The Society has a large and diverse collection of treasures which we are progressively adding to this web site. Revisit every few weeks to see what's new!
Note: The information presented has been prepared by volunteers of the RGSSA and is subject to revision as more research on the treasures is undertaken.
The Society is grateful to photographer Robert Dettman for providing the images.
During the 16th and early 17th century the De Bry family published some of the greatest collections of illustrated voyages to the Americas. Considered one of the most influential and sought-after collection of voyages and maps ever published.
The Forest Flora of South Australia contains the first high quality prints of local botanical specimens published in the province of South Australia. Issued in nine parts, each of five plates, between 1883 and 1890.
This set of volumes is recognised as one of the great natural history publications of all time. It was published between 1840 and 1848 with 681 hand-coloured lithographic plates and is an original edition.
The Cosmological Glasse, conteinyng the pleasant Principles of Cosmographie, Geographie, Hydrographie or Navigation, 1558. This very old and important book is said to be the first written on the subject of surveying and is one of the oldest items in the RGSSA collection. It contains many beautiful woodcuts including an aerial view of Norwich.
John Gould is usually thought of as the "bird man", but following his trip to Australia between May 1838 and August 1839, he published Mammals of Australia in three volumes with 182 beautifully hand coloured lithographic plates.
This map was drawn with south at the top which was not uncommon until the use of the magnetic compasses became widespread. An excellent hand drawn copy from 1884 of one of the world’s oldest maps.
123 Royal Subscription Edition RSE folio lithographic hand coloured prints of The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, and Arabia, From Drawings "made on the Spot" by David Roberts R A 1796-1864
This beautiful and rare folio (489mm x 362mm) edition of the Rhododendrons of Sikkim Himalaya, 1849, contains 43 hand coloured lithographs of the rhododendrons collected by Joseph Dalton Hooker during his expedition 1847-1851 to the Himalayas.
This book by John Lewin (1770-1819) was the first natural history book illustrated with plates produced in Australia and is extremely rare.
This banner was embroidered in 1986 by Mrs Eva Chambers, President of the Embroiderers' Guild of South Australia. The banner was presented to the Society on 10th July 1985 by President Brian Ward and his wife June at a special meeting of the Council held to mark the centenary of the formation of the Society on 10 July 1885.
The oldest book in the Society’s Library is Ptolemy's Geographia di Francesco Berlinghieri, a folio volume published in Florence, Italy, by Nicolo Todescho Berlinghieri, ca 1480. This volume contains the calculations and art works of Claudius Ptolemy, 100– c. 170 AD. This folio volume with 31 maps engraved on copper and is considered a monument of typography and the engraver's art.
This 1923 map, a one-off creation, is approximately 3 metres wide by 3.5 metres tall, and has the signature of the Surveyor General, Theo (Theodore) E. Day, who was appointed in 1921. The map is a good example of the cartographer’s art around the 1920s. It includes the routes of 28 explorers from Charles Sturt 1823 to Frank Rees George 1904 as well as Surveyed Lands, Pastoral Leases, Artesian basins and Goyder’s Line of rainfall etc.
Known as the "knight-errant of explorers", and standing 193cm (6 feet, 4 inches) tall, Scotsman John McKinlay (1819-72) was an adventurer and pastoralist. He led the South Australian Burke Relief Expedition and was the second European man to cross the continent from south to north.
These two volumes were handwritten by the young, and later distinguished botanist, Joseph Banks on his first "expedition" between April and November 1766. The first records his journey to Newfoundland and Labrador on HMS Niger. This was his first visit to a foreign country and his first experience of ocean sailing. The second records his stay of six weeks in Lisbon on the way home.
This small book produced by Alexander Shaw in 1787 contains 38 samples of tapa cloth collected on the three voyages of Captain Cook to the South Pacific 1768-1779.
It is a rare example of items known to have certainly been on Cook's ships. It also contains anecdotes of early encounters with Indigenous peoples.
This is an original edition of John Gould's first venture into the study of Australian birds featuring artwork and lithography by Elizabeth Gould. It contains seventy three hand-coloured lithographic plates showing mainly the heads of more than 160 Australian birds.
This is the first work on the science of beekeeping in the English language. Written by Charles Butler, who is known as the Father of English beekeeping, the text brought into the public consciousness the idea that a bee colony is presided over by a queen.
Colonel William Light (1786-1839) was responsible for choosing the site and laying out the City of Adelaide in 1836 and has been called the "Founder of Adelaide". The Society is fortunate to have a portrait by artist George A J Webb, Light's surveyor's dumpy level and relics salvaged from his cottage.
Wildflowers of South Australia was written and illustrated by Fanny Elizabeth de Mole (1835 - 1866). Published in 1861, it was the first book published on the botany of the province of South Australia.
This 1679 publication is a comprehensive text covering all aspects of navigation. Included are logarithmic tables, instructions in astronomy, geometry, trigonometry, latitude and longitude as well as "fireworks" and fortifications.
It also includes a number of unusual rotating circular paper calculators - forerunners of the circular slide rule.
It is one of the oldest books in the Treasures collection.
Originally drawn in 1265 this strip map - depicting territory from England to China - is a 19th century copy comprising 11 panels and measuring approximately 34cm high and 6.74m long. The 16th century original of Tabula Peutingeriana is now conserved in the Austrian National Library Vienna.
An original edition with 18 lithographs by John's talented artist wife Elizabeth. Features “figures and descriptions of new and interesting species of birds from various parts of the globe."
This water Canteen is emblematic of the unforgiving nature of the interior of Australia and the risks people took to reconnoitre the country. Pioneer William Coulthard died of thirst in 1858 while searching for pastoral country north of Port Augusta. He scratched his tragic last words on this canteen.
These papers, published in 1833 and 1847, are examples of the over 300 scientific papers by John Gould. They were published in the Transactions of the Zoological Society, London, and each has a hand-coloured lithographic plate of the subject bird, one of which was produced is by his artist wife Elizabeth Gould. These papers show that in 1833, early in his career, John Gould was well established in scientific circles as an ornithologist.
This book, by John Lewin (1770-1819), is extremely rare and is one of only six copies known to exist. It was one of the first books published on Australian birds. Also in this volume are six plates from Lewin's Natural history of lepidopterous insects.
Oil painting of James Poole's grave at Depot Glen between Tibooburra and Milparinka NSW. Poole was second in command of Charles Sturt's expedition and died in July 1845 from scurvy.
This portrait of Stephen William Silver FRGS FLS, was donated to the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (South Australian Branch) by his widow, Mrs Sarah Constance Silver. It accompanied the York Gate library collection to South Australia and came from William Silver's estate.
The catalogues of the York Gate Library published in 1882 and 1886 provide a fascinating record of the collection acquired by the RGSSA in 1905.
This very early map of Adelaide dated 1838 was drawn by Lieut. Henry Nixon who was a member of Colonel Light's survey party. It shows interesting detail of Adelaide in its very early days.
This rare atlas, mostly of charts, includes one of the earliest published maps showing part of the south coast of Australia. These charts are exceptionally beautiful with ornate cartouches and vivid colouring.
This was a landmark in cartography and is known as the first modern atlas containing a comprehensive collection of the best available maps of the time.