Special Collections

About Special Collections

A rare book collection was started by Leonard Jolley, who was the Library’s University Librarian from 1959 to 1979. Jolley had come from England and had many contacts in the UK which meant he could obtain very good prices for rare items. Over the following years, a unique range of books, manuscripts, artefacts and ephemera have been collected, with collection strengths fostered and themed collections of significance to UWA added to form what is now known as the University Library’s Special Collections.

Today, Special Collections boasts strengths in rare materials, Australian Literature, Western Australian Indigenous culture, Indian Ocean Maritime History, Literature and Theatre, and the University. Learn more about the key themes and collections below. 

Housed in the Reid Library, Special Collections plays an important role in preserving cultural heritage, fostering academic research, and enriching educational experiences at the University.

Rare materials and Manuscripts

The Rare materials collection is composed of works of European history, literature and theology of the medieval and early modern periods, philosophy, voyage and settlement works, early 16 and 17th century maps, and facsimile publications of religious and early manuscripts. A significant number of the books in the collection were donated by the Friends of the Library.

Special Collections holds a range of manuscript material, items from the pre-printing era, printed works in their original manuscript form, and personal papers. Included in the Manuscript Collection are Australian literary works, correspondence and medieval manuscripts.

More images:

Polus Antarcticus by Jan Jansson, c.1650
Australian Literature

The Australian Literature Collection is comprised of literary works published in Australia or by Australian authors up to 1980.

The Peter Cowan Collection is especially strong in literary works of the later nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries. It also includes material on Australian history, exploration, art and natural history.

The William Grono Collection of Western Australian Poetry is comprised of poetry by WA authors published from the 19th century onwards.

More images:

A.B. Facey, A Fortunate Life, c.1980
The Western Australian Aboriginal Collection

This collection focuses on Western Australian Indigenous culture. It was formed in consultation with the School of Indigenous Studies to support research and teaching by the School. The collection includes:

  • WA Aboriginal family and community histories
  • Local shire histories
  • Works on Dreamtime stories and other parts of Aboriginal culture
  • Works on or written in WA Indigenous languages
  • Language recordings or works on language i.e. dictionary
  • Oral histories, memoirs, biographies and/or stolen generation stories of WA Indigenous people
  • Works by Indigenous and non-Indigenous authors
Indian Ocean Maritime History

The Indian Ocean is an integral part of the history and contemporary life of Western Australia. Shipping and trade, colonial and imperial histories are the themes of this collection which include materials collected by Indian shipping executive David Solomon Erulkar and UWA Professor Frank Broeze.

The Erulkar Collection focuses on the history of the Eastern Indian Ocean region, especially the maritime history of India and includes rare books, manuscripts and journals.

The Broeze collection focusses on maritime history and shipping. It includes a considerable amount of Dutch and German material and more general books on modern political and economic history.

The strengths of the collection are early mapping of the region, Indian politics, ship-building and ethnography. It is well represented with many of the best known authors on the subject, particularly those of the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries – Dalrymple, Forbes, Marsden, Raffles, Sonnerat, Elphinstone and Valentia.

In the Manuscript collection the Marchant Papers and the Melville Papers relate to the Indian Ocean region.

More images:

Oriental Memoirs by James Forbes, 1813
Literature and Theatre

In addition to the Australian Literature Collection are several named collections in the field of literature and theatre.

The Somerset Maugham Collection includes copies of all Maugham’s major works including first and limited editions, proof copies, books from Maugham’s own library and ephemera.

The King Collection is comprised of twentieth-century English literature, primarily poetry including first editions of Auden, Eliot, Joyce and C. Day Lewis.

The UWA Centenary Theatre Collection assembled by UWATCH (UWA Theatres on Campus History) was presented to the Library as a centenary gift in 2013. The collection comprises programmes, posters, photographs, reviews and costume designs for UWA thetare productions by students and graduates.

The Playhouse Collection includes copies of plays, programmes, playbills, posters and reviews from the mid 1950s – 1982.

More images:

The Letter, Somerset Maugham
University Collections

These collections include published material by the University and publications about the University. Unpublished administrative records and selected personal papers from UWA academics are held by the University Archives.

The Thesis Collection is not available for loan and theses can be viewed only in the Reid Library or Special Collections. There are various access options are available through OneSearch. Check our Request and recommend page for more information.

UWA Publishing, copies of all publications dating from 1935 from UWA Press, now known as UWA Publishing are held in Special Collections.

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Friends of the Library

The Friends of the Library from 1963-2020 supported the UWA Library and Special Collections with the generous donation of rare books and maps to the collection. The Friends through membership and a monthly lecture series raised funds to purchase rare objects for the Library.

Over 50 years the Friends have donated approximately 100 objects to Special Collections. Some examples of significant purchases made by Friends of the Library and donated to Special Collections include:


  • the Polus Antarcticus by Jan Jansson 1650, displaying Australia and Dutch discoveries,
  • the Mare Del Sud by Vincenzo Coronelli 1696 showing New Zealand, Southern Tasmania and part of mainland Australia and
  • a decorative  map showing voyages of Cook and other 18th Century explorers in the Pacific.

A facsimile edition of the Parma Psalter and the Luttrell Psalter were beautiful items purchased for the collection. The Luttrell Psalter is one of the finest treasures of the British Library. Sir Geoffrey Luttrell commissioned this manuscript in the first half of the 14th century. It contains the text of the Psalms and is famous for the vitality and inventiveness of its decoration.

Other unique items include the drawings of the progress of building the replica of the Duyfken and the manuscript papers of author Arthur W Upfield.

In the centenary year of 2013, the Friends commissioned a painting as a gift to the Library. The Friends contributed to the Reid Library's Ground Floor Renovation in 2019 with the purchase of a new exhibition cabinet, used to display items from the collection, many of which have been donated by the Friends of the Library.

In 2019 David Tunley presented his copy of the Cantates françoises a I. et II. voix. Avec simphonie, et sans simphonie - Livre premier by Louis-Nicolas Clérambault published in 1710 to Special Collections.

In 2020 the Friends of the Library agreed to dissolve the Group due to declining membership.

The speaker program informed and entertained members over many years and long friendships were formed. The Friends of the Library has been very successful and made a significant contribution to the UWA Library and Special Collections.

The University Library is very appreciative of the support from the Friends of the Library and thanks them for their significant contribution to the Library.

Bansksia, Celia Rosser

Discover and access the collections

Discover materials in the collections via OneSearch. When searching, use the Location filter on the left-hand side to limit to ‘Reid Library - Special Collections Collection Name’ (e.g. Reid Library - Special Collections Australian Literature).

Most materials from the collections can be viewed by appointment. Some collections and materials may have access restrictions or other conditions. It may be possible to photograph material in accordance with copyright limits (see more on our copyright support page). Contact us to discuss access and arrange a viewing.* Photographic ID is required.

*Please note that during the Reid Library refurbishment works access to items in Special Collections will be limited and only requests for items essential for research, teaching and learning at UWA will be able to be accommodated.


Unique items from the Library’s Special Collections are exhibited in two display cases located on the Ground Floor of the Reid Library. The Library thanks the Friends of the Library for their generous donation of one of the display cases.

Giving to the Library

Gifts and donations as an important and valuable means of enhancing and enriching the University's Collections. UWA collects in the following areas:

  • UWA publications
  • The Indian Ocean Region
  • Australian Literature
  • Manuscripts and rare books published pre-1900

Conditions of acceptance
  • Gifts are accepted on the understanding that items not selected for inclusion in the collection will be disposed of at the Library's discretion.
  • Donated material is integrated into the existing collection, and is subject to the same conditions of use. Gifts are not normally accepted if the donor wishes to place any limitations or restrictions on their use or disposal.
  • Donations become the property of the UWA Library, and may not be claimed back at a later date. We do not normally accept items or collections on long-term loan.
  • Special treatment of significant collections or items may be considered with the approval of the University Librarian.
  • A UWA Gift Agreement must be completed for donations of significant collections or items.

Where appropriate, bookplates with the donor’s name can be added to gift items.

Donations and tax benefits

The Federal Government offers a tax deduction for significant cultural donations to libraries and archives.

How to donate

Donations are not currently being accepted. This page will be updated when the Library is actively seeking donations again.

Dorothy W. Collin Fellowship in the History of the Book

UWA Library administers the Dorothy W. Collin Fellowship in the History of the Book which was established with a generous gift from Dr Dorothy Windus Collin and the late Dr Robert Collin.

The Fellowship supports the study of the English or European language holdings of the University of Western Australia Library's Special Collections. The study shall treat an aspect of book history and should focus on the book or script as historical evidence.

The recipient of the inaugural Dorothy W. Collin Fellowship in the History of the Book is Holly Swenson. Holly is a PhD Candidate at Northwestern University in the United States, and her research focuses on the business of making and selling British media in global markets, particularly Australia, from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. Support from the Dorothy W. Collin Fellowship will enable Holly to conduct archival research on rare Australian gardening books held at the UWA Special Collections.

In this short video, Holly shares how the Fellowship supported her doctoral research.


Due to refurbishment work in the Reid Library the Dorothy W. Collin Fellowship in the History of the Book will not be awarded in 2023. Applications for the Fellowship will open again in mid-2024.

Eligibility Criteria

Eligible applicants include:

  • Academics employed by institutions of higher education
  • Independent scholars
  • Postgraduate students
  • Undergraduates enrolled for an Honours degree for an award of the advertised value, which shall be designated a Studentship
Conditions of the Fellowship

The Fellow:

  • Conducts the study on location at the University of Western Australia Library’s Special Collections. Items and collections are unable to be digitised for the purposes of remote study
  • Completes the study within a period of 6 months
  • Shares the results of their study in a publication at the conclusion of the Fellowship
  • Acknowledges the support of the Dorothy W. Collin Fellowship in the History of the Book in any thesis, dissertation or other publications, resulting from research undertaken supported by the Fellowship
  • Participates in publicity of the Fellowship via photos, videos, etc.

In 2022, the successful applicant was awarded $2,000 to complete their study.

The Application

Applicants are asked to submit a proposal via our webform detailing:

  • The title of their study
  • A detailed description of the study
  • How the proposal will use materials from the Library’s Special Collections (including specific items/collections that would be used) (max 500 words)
  • How the results of the study will be of interest and benefit to other scholars (max 300 words)
  • Demonstration of your background or potential to undertake the proposed project (max 300 words)
  • How you intend to share the results of the study and anticipated output(s) from the study (max 300 words)
  • Proposed timeline

Dates for the 2024 Dorothy W. Collin Fellowship in the History of the Book will be announced in mid-2024.  

Selection Panel

The Selection Panel for the 2022 Fellowship comprised:

  • Ms Jill Benn, University Librarian, University of Western Australia
  • Associate Professor Amanda Laugesen, Director, Australian National Dictionary Centre, Australian National University, and President of the Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand (BSANZ)
  • Associate Professor Shef Rogers, English and Linguistics, University of Otago, and Editor, Script and Print: Bulletin of the Bibliographical Society of Australia & New Zealand

If you have any questions about the Fellowship and application processes contact Amanda Bellenger, Associate University Librarian (Engagement & Experience).

Contact the Special Collections team