Library Overview


Library re-opening 15 March 2022

Overview of the RGS Library

The Library of the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia contains over 25,000 volumes and is one of the most significant collections of rare geographical books and manuscripts in Australia.  The oldest book in the library is a beautifully bound version of  Ptolemy’s Geographia published in 1482. In addition there are 26 other book published before 1599 including two Ortelius atlases (1571 and 1598). Other rare atlases include two Colom atlases (c1650 and  1670) and  Mercator’s atlas (1635).  The manuscript collection contains many significant items including three Sir Joseph Banks’ manuscripts (1766, 1768, 1811), John McDouall Stuart’s diary of his fifth expedition (1861/62) and two letters written by Colonel Light.  Many of the Library’s rare items have been displayed in exhibitions, catalogues of these can be found on the Exhibitions page.

The Society’s Library is largely based on four private collections that
have given it a broad base in historical geography, colonial history, anthropology and travel :-

  • York Gate library (acquired 1905, approximately 7,500 titles)
  • Thomas Gill’s library (acquired 1923, approx. 2,400 titles)
  • Dr. F. L. Benham’s library (bequeathed 1939, approx. 4,000 titles
  • Jim Faull’s local history collection (donated in 1990, approx. 100 titles)

Most of the items in these collections are included in the library’s Online Catalogue.

New books continue to be purchased for the library and we are always grateful for appropriate donations. The Centenary Library Fund was established in 1985 to assist with making special purchases. Donations to this fund of $2.00 or more are tax deductible.

Public enquiries are welcome.   Many books and periodicals are available for loan to members.


Hours:    Tuesday to Friday 10 am to 1 pm.   (By prior arrangement Library material can be made available for reading in the State Library’s Somerville Reading Room).

Phone: 08 82077266     Email:

Staffing: The library is staffed by volunteer librarians and library technicians.; Current staff:- David Wald (Chairperson), Phyl Twigg, Alan Wallace, Wynton Heading, John Dayman, Jenny Treloar, Liz Raeside, David Booth, Sandra Thompson, Gail Ward, Nona Verco, Heather Cunningham, Pat Greet, Andrew Durham, Geoff Lemmey.

Location: The Library and the Society’s office are located on Level 2 of the Mortlock Wing of the State Library of South Australia, North Terrace, Adelaide. (Postal address: PO Box 3661, Rundle Mall, Adelaide, 5000)

Tours of the Library: These are available by prior arrangement. A general tour will usually include rare books on discovery and exploration with some dating back to the sixteenth century, examples of early natural history books (eg two books on Australian insects with hand-coloured illustrations both published in 1805), early South Australian maps, artefacts including Colonel Light’s level and furniture made by John McDouall Stuart.  A tour of the top gallery of the Mortlock Wing is usually part of a general tour. The gallery, which is not usually open to public access, includes about 9,000 books, many of which were originally part of the York Gate Library which the Society purchased in 1905.

Many of the Library’s rarest items are held in the State Library’s Rare and Restricted Room and can only be included in tours by prior arrangement.  Examples include: Joseph Banks’ manuscripts, John Gould’s famous volumes on the birds and mammals of Australia and original watercolours of George French Angas.

Tours on specific subjects can also be arranged.

The RGS Library Reading Space.

The RGS Library Display Area.