O’Neill Collection

Terence George O’Neill (b. 1940) was born in Melbourne and is a graduate of the University of Melbourne. For many years he held administrative positions at the University of Melbourne, including Assistant Registrar. Since 1994 he has been working at Monash University on the Bibliography of Australian Literature project.

O’Neill’s wife Frances O’Neill worked in the Historic Buildings Branch of the Ministry of Housing and Construction and has written a number of books and pamphlets on Melbourne buildings and suburbs. Her sister is Brenda Niall, the distinguished literary historian and biographer. Terry O’Neill assisted Niall when she was writing Martin Boyd (1977) and in the course of his research he discovered a hitherto unknown novel written by Boyd. In 1981 he travelled to Britain and Italy to interview people who knew Boyd and these interviews are now in the Library (TRC 1155).

Frances O’Neill collaborated with Niall on her study of children’s fiction, Australia Through the Looking Glass (1984). Early in the project, Terry and Frances O’Neill acquired a nucleus of about 700 children’s books and in the next 10 years they assembled an outstanding collection of Australian children’s books. As they later wrote, ‘Countless hours were spent jostling for bargains at fetes and book fairs, searching for hidden treasures in opportunity shops and weekend markets, and examining titles on the shelves of secondhand and antiquarian bookshops. Hundreds of catalogues were scanned, and wants lists were sent to many antiquarian booksellers, both in Australia and overseas’.

Acquisition

O’Neill offered his collection of 1886 children’s books to the Library for purchase in 1985. He was willing to exclude works already held in the Library and the collection that was bought in 1987 consisted of 1014 titles. Later in 1987 O’Neill donated 110 books under the Taxation Incentives for the Arts Scheme. He made four further offers in 1988–93 and the Library bought a further 410 titles.

Description

The O’Neill Collection comprises 1534 books intended for children and published between 1813 and 1981. They include novels, short stories, picture books, plays, poetry and non-fiction books. Comics and textbooks were generally not collected. The collection is particularly strong in novels and stories published in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, many of which were not listed in Marcie Muir, A Bibliography of Australian Children’s Books (1970, 1976). It is extremely strong in foreign language editions of Australian children’s books, especially novels of Ethel Turner, and in nineteenth-century French children’s books that were set in Australia. Other strengths include annuals, boys’ magazines, penny dreadfuls and the Whitcomb’s Story Books series.

O’Neill defined ‘Australia’ broadly, taking in children’s books written by Australians, with significant Australian content, or with an Australian as one of the main characters. The connection is sometimes a little tenuous, as he included overseas books featuring kangaroos and bunyips or referring briefly to Captain Cook or Dame Nellie Melba.

The following titles give an indication of the scope of the collection:

Founiet, E., Allan Le Jeune déporté à Botany-Bay, Paris, 1836

Ireland, John, The Shipwrecked Orphans, New Haven, [1845]

Yonge, Charlotte, A Book of Golden Deeds, London, 1870

Richardson, Robert, The Boys of Springdale, Edinburgh, [1875?]

Henty, G.A., A Final Reckoning: A Tale of Bush Life in Australia, New York [1888]

Pech, Emile, Un oncle d’Australie, Paris [1890?]

[Wyss, J.R.], The Swiss Family Robinson, edited by W.H.G. Kingston, Melbourne, [c. 1892]

Hartwig, Georg, Wild Animals of the Tropics, London, 1893

Turner, Ethel, Seven Little Australians, London, 1894 (1st edition)

Boys of our Empire (1900–01)

Pals Annual for the Boys of Australasia (1921)

Jackson, R.S., The Secret of Murrigan’s, Melbourne, [1921?]

Bruce, Mary Grant, The Cousin from Town, Melbourne, [1923]

Clark, Mavis Thorpe, Hatherly’s First Fifteen, Auckland, 1930

Victorian Schoolboys’ Story Book, Melbourne, [1930?]

Morant, H.C.F., Whirlaway: A Story of the Ages, London, 1937

Rees, Leslie, The Story of Kurri Kurri the Kookaburra, Sydney, [1950]

Brazil, Angela, The New School at Scawdale, London, [1955]

Tennant, Kylie, De onda makternas ö, Stockholm, 1962

Southall, Ivan, Orkan, Copenhagen, 1967

Chauncy, Nan, Panic at the Garage, Edinburgh, 1977.

The collection includes one unpublished manuscript of a novel, ‘Into her hands’, by Mande Thors. There is also a small number of letters received by O’Neill containing biographical and bibliographical information.

Organisation

The books in the O’Neill Collection have been integrated into the Australian Collection. The bibliography compiled by Terry and Frances O’Neill in 1989 is a valuable record of their collection and a major contribution to the bibliography of Australian children’s literature. It lists 1972 works. It should be borne in mind that not all the works described were acquired by the Library.

The unpublished novel, letters and other papers are housed in the Manuscripts Collection at MS 7661. They occupy three folders.

Related Collections

Most of the books in the O’Neill Collection that were not acquired by the National Library are now held in the Baillieu Library at the University of Melbourne.

References

O’Neill, Terence, From Martin Boyd to Mrs Stacy Waddy: The Confessions of a Literary Sleuth, Orana, vol. 24 (4), November 1988, pp. 197–203.

O’Neill Terence and O'Neill, Frances, Australian Children’s Books to 1980: A Select Bibliography of the Collection Held in the National Library of Australia, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 1989.