In The Argus newspaper of 13 May 1853 the following item appeared:
"Law Library - His Honour Mr Justice Barry yesterday intimated that he would be glad if the Gentlemen of the Bar would nominate two of their body and select two of the other profession to meet him tomorrow at his Chambers, Supreme Court, at two o'clock to determine on such a selection of Law Books, as it might be judged necessary to form the contemplated law library for the use of the profession. His Honour likewise intimated that he had now a fund of £296 in hand from fees, etc, for the purchase of books and as he had taken measures to add another £200 to that sum, the profession might confidently look forward to the nucleus of a valuable library being made. He would like the consultation to take place this day (Friday) in order to send advices per Harbinger."
In February 1854 a Rule of the Supreme Court fixed fees for admission and provided that all such fees shall be applied to the purchase and maintenance of a library for the use of the Supreme Court.
On 24 April 1854 a meeting of the Supreme Court Library Committee was held. The meeting book in the possession of the Library contains the following account of the meeting:
At a meeting of the Supreme Court Library Committee, held at the Judges' Library, on the 24th day of April, 1854.
His Honour The Acting Chief Justice (in the chair).
The Acting Solicitor General.
Aug. Brown Abrahams, Esq.
Chas. James Dawson, Esq.
Thos. Spencer Cope, Esq.
David Ogilvy, Esq.
John Baxter Bennett, Esq.
Henry Adolphus Bronckhorst, Esq.
It was resolved:
- That the thanks of the Committee be conveyed to His Honour, Sir William a'Beckett for the useful services performed by him in obtaining on terms so advantageous works so valuable for the foundation of the Library of the Supreme Court.
- That the further thanks of the Committee be conveyed to His Honour for having advanced from his private funds the sum of £200 for the purchase of books for the Library.
- That His Honour the Acting Chief Justice be authorised to pay into the Bank of Australasia to the credit of His Honour the Chief Justice the sum of £206 being the amount so advanced by His Honour the Chief Justice together with the exchange therein.
- That the sum of £400 be remitted to His Honour the Chief Justice with a request that he will interest himself further in procuring an additional supply of necessary works for the Library including those mentioned in a list to be furnished.
- That a complete set of the authentic standard Reports of each court be continued.
(Signed) REDMOND BARRY, Acting C.J.
By June 1854 the first shipment of books had arrived and had been arranged in the Library. At first access to the Library was restricted to members of the profession, but in the course of time articled clerks and other persons who were not members of the profession could obtain permission from the Librarian to use the Library.
The Supreme Court Library is now controlled by a Committee consisting of the Judges of the Supreme Court and members of the Bar and of the Law Institute nominated by the Judges.
In the first thirty years of its existence the Library acquired books on many subjects apart from the law. They related to history, mathematics, heraldry, Latin, Greek classics and other literature, but from 1884, when the Supreme Court moved from La Trobe Street to the William Street building, little has been purchased that does not deal directly or substantially with legal subjects.
Originally the Supreme Court of Victoria occupied buildings in La Trobe Street, which were opened on 15 July 1843. The Court moved to the present Supreme Court Buildings in William Street in 1884, where sittings were first held on 15 February 1884.
The two-storey block of buildings, which houses the courtrooms, Judges' Chambers and administrative offices, encloses a courtyard from which rises the Supreme Court Library with its central tower and dome. The outer dome, one hundred and forty feet from the ground, is forty feet above the internal dome. In the days before multi-storey buildings, it must have been intended that the external dome should dominate the skyline from a distance, standing high above the surrounding buildings.
Entrance to the Library from the Courts is by a constricted porch into a low foyer, which leads in turn into a circular space three stories high. Surrounding this central area on three sides are book stacks, reading alcoves and offices on two levels. There are no book stacks in the central area; there the only furniture is a decagonal walnut reading table surrounding an ornate brass Victorian gasolier, now electrically lit.
The dominant feeling is one of spaciousness. The hemispherical internal dome rests on a cornice of stucco. Inset in the dome are oval stained-glass windows. The upper rooms of the Library are linked by a fine cantilevered circular balcony with a cast-iron balustrade. Access to the upper level is by way of two spiral staircases leading off the foyer.
On the walls hang oil paintings of former Chief Justices and other Judges of the Court, some by such famous masters as Longstaff, Meldrum and Dargie. There are also busts of former Judges, and items of historical interest relating to the Supreme Court.
The National Trust classifies the Library building (as distinct from the whole of the Supreme Court Building) in Category A, that is, of national importance, to be preserved at all costs.
The current Library building is now 124 years old. By the mid 1990s the Library had totally outgrown the available space. One of Melbourne's leading heritage architects prepared a plan with a view to using other spaces available within the same building, and construction commenced in late 1998. When the work was completed in late 1999, the Library had gained two new floors and approximately two kilometres of additional shelf space, along with a lift giving access to all floors.
Supreme Court of Victoria
210 William Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: 03 9603 6111
Office hours: Mon to Fri: 9.00am - 5.00pm