Historiography in Melbourne in the Eighteen Seventies and Eighties


IN the 1870's came the first group of histories and would-be histories of the colony of Victoria. Although there were only five decades of European experience to consider, and though the uncertainty of direction in the political life of the seventies might have been a deterrent, a few men were concentrating their intellectual energies on writing the colony's history. On the one hand the haphazard accumulation of evidence made it possible; on the other, such self-celebratory occasions as the 1880 International Exhibition made it desirable, and even profitable. While no academic enthusiasm for the young discipline of history inspired the would-be historians —the University had as yet no separate chair of history—it did seem to them possible to assess the colony's achievements in some form or another. The beginnings of the white man's history on the sand hills of Sorrento were remarkably remote and in danger of being forgotten; the praises of the prosperous gold colony and its conspicuously up-to-date capital were ready to be sung; the story of British progress in the south, whilst everywhere assumed, was awaiting examination. Given that the city of Melbourne contained men sufficiently educated, dedicated and leisured to undertake such work, the number of books written during the period is not surprising.

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Published 1 October 1969 in Volume 4 No. 2. Subjects: Colonial life, Historiography, Melbourne.

Cite as: Roe, Jill. ‘Historiography in Melbourne in the Eighteen Seventies and Eighties.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 4, no. 2, 1969, doi: 10.20314/als.01d09fc805.