In order to examine how the nature of book holdings changed over space and time in the colonial Southern Hemisphere and Straits Settlements in the nineteenth century, we are creating a database of Book Catalogues in the Southern Hemisphere (BCSH). The catalogues that form our database include: library catalogues (for institutions like subscription libraries, mechanics’ institutes, public libraries, institutional libraries, private collections etc.); auction catalogues (which were by far the most prevalent before 1840); and bookseller catalogues.
The aims of the BCSH database are three-fold: first to provide a list of book catalogues that were published in the region within the relevant dates of the project (1780-1870); second to provide a digitalised copy of each of these catalogues; and third to provide an analysis of the book holdings and a gloss on each of the catalogues, indicating the kinds of books that were published, held, collected, distributed, remaindered, and circulated in the region.
We have currently found nearly 500 catalogues in the region, primarily from Australia and New Zealand, and South Africa. These catalogues will soon be available on our website. Where the catalogues have been digitised, links are provided to the digitised source. Where catalogues have not been digitalised and permissions have been granted, a high-quality image of the catalogue will be provided.
An additional database of books is also slowly evolving from which we hope to create visualisations, showing how texts moved around colonial Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the Straits Settlements by author, genre, and other classifications. Unfortunately, many of the early librarians in the colonies did not record detailed information about the books in their collection so there is a lot of work involved in establishing specific editions.
While the database can’t claim to include every catalogue (let alone every book) that was held in the Southern Hemisphere and Straits Settlements because a number of known catalogues have not survived, many smaller private collections were not catalogued, and books were advertised as lost, stolen or missing all the time, the 500 catalogues included in the database provide a good indication of the type, range, and numbers of books flowing into the region during the period under investigation. We aim eventually to provide lists of known catalogues that were lost or destroyed, and other book collections known to have existed that were simply not recorded in catalogues. We also aim later to supplement our book holdings with book advertisements and references to books in colonial newspapers.
Header image provided courtesy of the State Library of Victoria.