The Colonial Australian Archive

This field of research brings together current and new work across the following areas: colonial literary studies/print culture, theatre and performance, early cinema, visual art and design, migration and settlement, 'contact' studies, colonial typologies, frontier settler violence, law and order, race, and gender.

Research into the colonial archive in Australia is ongoing and always in need of further encouragement. The colonial archive holds information crucial to the foundations, aspirations and anxieties of an emerging modern nation. The aim is to develop and disseminate a sophisticated sense of the complexities of colonial life in Australia across a wide range of sites of cultural and social activity.

Ken Gelder and Rachael Weaver, Colonial Australian Popular Fiction series

The Colonial Australian Popular Fiction series is an ongoing collaboration between the Grattan Street Press and the Australian Centre. The series brings the excitement and diversity of colonial Australian fiction to the attention of contemporary readers.

Encompassing both novels and short-story collections, the series will include a range of popular genres that flourished during the colonial period: the bush sketch, the Lemurian novel, crime and detective fiction, the colonial romance, the Gothic tale, the convict novel, the goldfields adventure, and the bushranger novel. Some of the authors were bestsellers in their day, and their work can still take us by surprise.

View the series

Ken Gelder, Eco-Colonial Australian literature: environment, species, climate

This ARC funded Discovery Project (2017-2020) aims to consider how colonial Australian literary writing shaped Australia's environmental consciousness. It will explore how colonial Australian literature expressed ecological issues: questions of land clearance, species classification, habitat, extinction, climate change and the effect of environmental disasters. By examining colonial Australian literary writing, natural historians' works and debates about the management of resources, this project expects to reveal our literary past and add historical depth to current environmental concerns in Australia.

ST Gill
S. T. Gill. 'Diggers on way to
Camp to deposit Gold' 1852

Ken Gelder and Rachael Weaver, Populating the Nation: towards a genealogy of colonial Australian character types

This ARC funded Discovery Project (2014-2016) investigated the vast array of social typologies - character types - mobilised by colonial writers in Australia from the mid-1800s to the beginning of the First World War. Rural Australia saw a plethora of character types introduced into the landscape (the rouseabout, the selector, the bush parson, etc), but the cities also saw a proliferation of typologies that turned metropolitan Australia into a fluid and complex social space. This project examined colonial typologies across print and visual culture as a matter of national investment, conceived in terms of their capacity to contribute to a rapidly-growing and increasingly modern colonial economy.

Anne Maxwell, 'The Complete Craze': Women's Photography and Colonial Modernity in the Asia-Pacific, 1860-1930

Maxwell Moore sisters photograph
Maxwell Moore
sisters photograph

This research project on the history of early women photographers of the Asia-Pacific was funded by a Australia Research Council Discovery Project (2014-2016) grant and was titled "The Complete Craze: Women's Photography and Colonial Modernity in the Asia-Pacific, 1860-1930".

Before the conclusion of this project, there had been no sustained research into the photography produced by women in the Asia-Pacific region in the late colonial era even though much of it was aesthetically sophisticated and innovative. Combining historical research with postcolonial and gender theory, the project critically examined a large body of images by women photographers working across the region. It identified the factors enabling these women to be examined as a group, investigated their subject matter, techniques and styles, and established what was exciting and new, as well as conventional, about their methods. It also showed how their artworks both reflected and contributed to the region's burgeoning modernity.

The project outcomes include:

1. A digital archive containing a wide selection of images and supplying details of all the women photographers known to have been working in Australia up to and including the 1950s.

The archive provides detailed biographical, historical, critical and reference information on Australia's early women photographers for use by researchers. Altogether there are approximately 68 entries gleaned from various sources, with the photographers covering the time span 1850-1950. Taken together the entries give a powerful sense of the enormous variety of styles and approaches used by Australia's earliest women photographers but also the wide range of genres in which they worked. It covers portrait, landscape and cityscape, medical, natural history, ethnographic, travel, tourist, advertising, fashion, photojournalism and documentary photographers and bridges the commercial and high art worlds in addition to amateur and professional photography.

View the archive

2. An illustrated scholarly monograph that analyses the works of the more prolific and innovative women photographers of the Asia-Pacific who were working in the period 1860-1930. Preliminary research identified some of these works and the photographers who created them but a final selection will be made in the near future.

3. Two scholarly articles outlining the aesthetically compelling and novel features of Asia-Pacific women's photography.

  • Maxwell, Anne. "Picturing collaboration: European women photographers and indigenous peoples in the contestation of British and American imperialism in the Pacific, 1890-1910" in Darian Smith,  Kate and and Edmond, Penelope (eds.,). Conciliation on Colonial Frontiers: Conflict, Performance and Commemoration in Australia and the Pacific Rim. Routledge, 2015
  • Maxwell, Anne. "Celebrities of Theatre and Bohemia: The Stylish Portraits of May and Mina Moore," in Shifting Focus, Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920. Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2015

Colonial Australian Popular Fiction: A Digital Archive

Red Ant
Red Ant cover

Colonial Australian Popular Fiction is an online bibliography and digital archive that gathers together for the first time a wide range of vibrant colonial writing that has previously been difficult to access. This archive began as part of a larger ARC-funded project based at the University of Melbourne, Australia, which has been examining the history of Australian popular or genre fiction from the early to late colonial period. Colonial Australian Popular Fiction is designed to operate as a major reading, research and teaching resource. It makes available a wide selection of popular colonial publications, many of which are now rare and out of print. Texts are imaged and presented in their original format, highlighting the physical and visual aspects of book production in what was a dynamic and competitive colonial publishing scene. The archive is now being extended and developed as part of an ongoing collaboration with the Library at the University of Melbourne.

Visit the Colonial Australian Popular Fiction website

William Gosse Hay (1875-1945)

Rachael Weaver, Literary Influence, Canonicity and the Historical in the Career of William Gosse Hay

This Hugh Williamson Foundation Fellowship project at the University of Melbourne Archives will focus on the papers of the enigmatic post-Federation author of historical fiction William Gosse Hay (1875-1945). Hay was relatively unknown in Australia in his lifetime, but soon after his death, in 1946, a special edition of Southerly was devoted to his work. The journal's editor, RG Howarth, noted that "Hay anticipates and touches the moderns" and compared him to writers such as Patrick White and Eleanor Dark. The originality and significance of this project lies in its excavation of new insights into Hay's career and the way it has been understood over time.

Lucie O'Brien, Ken Gelder and Ian Ramsay, Bankruptcy and literature in colonial Australia

This joint project with the Centre for Corporate Law (CCL), investigates representations of bankruptcy in the literature of colonial Australia. It focusses on the poems, short stories and serialised novels that appeared in periodicals published in Victoria, in the 1850s, 60s and 70s. The project is examining the ways in which these texts borrowed from Victorian English literature, drawing parallels between financial profligacy and moral degeneracy. It is also exploring the ways in which they diverged from English precedents to reflect the unique aspirations and anxieties of a settler colony.

Research publications