly rejected any easy separation between nationalism and globalism.8 At the same time, comparative approaches tend to shore up national boundaries. Marilyn Lake has rightly noted that while comparative history has ‘opened up questions about national distinctiveness’, the effect of comparativism is often to ‘present parallel histories that reinforce the dominance of national paradigms’.9 An openness to transnational frameworks, and the ways in which ideas, peoples, and practices cross national borders, is especially important in a period in which various incipient forms of nationhood, from responsible government to federation, were not yet solidified.

By considering several colonial public libraries in both a comparative and a transnational context, this book seeks to uncover their communalities and connections, looking for patterns across acquisition policies, library holdings, and readerships, while also acknowledging the local variations that enable fruitful intercolonial and transcolonial comparison. In so doing, the book forms part of a wider theoretical imperative in imperial studies that seeks to question received understandings of the relationship between metropole and colony. Shifting attention away from both metropolitan and national histories of empire in favour of ‘new imperial history’ paradigms that privilege imbricated national and imperial ‘intercultures’, circuits and networks, and regional hubs or nodal points,10 this study claims for the public libraries of the southern colonies a historical and spatial specificity made up of particularly dense south–south networks of readers, and exchanges of books, information, and ideas.11

Most obviously, British settlements in the southern hemisphere were linked by relative proximity, geo-political interests, imperial shipping and trade routes, global mass media networks, and communication technologies.12 Another point of connection was provided by overlapping and intra-generational networks of settlers, administrators, missionaries, ethnographers, collectors, and bibliophiles, such as George Grey, James Richardson Logan, and Redmond Barry, whose colonial careers and socio-material networks traversed colonial Australia, New Zealand, British India, the Cape Colony, and the Straits Settlements, and whose bibliophiliac zeal linked libraries in Melbourne, Auckland, Singapore, the Cape, and Britain. But while the idea of empire as a networked space of circuits and flows is critical for understanding how information circulated within imperial spaces, it is also possible to write a history of colonial intellectual life that focuses less on well-known intellectuals and administrators, and more on the institutional ‘processes through which knowledge was produced and consumed’.13 The public library, we argue, is an important example of this kind of ‘intellectual infrastructure’, providing not only a nodal point for intersecting groups of people, but also a way of understanding how colonial communities created, accessed, categorised, and disseminated different forms of knowledge.14

We are interested both in the ‘stratigraphic’ approach to collections—that is, how they are built up over time via various social agents and mediators—and in the ways in which book holdings overlap and diverge across the region. If there is some uniformity among the holdings of colonial public libraries in terms of genre proportions and titles stocked (particularly in relation to fiction holdings), there is also great variety in the ways in which such libraries approached local material, reference collections, and the archiving process. Public-sphere debates about the collections formed by early colonial public libraries suggest shared tensions across the southern colonies between the demands of competing colonial reading publics and social classes (Chap.  3), the need to provide both ‘light’ recreational reading and ‘serious’ reference collections (Chap.  4), and the enlightenment universalist aspirations of the ‘national’ collection and the desire to promote local archival collection and ethnographic field work (Chap.  5).

This book focuses on these three transcolonial public-sphere debates. While class tensions and the so-called ‘fiction problem’ were a concern for all the libraries under consideration, the extensive ethnological and philological collections of the South African Public Library (SAPL) and the Raffles Library and Museum (RLM) were not replicated in Australian and New Zealand public libraries until large bequests to the State Library of New South Wales and the Auckland Public Library in 1907 and 1886, respectively. Demographic factors provide one explanation for this divergence. In contrast to colonial Australia and New Zealand, where by 1860 the booming European settler populations far outnumbered Indigenous populations, European settlers were always a minority in Singapore and the Cape Colony.15 By the mid-nineteenth century, Europeans made up less than 3% of the general population in Singapore and around 37% in the Cape.16 In these white minority settlements, local knowledge collection was particularly critical to the broader project of regulating Indigenous and colonial conduct that David Scott has termed ‘colonial governmentality’.17 The Logan and Grey bequests, considered in detail in Chap.  5, were therefore manifestations of a wider scientific interest in ethnological and philological knowledge collection that developed in the Cape Colony and Singapore from the 1820s and 1840s, respectively. As well as classifying, categorising, and providing an institutional home for these large bequests, we argue that the SAPL and the RLM played a crucial role in fostering those learned societies and journals that concentrated on ethnographic and philological collection, thereby establishing themselves as regional centres of local knowledge creation and dissemination, and helping to institutionalise ethnology as a scientific discipline outside of metropolitan Europe.

Another key focus of the book is on the types of readers enabled by colonial public libraries, and on the ways in which reading practices were shaped by social patterns, literacy rates, and demographics (see Chaps.  3 and  4). As Julieanne Lamond has argued, library data is invaluable for studying communities of readers, first because libraries ‘are social institutions whose primary rationale is reading’ but also because the library is a ‘physical space’ representing reading communities ‘defined by physical proximity and social relationships’. Libraries therefore create communities of readers, both in the sense of ‘imagined communities’ and ‘real’ or actual communities.18 Real readers do not, of course, always ‘play along with the founding principles of an institution’ or ‘follow the design outlined in catalogues’.19 But imagined communities of readers are not so much ‘fictitious consumers’ or even ‘ideal’ readers, but rather ‘ideational’ readers, who correspond both to concrete forms of civic identity formation and to the performative world-making discourses that accompany the creation of reading publics.20 Although we must be wary of ‘crude and instrumentalist’ mappings of book collections onto perceived reading communities,21 this book argues that the readers imagined, created, and addressed by those responsible for assembling the collections of colonial public libraries are critical for understanding how colonial societies positioned themselves in relation to wider communities of knowledge.

Catalogues and Other Sources

While drawing on a variety of archival records and sources, the primary sources of evidence for this book are the printed catalogues of those colonial institutions that would later become major public libraries in the British southern hemisphere. Faced with an absence of consistent or ongoing records relating to borrowing and circulation, our focus on the catalogue in part reflects the fact that only lists of book holdings provide the required levels of statistical comparability across various colonial libraries in the nineteenth century. However, we also argue for the importance of the catalogue in thinking about books and readers at a structural or systemic level, that is, in thinking about patterns of holdings and acquisitions. Wallace Kirsop has rightly warned of the dangers of theorising about readers and public taste based on ‘the bare facts of availability’, but the surviving printed catalogues of colonial public libraries constitute a relatively fulsome source material in comparison to other types of catalogues, providing us with a snapshot of the nature of public library collections, and the books that were considered ‘acquisition worthy’, at various points in time (see Appendix A).22

Leah Price has noted that much recent work on the history of reading has focused on textual consumption, arguing that this neglects the ways in which texts can act as markers of prestige and ritual, and even as ‘carriers of relationships’.23 Of interest to this study are the various social and civic functions of public library catalogues, as well as the ways in which these functions are displayed in the catalogues themselves as material objects. Quite apart from being invaluable guides to library holdings, the design of catalogues, whether classical or divided by subject or format, allows us insights into a library’s objectives, intentions, and usage, including the relative importance of different genres or categories of literature. Similarly, the uses and abuses of books—those that are uncut, dog-eared, thumbed over, annotated, or simply worn-out—may provide insights into readers’ choices, tastes, and values.

Catalogues are, of course, also sites of disciplinary formation and transformation, enabling us to see the ways in which various types of knowledge—especially racialised forms of knowledge—were ordered, codified, and archived in the colonial world, as well as facilitating other sorts of intellectual endeavour such as society publishing and scholarly journals. As ‘carefully curated’ sites of colonial cultural capital,24 prestige catalogues, such as the early catalogues of the Melbourne Public Library (MPL), served as a reminder of colonial progress via sophisticated illustrations, engravings, and plates of ‘native’ flora and fauna, which were intended to ‘stamp’ the library’s character ‘as a National Institution’.25 These sorts of catalogues amounted to transportable emissaries of both the library and the colony itself, a function that was amplified through various forms of publication exchange and gifts of specially bound editions that were distributed to associations and government departments in Britain and elsewhere (see Chaps.  4 and  5). The role of the catalogue in reflecting colonial cultural aspirations and values, and in disseminating knowledge acquired in the colonies into the heart of transatlantic and continental European intellectual networks, makes it an important but undervalued means of understanding how information circulated globally in the nineteenth century.

Despite the richness of catalogues as source material, one of the challenging aspects of this study has been reconciling the different methods of classifying books between (and sometimes within) the institutions under consideration. While there is considerable variation in both the classificatory methods and the level of bibliographic detail provided by our library catalogues, all of them, with the exception of the early Australian Subscription Library (ASL) catalogues, offer analytical contents pages and/or indexes dividing their collections into distinct classes. These range in granularity from the MPL’s 1860 catalogue, where 127 separate subject classes are listed in the classificatory index, to as few as eight classes in the SAPL’s catalogues from 1829 onwards. Alexander Johnstone Jardine, then librarian at the SAPL and by far the most systematic of the colonial librarians in our case studies, adapted the subject classes recommended in the four-volume third edition of French bibliographer Jacques-Charles Brunet’s influential Manuel du Libraire (1820), as well as being influenced by the classificatory system of the catalogues of the London Institution (est. 1805, later the Royal Institution),26 namely, ‘Theology and Divinity’; ‘Jurisprudence, Government and Politics’; ‘Sciences and the Arts’; ‘Surgery, Medicine and Chemistry’; ‘Mathematics’; ‘Belles Lettres’; ‘History’; and ‘Foreign Languages’.

In Chap.  4, our comparative analysis of book holdings is divided into seven broad categories: ‘Science’; ‘Political Economy, Politics and Jurisprudence’; ‘Theology and Ethics’; ‘Biography and History’; ‘Geography, Voyages and Travels’; ‘Imaginative Literature’; and ‘Other’ (see Appendix C).27 In devising these categories, we have broadly followed Jardine’s scheme as the one that best reflects shared classificatory categories across the case study libraries, but with three important qualifications. First, we have divided ‘History’ into ‘Biography and History’ and ‘Geography, Voyages and Travels’, both to reflect the modern disciplinary distinction between ‘History’ and ‘Geography’, and to better account for those libraries whose catalogues increasingly distinguish between the two disciplines. Second, our ‘Science’ category includes the natural sciences and mathematics, but excludes the mechanical arts and applied sciences on the basis that such categories were not generally classified as ‘science’ in the nineteenth century. Finally, we use ‘Imaginative Literature’ as a category that encompasses fiction, drama, and poetry but excludes belles lettres and critical works. This category enables us to consider the proportion of imaginative works (particularly fiction) in the holdings of our case study libraries. Belles lettres and modern languages have both been grouped with other smaller genres, such as fine arts and philology, into our ‘Other’ section, as the holdings of these categories across our case study libraries were small.

Case Studies, Models, and Precedents

The book’s comparative case studies include the SAPL (est. 1818); the MPL (est. 1854); the South Australian Institute (SAI) (est. 1856); the Tasmanian Public Library (TPL) (est. 1849; 1869); the Free Public Library (FPL) (est. 1869); and the RLM (est. 1874). These at least partially publicly funded libraries have been selected on the basis that each of them established a relatively substantial reference collection in the nineteenth century and subsequently developed into a major ‘national’ library. By 1875, only three of the above libraries could be considered ‘public’ in the modern sense of being freely open to the general public and funded primarily by public money: the MPL, the TPL, and the FPL. Of these, only the FPL was a municipal library created through centralised legislation. While they had small lending branches for country readers, the MPL, the TPL, and the FPL were reference-only libraries. The remaining libraries had publicly accessible reference sections and reading rooms, but retained the user-pays subscription model for book borrowing.

The chronological focus of this study lies primarily between the 1810s and the 1870s, that is, the dates of establishment of the libraries under investigation. While in the Cape Colony public library provision began as early as 1818, the key decades for the emergence of public libraries in the Australian colonies are the 1850s and 1860s, and in the Straits Settlements the 1870s. Much of our comparative analysis therefore focuses on the period between 1850 and 1880, but we also consider important contextual material in the periods before and after those decades, for example, the development of the ethnographic collections of the RLM in the 1880s. New Zealand’s first free public library, the Port Nicholson Exchange and Public Library, opened in Wellington in 1841 for only a year. Despite having three major libraries in the 1840s and Public Libraries Acts in 1869 and 1877, there was no enduring public library in colonial New Zealand until the Auckland Free Public Library (est. 1880), which was supported and sustained by a gift in 1887 of rare books, manuscripts, and ephemera from Sir George Grey, previously a Governor and Premier of New Zealand.28 Grey’s contribution to the development of the SAPL will be discussed in detail in Chap.  5, but the chronology for the emergence of major public libraries in the New Zealand colonies falls outside the time-frame of this study, which focuses on early public library provision.

In the southern colonies, public libraries drew on a variety of institutional, classificatory, and physical precedents—from the athenaeum to the mechanics’ institute to the ‘national’ reference library—but for the most part they were based on British rather than North American or European institutions. Modelled on the London Institution, an athenaeum with a substantial reference library and laboratory, the SAPL was originally funded by a tax on the wine trade and was open free of charge to all inhabitants and visitors over the age of sixteen to Cape Town between 1822 and 1829.29 After 1829, when government funding was withdrawn, the library was converted from a public library to a subscription library, radically altering the library’s book-selection policies.30 Prior to the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, the Cape of Good Hope’s position as a refresher station en route to India made the Cape Colony an important staging post for East India Company employees on leave from Company service. The patronage of these ‘India visitors’ was vital to the establishment and maintenance of the SAPL as one of the leading colonial libraries of the mid-nineteenth century.31

The SAPL remained committed to building up and maintaining a serious reference collection of scientific works from the 1820s onwards.32 Between 1824 and 1848, the SAPL was supplied by the London bookseller James Malcott Richardson, and from 1849 onwards by the publishing and distribution firm of Smith, Elder & Co. In 1833, the library held approximately 26,000 volumes and considered itself a global institution with a prestige collection worthy of any metropolitan library, aspiring to the status of the Bodleian Library and the Advocate’s Library in Edinburgh.33 This self-perception was augmented in the 1860s by a substantial donation from George Grey (see Chap.  5), which, along with the Dessinian Collection (est. 1761), was thought by the Melbourne Argus to elevate the library to ‘the position of a first-class library’ with a ‘collection of books … superior to the collection of any of the second-rate powers in the world, and … in some respects on an equality with such public libraries as are only to be found in London, Paris, and Vienna’.34 The South African Museum (SAM), incorporated into the same building as the SAPL in 1860, shared its scientific collecting ambitions.35

The only other public library of a similar size to the SAPL in the southern colonies was the MPL, which was officially opened to all persons over 14 years of age in 1856. Despite opening with a collection of just 3846 titles, it had universalist ambitions from its inception, and was conceived as a ‘national’ reference-only collection with a ‘noble collection of the best and greatest works in the literature of the world, both ancient and modern’.36 It also contained an art gallery and museum, with the object of promoting ‘sympathy’ between ‘Literature, Science and Art’.37 The library received significant support from the state legislature, receiving in 1853 the generous ‘sum of three thousand pounds (£3000) for the purchase of books, and ten thousand pounds (£10,000) towards the erection of a suitable building to contain them’. Parliamentary reports indicate that funding for the library remained a priority throughout the 1850s and 1860s, where annual funding for the purchase of books ranged between £2000 and £5000.38 While the MPL was held up as a model of its kind in America, New Zealand, England, Scotland, and the Australian colonies, and it was claimed that the library ranked ‘before a great proportion of similar institutions in Europe’ and contained ‘more books than any American library, except that at Harvard College’, comparisons to major research libraries such as the BML were, for the most part, aspirational.39 An article in the Melbourne Herald in 1862 noted that compared to the 600,000 volumes in the BML, the MPL’s 26,000 volumes formed ‘but the basis of a good provincial library’.40 By 1870, the MPL contained 57,370 volumes, making it the largest library in colonial Australia in the nineteenth century.

Unlike the MPL, the SAI had its roots in the financial collapse of its most immediate predecessor, the South Australian Library and Mechanics’ Institute (SALMI) (est. 1848), itself an amalgamation of the South Australian Literary and Scientific Association (est. 1834) and the Adelaide Mechanics’ Institute (est. 1838). Established in 1856, the SAI was a ‘Public Library and Museum’, as well as featuring an art gallery and a ‘School of Art and Design’.41 The SAI provided a central body to which smaller mechanics’ institutes and associations could be either incorporated or affiliated in the manner of the Yorkshire Union of Mechanics’ Institutes.42 Acknowledging that the SAI had at best ‘reached mediocrity’ by the late 1860s,43 there was an increasing sense among the colony’s elite that the library should abandon its circulating branch and model itself more closely on reference-only libraries, such as the MPL and ‘eminent English and American Public Libraries’.44

The question of circulation—and the division of a library’s circulating and reference branches—was an important one, since, as in British India, many of the most important public libraries in the southern colonies evolved from subscription libraries and mechanics’ institutes rather than from centralised municipal legislation, which was enacted in Australia, the Cape Colony, and Singapore in the 1860s and 1870s with mixed results (see Chap.  2). The RLM in Singapore, for example, took over the holdings of the Singapore Library (SL) (1844–1874), a small proprietary subscription library that inherited the holdings of an earlier school library, itself modelled on the Penang Library established in Malacca in 1817.45 The library was initially housed in the same building as its attached museum, the latter of which grew out of the desire to host permanent colonial exhibitions.46 The Singapore libraries were supplied by a variety of London agents, libraries, and publishers over time, including Smith, Elder & Co. and Mudie’s Circulating Library.

The Sydney FPL likewise had its foundations in a subscription library, the ASL, a substantial proprietary library operating in Sydney from 1826 to 1869 by and for the benefit of an elite membership which jealously guarded its privileges. From 1830 onwards, the ASL’s agent in London was James Malcott Richardson, who also supplied the SAPL. Liquidated in 1869, the 16,057 volumes of the ASL were gradually transformed into a substantial reference library over the next 25 years. Unlike many of the public libraries discussed in this book, the ASL was not attached to a museum, and the Australian Museum, established a year later, was a response to the perceived absence of support for the natural sciences in the Australian colonies.47 When financial problems resulted in the closure of Hobart’s TPL (est. 1849) in its first incarnation, similarly a subscription library for a notably exclusive clientele, the new municipalised TPL was legally constituted through the Public Libraries Act of 1867, opening to the public in 1870.48

While British library and classificatory models were replicated and transplanted in the Anglosphere colonial world, early public libraries varied considerably across different colonial spaces, with even the Australian colonies—Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, etc.—having distinct local cultures and place-based identities of their own. Nor did library development always follow a conventional pattern from metropolis to province to colonial outpost, as the extraordinary establishment of a free public library in Cape Town in 1818 suggests. In general, the holdings of these early public libraries were relatively small, with the largest of them holding approximately 30,000–35,000 volumes between 1850 and 1860 and 50,000–60,000 volumes in the 1870s, and the smallest 4000–15,000 between 1850 and 1860 and 3000–20,000 in the 1870s (see Appendix B). This made the smaller libraries, such as the library of the SAI, about the same size as a large mechanics’ institute in Leeds or Manchester rather than anything approaching the size of a major research library in Britain or Europe.

But if colonial public libraries had much smaller collections than their British precedents, there was nonetheless an increasing sense among library management committees that they could rival British and European institutions in other ways, particularly in relation to the openness of their institutions, and in the ‘civic yield’ or use of the libraries per capita.49 In the chapters that follow, we demonstrate that colonial public libraries increasingly looked to each other—and in particular to the MPL50—rather than to the monumental libraries of Britain and Europe as examples of civic modernisation, free and open public access to information, social mobility and egalitarianism, and increased citizenship rights. Even after the British Public Libraries Acts of 1850 and 1853, colonial public libraries saw their access policies as improvements on the perceived elitism and closed coteries that persisted in Britain. In this, such libraries were articulating an increasing awareness of their own distinctiveness relating, in part, to their uniquely enhanced geographical distance from the metropolis, but also to evolving cultural attitudes to the relationship between colony, nation, region, and empire.


  1. 1.

    See, for example, Wallace Kirsop, ‘Libraries for an Imperial Power’, in The Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland Volume II: 1640–1850, ed. Giles Mandelbrote and K. A. Manley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 494–508.

  2. 2.

    The term was used in the nineteenth century to refer to the Cape Colony, New Zealand, and Australia. Kirsten McKenzie, Scandal in the Colonies: Sydney and Cape Town, 1820–1850 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2004), 178.

  3. 3.

    See Archie L. Dick, ‘Book History, Library History and South Africa’s Reading Culture’, South African Historical Journal 55, no. 1 (2006): 33–45.

  4. 4.

    James Belich, Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-World, 1783–1939 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 5.

  5. 5.

    Isabel Hofmeyr, ‘The Globe in the Text: Towards a Transnational History of the Book’, African Studies 64, no. 1 (2005): 87–103.

  6. 6.

    James Raven, London Booksellers and their American Customers: Transatlantic Literary Community and the Charleston Library Society, 1748–1811 (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2002), 14.

  7. 7.

    Kyle B. Roberts and Mark Towsey, ‘Introduction’, in Before the Public Library: Reading, Community, and Identity in the Atlantic World, 1650–1850, ed. Kyle B. Roberts and Mark Towsey (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2018), 1–32 (21).

  8. 8.

    Lynda K. Yankasakas ‘Origin Stories: The Boston Athenaeum, Transatlantic Literary Culture, and Regional Rivalry in the Early Republic’, The New England Quarterly 89, no. 4 (2016): 614–641 (632); Robb. K. Haberman, ‘Provincial Nationalism: Civic Rivalry in Postrevolutionary Magazines’, Early American Studies 10, no. 1 (2012): 162–193. On the intertwined nature of nationalism and globalism, see Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983).

  9. 9.

    Marilyn Lake, ‘White Man’s Country: The Trans-national History of a National Project’, Australian Historical Studies 34, no. 122 (2003): 346–363 (348–349).

  10. 10.

    Kathleen Wilson, ‘Introduction’, in A New Imperial History: Culture, Identity, and Modernity in Britain and the Empire, 1660–1840, ed. Kathleen Wilson (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 1–28.

  11. 11.

    Alan Lester, ‘Imperial Circuits and Networks: Geographies of the British Empire’, History Compass 4, no. 1 (2006): 124–141.

  12. 12.

    Gary B. Magee and Andrew S. Thompson, Empire and Globalisation: Networks of People, Goods and Capital in the British World, c. 1850–1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

  13. 13.

    Tony Ballantyne, Webs of Empire: Locating New Zealand’s Colonial Past (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2012), 23.

  14. 14.

    Tony Ballantyne, ‘Placing Literary Culture: Books and Civic Culture in Milton’, Journal of New Zealand Literature 28, no. 2 (2010): 82–104 (82).

  15. 15.

    By 1860 the white population of colonial Australia numbered around one million. R. V. Jackson, Australian Economic Development in the Nineteenth Century (Canberra: ANU Press, 1977), 4. In contrast, the Aboriginal population had declined rapidly. R. Evans, A History of Queensland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 10–12.

  16. 16.

    By 1860, the total population of Singapore was 90,000, of which only 2445 were Europeans or Eurasians. Saw Swee-Hock, The Population of Singapore, 3rd ed. (Singapore: ISEAS Publishing, 2012), 29. In the Cape Colony, the estimated total population in 1865 was 496,381. Census of the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope, 1865 (Cape Town: Saul Solomon, 1866), iii, viii.

  17. 17.

    David Scott, ‘Colonial Governmentality’, Social Text 43 (1995): 191–220 (204).

  18. 18.

    Julieanne Lamond, ‘Communities of Readers: Australian Reading History and Library Loan Records’, in Republics of Letters: Literary Communities in Australia, ed. Peter Kirkpatrick and Robert Dixon (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2012), 27–38 (33, 31).

  19. 19.

    Emily B. Todd, ‘Antebellum Libraries in Richmond and New Orleans and the Search for the Practices and Preferences of “Real” Readers’, American Studies 42, no. 3 (2001): 195–209 (196).

  20. 20.

    Wallace Kirsop, ‘Writing a History of Nineteenth-Century Commercial Circulating Libraries: Problems and Possibilities’, Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand Bulletin 27 (2003): 71–82 (80).

  21. 21.

    James Raven, ‘Libraries for Sociability: The Advance of the Subscription Library’, in The Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland Volume II: 1640–1850, ed. Giles Mandelbrote and K. A. Manley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 239–263 (249).

  22. 22.

    Kirsop, ‘Libraries for an Imperial Power’, 498. Priya Joshi, In Another Country: Colonialism, Culture, and the English Novel in India (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 63.

  23. 23.

    Leah Price, ‘Introduction: Reading Matter’, PMLA 121, no. 1 (2006): 9–16 (11). Natalie Davies, Society and Culture in Early Modern France (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1975), 192, quoted in Price, 3.

  24. 24.

    Roberts and Towsey, ‘Introduction’, 19.

  25. 25.
  26. 26.

    Both Brunet’s Manuel du Libraire (1810–1865) and the Catalogue of the Library of the Royal Institution (1821) are listed in Catalogue, SAPL, 1829:

  27. 27.

    The MPL’s 1861 catalogue’s alphabetical arrangement with classificatory index often repeats authors across different classifications. We have worked to reduce these repetitions within each of our seven genre categories, but the genre proportions cited should be read as approximate not exact.

  28. 28.

    J. E. Traue, ‘The Public Library Explosion in Colonial New Zealand’, Libraries & the Cultural Record 42, no. 2 (2007): 151–164 (153).

  29. 29.

    Theodorus Friis, The Public Library in South Africa: An Evaluative Study (Cape Town: Afrikaanse Pers-Boekhandel 1962), 10.

  30. 30.

    P. R. Coates, ‘National Library of South Africa’, in International Dictionary of Library Histories Volumes 1 & 2, ed. David H. Stam (London and New York: Routledge, 2015), 573–575.

  31. 31.
  32. 32.

    P. R. Coates, ‘Was the South African Library an Athenaeum?’, Quarterly Bulletin of the National Library of South Africa 66, no. 2 (2012): 11–23 (12).

  33. 33.
  34. 34.

    Argus (Melbourne), March 24, 1862, 6.

  35. 35.

    Saul Dubow, The Commonwealth of Knowledge: Science, Sensibility, and White South Africa, 1820–2000 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 36.

  36. 36.

    Age (Melbourne), February 18, 1856, 3.

  37. 37.

    Report of the Trustees of the Public Library, Museums, and National Gallery of Victoria, with the Reports of the Sectional Committees, for the Year 1870–71 (Melbourne: John Ferres, Government Printer, 1871), accessed August 9, 2018:

  38. 38.
  39. 39.

    Herald (Melbourne), May 27, 1861, 4. See also the statistical comparisons with the BML in Appendices B and C of the Report of Trustees, Accompanying Estimates for the Service of the Year 1859 (Melbourne: John Ferres, 1858), 9–10.

  40. 40.

    Herald, March 28, 1862, 4.

  41. 41.

    South Australian Register, August 22, 1856, 2.

  42. 42.

    Michael Talbot, ‘A Close Affiliation: Coordination of Institutes in South Australia’, in Pioneering Culture: Mechanics’ Institutes and Schools of Arts in Australia, ed. Philip C. Candy and John Laurent (Adelaide: Auslib Press, 1994), 335–356. See also South Australian Register (Adelaide), August 22, 1856, 2; August 30, 1856, 6.

  43. 43.

    South Australian Weekly Chronicle (Adelaide), September 1, 1866, 4.

  44. 44.

    The South Australian Institute: Comprising the Public Library, Art Gallery, and Museums. Addresses Delivered at the Laying of the Foundation (Adelaide: W. K. Thomas & Co, 1879), 14.

  45. 45.

    Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, August 24, 1843, 2; September 21, 1843, 2.

  46. 46.

    Straits Observer, May 3, 1875, 21.

  47. 47.

    Matthew Sean Stephens, ‘The Australian Museum Library: Its Formation, Function and Scientific Contribution, 1836–1917’ (PhD diss., University of New South Wales, 2013), 49–50, accessed February 20, 2019:

  48. 48.

    John Levett, ‘The Tasmanian Free Public Library in 1850: Its Members, Its Managers and its Books’, in Books, Libraries and Readers in Colonial Australia, ed. Elizabeth Morrison and Michael Talbot (Clayton, Vic: Graduate School of Librarianship, Monash University, 1984), 11–21.

  49. 49.

    Heather Gaunt, ‘Identity and Nation in the Australian Public Library: The Development of Local and National Collections 1850s–1940s, Using the Tasmanian Public Library as Case Study’ (PhD diss., University of Tasmania, 2010), 152, accessed August 8, 2018: In 1860, the Melbourne Herald claimed, for example, that the MPL had a greater annual attendance rate than the BML. Herald, May 27, 1861, 4.

  50. 50.

    See, for example, South Australia Weekly Chronicle, September 1, 1866, 4; Queenslander Newspaper, January 16, 1875, 2.

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Authors and Affiliations

  • Lara Atkin
    • 1
  • Sarah Comyn
    • 1
  • Porscha Fermanis
    • 1
  • Nathan Garvey
    • 1
  1. 1.University College DublinDublinIreland

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