Rare Book Discussions



Rare Book Discussion Group (RBDG)

The RBDG has been running successfully since 2012 – it’s history has been captured by Jill Kirby.

Meetings are normally held on every 4th Thursday in the month, in the Society’s rooms at 10:30.  The program for 2020 is available here.   This event is free for members of the RGSSA. Non-members are welcome to attend and tickets are available for $10 per person. The RGSSA welcomes new members who wish to make a contribution to the success of the society.  There is a limit of 24 people at each meeting. To ensure a place please book through the following link which will become active a few weeks before each session

Eventbrite - RGSSA Rare Book Discussion Group

2020 Program

February 27 - The Society’s Manuscript Collection

The Society’s Manuscript Collection.

27th February

In 1981, the Society published A catalogue of the Manuscripts which contained 179 items, including hand-written diaries, letters, journals of expeditions, memoranda, convict records, maps, sketches and watercolours.  Over 150 items have been added since.  Many small snippets of significant information are to be found in this series, so come along and be amazed.

March 26 - Field Trip to Maritime Museum, Port Adelaide

Field Trip to Maritime Museum, Port Adelaide
26th March

Come on this Field Trip and see numerous items on long-term loan ranging from surgical equipment and pewter plate from early ships to accounts and atlas-es of the first voyages in the late 18th Century. Items include some of Colonel Light’s equipment and letters. Maritime Museum staff will provide a guided tour followed by free time to explore this fascinating venue. Optional train travel to and from Port Adelaide, followed by lunch at a nearby eatery.

April 23 - 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s voyage to Australia

250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s voyage to Australia.

23rd April

Captain Cook, 1728-79, is well known as one of the world’s greatest navigators.  He was also a pioneer of Pacific navigation and made a major contribution to the understanding of Polynesian society until his untimely death at Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii on the 14th February 1779.


Presenter Nona Verco will reveal what the Society holds in its Collection, including a book of samples of tapa cloth collected from the South Sea islands during the three voyages of Captain Cook.

May 28 - “D” sized books in the Society’s collection.

“D” sized books in the Society’s collection.
28th May

In days gone by, “Big” was important.
Many exceptional volumes are as large as A2 or A0 metric paper sizes. If you haven’t seen books as large as this, then why not come along? This session will provide something completely different, as presented by Rod Shearing.

June 25 - David Roberts: Egypt and the Holy Land

David Roberts: Egypt and the Holy Land.
25th June

The Discussion Group will get up close to Roberts’ wonderful hand-coloured lithographs. In 1838 he travelled to Egypt and the Holy Land to record the monuments, architecture and people. On his return to England, his works were published in a six-volume set in which all 248 lithographs were hand coloured. The volumes provide a unique pictorial insight into Egypt, Nubia and the Holy Land. Dick Wilson will present consecutive 1.5 hour sessions (at 10.30am and 1pm) to view the Society’s collection. For maximum benefit we recommend attending both sessions.

July 23 - Colonial SA through the eyes of surveyors.

Colonial SA through the eyes of surveyors.
23rd July

Surveyors were at the forefront of exploration in colonial days. They were often among the first white people to see the country, they mapped boundaries and sometimes sketched what they saw. Their journeys, their interactions with indigenous Australians and with the land helped set the pattern for development. Patricia Paddick will help us to discover what material the library contains on these interesting men, their maps and their contribution.

August 27 - Mineral Springs: From Bath to Belair

Mineral Springs: From Bath to Belair

27th August

The ancient Roman Baths in the city of Bath, England are well known, but did you know that we have our own “baths’ here at Old Government House, Belair?
Presenter Lesley Abell will discuss the social and health issues of mineral springs, including the bathing and taking of waters. She will also cover Australian examples, such as the hot springs at Paralana in the Flinders Ranges.

September 24 - Interaction between Aborigines and colonists

Interaction between Aborigines and colonists.

24th September

The RGSSA collection contains many interesting items relating to Australia’s indigenous population. Presenter Sally Hanley will guide us through official records, diaries and journals from Captain Cook, the First Fleet, early explorers and settlers. These record interactions with Aboriginal populations as well as languages, art and complex kinship systems. The library contains records of misionaries and massacres as well as the Protection Acts which led to the removal of Aboriginal children from their families.

October 22 - What's on Level 3 of the Mortlock Wing?

What's on Level 3 of the Mortlock Wing?
22nd October

In this 2 hour session (10.30am to 12.30pm) participants will have the rare opportunity to spend time perusing the books held by the RGS on Level 3.

Many of the books have not been catalogued and are waiting for someone to discover them and pluck them from obscurity and (possibly) have them included in the Society's catalogue.

November 26 - Elder Scientific Exploring Expedition 1891-92

Elder Scientific Exploring Expedition 1891-92.
26th November

Sponsored by Sir Thomas Elder and managed by our fledgling Royal Geographical Society, the Elder was regarded at the time as the strongest and best equipped inland expedition mounted by Colonial Australia. It was also one of the last great expeditions of the so-called heroic age of Australian exploration. In the eyes of many, including our official historian Ken Peake-Jones, it was a failure. But was it? Using the many expedition documents held by the Society, Colin Harris will re-examine the Expedition’s achievements, and its shortcomings.

2019 Program

The Rare Book Room: its RGSSA contents, protection, and preservation.  

28th November

The climate-controlled, high-security Rare Book Room of the State Library holds about 50 items owned by the Society, ranging from single letters to huge volumes of art work.

Hear from State Library staff how the Rare Book room is managed, how audits and conservation take place and look at some of the rare and valuable contents not recently shown at a Rare Book Discussion Group session.


16th and 17th Century editions of voyages to the Americas by the De Bry family.

26th September

The de Bry family in the late 16th and early 17th century published some of the greatest collections of voyages to the Americas by European explorers. Theodor trained under his grandfather and father as a goldsmith and engraver of copper plates in the Flemish town of Liege.

The images portrayed in the copper plate engravings are of the highest artistic quality.  The Society is very fortunate to have all 13 parts of this very rare collection.

Volcanoes, Earthquakes and Tsunamis.  

25th July

These natural phenomena have fascinated and puzzled observers and scientists alike over the centuries.

The RGSSA library contains some spine-tingling first-hand descriptions of these dramatic events.  Equally interesting are the early attempts to explain them, and to see how the threads were gradually drawn together into the modern theory of Plate Tectonics.

Antarctic Exploration: from Weddell to Wilkins.

27th June

Antarctica was explored by sea from 1822 on- wards, and on land from 1898 by Bernacchi, Shackleton and Mawson, This was followed by the “race” to the South  Pole by Norwegian Amundsen and Britain’s Scott in 1911-12.  What else does our Collection hold on this amazing “last place on earth”, recently visited by our presenter?

Children’s literature in the Society’s Collection

23rd May

Did you know that our library contains an illustrated children’s tale, written in verse by the poet Robert Burns whose statue stands in the forecourt of the State Library?

What other literature does the Society’s collection hold? Why was it included in the Society’s collection?

John and Elizabeth Gould, Ornithology, Art and Entrepreneurship.
By popular demand an additional session – 30 May at 10:30 am

18th April

John Gould is well known for his work in the mid-19th century identifying and recording birds and publishing his beautifully illustrated folios of birds including the eight volumes of Birds of Australia. Gould used various artists for his finished works including Edward Lear and his wife Elizabeth who is not so well known, but who was a major contributor, meanwhile having eight children. Gould visited Adelaide and Kangaroo Island and went on a short expedition with Charles Sturt.

The RGSSA and the State Library of SA have an impressive collection of original books of John Gould’s illustrations many of which will be on display.

Flax and its use from ancient to modern times.
Thursday 28 March

Flax has been cultivated and used in many countries over the ages principally for fibre (linen), seed, and oil. Linen cloth spun, woven and dyed, was used
for thousands of years before paper and printed rec- ords for royal, religious, funerary and ceremonial purposes.

For many, the fibre represented currency, bartered in trade from country to country, prior to the development of money or coin currency.

Newspaper Clippings from 1860 to 1880.
Thursday 28th February 2019

Charles Davies MD had many hobbies including collecting cuttings from several Adelaide newspa-pers, carefully pasting them into 36 volumes of scrapbooks.

Articles were written with all the prejudices of the day and seen through the eyes of those who were there to witness the events of the time.

The Society has a large collection of Rare Books and Maps.