Ballaarat Mechanics' Institute

From Ballarat and District Industrial Heritage Project
Jump to: navigation, search
Presidents of the Ballaarat Mechanics' Institute.



About 1803, George Birkbeck, a professor of natural philosophy at Anderson’s Institute, Glasgow, began giving a free course of lectures in the mechanical arts to local mechanics – the general term that seems to have been applied to tradesmen, skilled and semi-skilled workers of the time. The idea caught the attention of Birkbeck’s contemporaries as “ordinary” people had little opportunity to improve their very basic education. By 1850 over 600 Mechanics’ Institutes had been established in England, alone.[1]

In Australia, the first Mechanics’ Institute was established in Hobart in 1826. Sydney followed in 1833 and Melbourne in 1829.[1]

In colonial Australia, nearly every town of any size established a Mechanics’ Institute or School of Arts.[1]

In the days before Government funded libraries and adult education, the Mechanics’ Institute provided people with much-needed access to books, newspapers, periodicals, lectures and scientific demonstrations. Their halls also provided local communities with a place for social, cultural and recreational gatherings.[1]


One of the first major moves in Ballarat to promote technical education was taken by a small group of people who established the Mechanics’ Institute in Ballarat. A general meeting of interested persons too place in the Fire Engine House in Barkly Street on 15 April 1859 “for the purpose of inaugurating the Institute” and or “receiving the report of the provisional committee” etc. A meeting of the Ballarat Mechanics’ Institute was held on Wednesday evening 20 April 1859 at the Council Chambers in Sturt Street, under the Chairmanship of Mr James Baker who was the Chairman of the Ballarat Mining Board, … [2]

By early 1859, following a public meeting, the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute was established. Committee meetings and lectures were held in a little cottage in Main Road, Ballarat East, and thanks to the generosity of the Ballarat Fire Brigade, a Reading Room was established on the first floor of the Ballarat Fire Station in Barkly Street, Ballarat East.[1]

Through the efforts of Peter Lalor MP, a piece of land in Sturt Street was set aside as the site for the future Mechanics’ Institute.[1] On Friday, September 28, 1860 the foundation stone of the back section of the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute was laid with full Masonic honours in front of a crowd, estimated by the Ballarat Star, as numbering 10,000.[1]

The late Mechanics’ Institute Exhibition was followed by a ball, which brought a gain of £41 10s 6d to the Institute. An auction bazaar exhibition with concerts is to come off shortly. The net proceeds of the first exhibition have not yet been declared.[3]
A meeting of the committee of the Ballarat Acclimatisation Society was held at the Mechanics’ Institute on Friday evening. Present-Mr W. Appleby, President, in the chair; Messrs Nicholls, Elliott, and the secretary. A letter from the secretary of the Melbourne Acclimatisation Society was read, stating that he had forwarded ten copies of a new work of Sericulture, by A. Martelli, C.E. The Council was very desirous of directing general attention to the subject. It was resolved that a portion of the Botanical Reserve be at once planted with the white mulberry. Several accounts were passed for payment, and it was resolved that the next meeting be held at the Botanical Reserve on Friday, 11th September, at three o’clock.[4]
Kreitmeyer’s Anatomical Museum, at the Mechanics’ Institute, we may remind our readers, remains open no longer than to-day. Ladies only are admitted between the hours of 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.; and gentlemen from 7 p.m. till 10 p.m. At various periods during the day Mr Kreitmeyer will give instructive explanations.[5]

By 1868 the Institute was running out of space, so the Committee boldly decided to erect the existing, grand three storey frontage to Sturt Street.[1]

BALLARAT, November 2.
The drawing for the Mechanics’ Art Union is fixed for the 20th November, and after the 22nd tickets will be obtainable at the head office here only.[6]
Bioscope. Federation University Historical Collection

The old mining exchange was connected to the main building and the library re-opened in March 1936. The former library area on the second floor was leased for business purposes.[1]

In 1909 the first bioscope pictures were shown in the main hall. Later, in 1917, the hall was let to the Austral Photoplay Co. for showing silent pictures.[1]

Today, in Victoria there are fewer than ten Mechanics’ Institutes still providing library and other services to their communities. The Ballaarat Institute is one of a select few that can claim to continuously provided library services since its inception. Originally there were over a 1000 Institutes in the State.[1]


The Institute was established in 1859 in the top floor of the Ballarat Fire Brigade in Barkly Street, Ballarat East. On the 28th September, 1860 a foundation stone was laid at the rear of the present building. According to the Ballarat Star a crowd of 10,000 people attended the ceremony. By 1869 the Institute consisted of four floors, shops on the ground floor, a grand entrance with a library on the second floor and a museum on the top floor.[7]


Community Involvement

The People

W. H. Batten, member (1859>) and secretary (<1887>)

James M. Bickett

John Cathie, committee member (1859>)

Frederick Moses Claxton, president (1872-1875)

W. Cooper, committee member (1859>)

Charles Dyte

William Frazer, committee member (1859>)

John Basson Humffray

A. Jack, president (1886)

E. James, president (1881)

I. J. Jones, president (1876)

Joseph Jones, president (<1870s>)

T. Lang, president (<1860s>)

T. S. Learmonth, trustee (1859)

C. Lister, president (<1860s>)

G. G. Mackay, president (<1859>)

A. Marshall, president (<1875>)

J. R. Marshall, president (<1883>)

James McDowall, committee member (1859>)

R. Mitchell, committee member (1859>)

D. O'Connor, committee member (1859>)

D. Oliver, committee member (1859>)

L. Stansfield, president (<1882>)

E. W. Stephens, president (<1879>)

Dr James Stewart, trustee (<1859>)

Thomas Houlden Thompson, president (<1877>)

H. Wheeler, president (<1887>)


All items included in the Ballarat Mechanics Institute Collection of Books and Newspapers and Institute records and objects as described and catalogued in the CD database held by the Executive Director are registered by Heritage Victoria.[8]

The Ballaarat Mechanics Institute Collection comprises books, journals and newspapers acquired by the Institute since its inception in 1859, as well as the Institute's own archive of records and objects. The collection includes 16,677 books and journals, 1592 volumes of newspapers (approximately 80,000 issues) and Institute records dating from c1857 including minutes, correspondence, annual reports, lithographs, artifacts and objects. The main part of the book and newspaper collection was acquired by the Institute during the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. The collection is shelved and housed within the Mechanics Institute building (VHR H0987).[8]

The Ballaarat Mechanics Institute Collection is of historical significance as the largest and most intact collection of material relating to Mechanics Institutes in Victoria. The collection includes not only some rare and valuable items but also demonstrates the tastes and interests of the inhabitants of a major regional centre in Victoria. The Institute's own records document the development of the collection and offer an insight into the activities of a Mechanics Institute from its beginnings in the mid-nineteenth century.[8]

The Ballaarat Mechanics Institute Collection is of historical significance for its strong association with the Mechanics Institute movement and the important role it played in the intellectual, cultural and social development of Victorians throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century.[8] The Ballaarat Mechanics Institute Collection has the potential to educate in relation to the cultural and educational role of the Institute.[8]


"The Nelson Company, Sebastopol, have just unearthed a very interesting curiosity in the shape of a petrified trunk or branch of a tree. The mass, discovered in the alluvium of the gutter over 300 feet below the surface, was several feet in length and about six inches in diameter. This specimen of petrification is very perfect, and was shown to us by Mr Robert Lewis, who is a share-holder in the claim, and who has consented to lay it on one of the tables of the Mechanics' reading room to-day for inspection by members of the Institute. Mr Lewis's' exhibit is as heavy as bluestone, and the fracture similar in grain and color to dense basalt; while the outside of the mass, and one or two little spots in the central portions retain the ligneous fibre and softness. We hope the company will send a lump to the curators of the museum attached to the Melbourne Library and another to the Mechanics' Institute here."[9]

See also

Nelson Co.

Further Notes


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10
  2. Perry, Warren, The School of Mines and Industries, Ballarat, Ballarat School of Mines, Ballarat, 1984, pp 2 .
  3. The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), Thursday 24 September 1863, page 1. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  4. The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), Monday 31 August 1863, page 2. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  5. The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), Saturday 30 January 1864, page 2. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  6. Camperdown Chronicle (Vic. : 1877 - 1954), Tuesday 6 November 1877, page 3. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4;23341
  9. Ballarat Star, 4 November 1861.

Further Reading

External Links

Ballaarat Mechanics' Institute -

Ballaarat Mechanics' Institute Library -

Ballaarat Mecahnics' Institute Library, 1909.;23341

--C.K.Gervasoni 09:46, 1 February 2013 (EST)

Personal tools