Level 3 Mortlock Wing State Library of South Australia North Terrace Adelaide SA 5000


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.


1 de Bry Virginia Map

De Bry’s collection of travels and voyages to America

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.

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Forest Flora Cover

The Forest Flora of South Australia - 45 coloured botanical lithographic plates

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.

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Goulds Birds 02

The Birds of Australia by John Gould

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.

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230725 RJD RGSSA 132 4683

William Cuningham's Cosmological Glasse 1558

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.

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Goulds Mammals 02

Mammals of Australia by John Gould, 1845 -1863

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.

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230711 RJD1801

Mappemonde by Nicholas Desliens of Dieppe, 1566

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.

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Roberts Holy Land 09

David Roberts' hand coloured lithographs of the Holy Land - Royal Subscription Edition

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

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Rhododendrons by J D Hooker 09

The Rhododendrons of Sikkim Himalaya, 1849

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. 

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Lewins Insects 05

John Lewin's Natural History of Lepidopterous Insects (i.e. moths) of NSW, 1805

This book by John Lewin (1770-1819) was the first natural history book illustrated with plates produced in Australia and is extremely rare.

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230711 RJD1788

Royal Geographical Society of South Australia silk banner embroidered with gold and silver thread.

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.

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Ptolemy Berlinghieri Maps 2

Ptolemy atlas 1480 - Ptolemy, Claudio, AD 100- AD 168 Geographia di Francesco Berlinghieri 1480

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.

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Robert Dettman Wall map

South Australia, wall map, created by the Department of Lands 1923

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.

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Whisky Flasks

McKinlay’s Whisky Flask

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.

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Banks Journal

Sir Joseph Banks -Handwritten journals of a voyage to Newfoundland and Labrador, and a visit to Lisbon

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.

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Shaws Catalogue of Cloths From Cooks Voyages 2

Catalogue of specimens of cloth collected during the voyages of Captain Cook, 1768-1779

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.

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Goulds Synopsis 2

A Synopsis of the Birds of Australia and Adjacent Islands by John Gould 1837-1838

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.

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Butlers Bees 1

Charles Butler's The Feminine Monarchie, or the Historie of Bees, 1634

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.

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Light portrait

Colonel Light's surveyor's level and portrait

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.

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Fanny de Mole Wild Flowers of SA 1

Wildflowers of South Australia by Fanny de Mole, 1861

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.

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Mariners Magazine 08

The Mariners' Magazine - By Captain Samuel Sturmy (1633-1669)

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.

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Peutingers Strip Map 1

Peutinger Table - a 19th century copy of a strip map printed in 1598

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.

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Goulds Icones Avium 1

John Gould's Icones Avium 1837-1838

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."

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Coultards Water Canteen With Engraving

Coulthard’s Water Canteen

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.

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Goulds Transactions 1

John Gould, Three papers on new species of birds, Transactions of Zoological Society, London

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.

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Lewins Birds 05

John Lewin's Book, Birds of New Holland, 1808

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.

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John Pooles Grave

James Poole's Grave - oil painting

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.

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S W Silver portrait Photo

Portrait of William Silver, creator of the York Gate Library

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.

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York Gate 2 Inner Cover

Catalogue of the York Gate Library, 1882 and 2nd edition, 1886

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.

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Nixon Adelaide District Plan Map

Nixon's map of Adelaide 1838

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.

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230213 RGSSA 079 4712 2

Colom, Arnold, Zee Atlas - Amsterdam 1658

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.

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9 Ortelieus World Map

Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Atlas of the Whole World ) by Abraham Ortelius, 1571

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.

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