Rare Books Collection

The Law Library has a Rare Books collection, comprising rare legal items dating back to the early 1600s. You can search our Rare Book collection using the Catalogue.

The Law Rare Books Collection is an important public collection of rare and early legal texts. The collection is of research significance not only to lawyers, but also to researchers of legal, social and cultural history.

It has particularly strong holdings of early printed law texts, law reports, seventeenth-century political pamphlets, classic legal texts and material relating to Australian Federation and the early years of the Commonwealth. Its nineteenth-century holdings are a good representative example of a colonial lawyer's library and are significant for what they can tell us about the practice of law in early Victoria.

The collection's links to the beginnings of the University of Melbourne – via the collections of individuals such as William Edward Hearn and Sir Redmond Barry – make it of particular significance to Melbourne Law School and the University community more broadly.

Highlights of the collection include:

  • A unique collection of material relating to Australian Federation and the early years of the Commonwealth
  • The trials of Charles I, Andrew Johnson and the Tichborne Claimant
  • The story of Ikey Solomons, the real-life model for Fagin in Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist
  • The first printed edition of Henry de Bracton's De legibus & consuetudinibus Angliae libri quinque, the first systematic textbook of English law
  • A series of political pamphlets dating from the English Civil War
  • Several early editions (1768, 1771, 1773 and 1775) of William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England
  • Items from the Rare Book Collection cannot be borrowed but are available to view for research purposes. Copying is available in some circumstances. To request access please see staff at the loans desk on Level 3 for assistance or call phone 03 8344 8913 Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 5:00pm, to make arrangements to use the Rare Books Collection. Please note that access to the collection is Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5:00 pm only.

See the Rare Books Research Guide for more information about the Law Library's collection of rare books.

Rare Books Lectures

The Melbourne Law School Rare Books and Legal History Lecture Series was launched in 2002 to promote and encourage research into the Rare Book Collection.