History of the John Oxley Library - Part Two

The State Library of Queensland’s John Oxley Library celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, first opening to the public on 5 April 1934.  A range of programs, exhibitions and events will mark this important anniversary and these will be outlined progressively throughout the year. 

We continue our series on the history of the John Oxley Library, as follows:

 The aims of the Oxley Memorial Library were to collect and exhibit a range of historical material as generally outlined in its articles of incorporation.  Brisbane’s Mayor (Alderman W.A. Jolly) and the Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland (Professor F.W.S. Cumbrae-Stewart) were appointed trustees of an Oxley Memorial Fund.

William Alfred Jolly, ohn Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Image no. 109729

Public Library of Queensland, 1931, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Image no. 185381

During the early 1920s, Queensland’s population was small (less than 800,000) and Brisbane had less than 240,000 residents.  In comparison with the rest of Australia, Queensland appeared somewhat stilted in terms of art, culture and education.  No state controlled secondary school had existed before 1912 and by the early 1920’s there were only seven, as compared with 28 in New South Wales and 31 in Victoria.  The University of Queensland had only been established in 1911 and by 1924 had just 450 students.  The Queensland Art Gallery, opened in 1895, had only a small collection and limited funding, in stark contrast with the National Gallery of Victoria which enjoyed an income from bequests in excess of £8,000 per year.  The Brisbane Public Library, opened in 1902, had a total collection of some 46,000 works, around a quarter of the size of the collections in the public libraries in Sydney and Melbourne.  In the case of the State Library of New South Wales, the Mitchell Library, dedicated to the collecting of Australiana and history, held a collection of approximately 112,000 items, mainly the bequest of David Scott Mitchell, as well as his endowment of £70,000.  In contrast, the Brisbane Public Library’s Australiana collection was said to only fill a few shelves.

Therefore, in this context, the idea of developing the Oxley Memorial Library was ambitious. 

Part Three of the John Oxley Library's history will be posted next month.

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