George Mackaness (1882–1968) was born at Sydney and educated at Drummoyne Public School, Balmain Superior Public School and the University of Sydney. In 1903 he began teaching at Fort Street Public School and from 1912 he was master of English and deputy headmaster. In 1924 he was appointed lecturer-in-charge in the Department of English at Sydney Teachers’ College. He also lectured at various times at the University of Sydney. He retired in 1946.

Mackaness was a well-known figure in Sydney literary and cultural circles. For over 20 years he was a trustee of the Public Library of New South Wales, he was president of the Fellowship of Australian Writers, the Junior Theatre League and the Royal Australian Historical Society, and a member of the advisory board of the Commonwealth Literary Fund. He was the author of several textbooks and bibliographies, and wrote two substantial biographies:

The Life of Vice-Admiral William Bligh (1931)

Admiral Arthur Phillip (1937)

He also edited:

Australian Short Stories (1928)

A Selection from the Prose Works of Henry Lawson (1928)

Mackaness and his wife Alice were outstanding book collectors, amassing a collection of over 16 000 titles. Mackaness said, ‘You must be a scholar first before you become a successful book collector’ and many of his acquisitions were a result of his research and writing on Australian exploration, colonial history and Australian literature. He was an avid reader of dealers’ catalogues and he had close ties with other collectors, such as Sir John Ferguson and Sir William Crowther. Ferguson recorded some of the works in the Mackaness Library in his Bibliography of Australia and in several instances they were the only copies known to have survived.


Mackaness was in regular communication with the Library from about 1930 onwards and he often exchanged copies of early Australiana. In 1932 he donated the manuscript of his biography of William Bligh. In 1952 he sold to the Library a collection of books and pamphlets published by the London Missionary Society in Tahiti. In 1959 the Library purchased his collection of literary manuscripts and letters. His library was sold by Angus and Robertson in 1967–69 and the Library bought a number of books. Further items have been bought from dealers in subsequent years, including the manuscript of his biography of Arthur Phillip in 2006.


Printed Material

The books and pamphlets acquired by the Library at the Mackaness sales in 1967–69 amounted to 185 titles. The following are some of the extremely rare works in the collection:

Church of Scotland, Minutes of the Synod of Australia in Connexion with the Established Church of Scotland, Sydney, 1841

Earl, G.W., The Steam Route from Singapore to Sydney via Torres Strait, [London, 1853]

Fraser, John, The Aborigines of Australia: Stories about the Kamilaroi Tribe, Maitland, 1882

Gould, Nat, The Sporting Annual, London, 1900

Jennings, John, New Zealand Colonization, London, 1843

Jevons, W.S., A Serious Fall in the Value of Gold, London, 1863

Lindsay, Norman, The Magic Pudding, Sydney, 1918

Moore, J. Sheridan, University Reform, its urgency and reasonableness,, Sydney, 1865

Report of the State Trials before a General Court Martial Held at Montreal in 1838–39, Montreal, 1839

Select Portions of the Psalms of David, Hobart, 1830

Sydney Female School of Industry, Annual Report, Sydney, 1831

Westgarth, William, Observations on the Present Commercial, Agricultural and Civil Condition of the Australian Colonies, Leith, 1844

Wraxall, N.W., A Short Review of the Political State of Great Britain, London, 1787.

The Tahitian collection assembled by Mackaness consists of 30 books and pamphlets published by the London Missionary Society in 1817–37. The first printing press was set up by William Ellis on the island of Moorea (Eimeo) in 1817. He moved to Huahine in the Windward Group in 1818. In 1819 Robert Bourne set up a press at Burder’s Point in Tahiti and in 1822 he moved to Tahaa in the Leeward Group. The Tahitian imprints mostly consist of catechisms, hymnals, epistles and other books of the Bible, as well as an arithmetic book and a history of the mission. The collection includes the earliest book published in the Pacific Tafaseo Aniwa (Eimeo, 1817), which was printed by Pomare II under the direction of Ellis.


The Mackaness Collection contains a large number of literary manuscripts submitted to the Bulletin in 1918–20. They include poems and stories by J.H.M. Abbott, Arthur Bayldon, Randolph Bedford, E.J. Brady, Zora Cross, Dulcie Deamer, Edward Dyson, Leon Gellert, Mary Gilmore, Cecil Mann, George Gordon McCrae, Will Ogilvie, Roderick Quinn, Frank Wilmot and Donald McKee Wright.

Mackaness collected literary letters from various other sources. There is, for instance, a letter by Louis Becke, written in 1896. In particular, there are many letters written to the author and publisher Edward A. Vidler (1863–1942) and the poet A. Bertha Crowther.

Personal Papers

The correspondence of Mackaness, which mainly dates from 1927 to 1957, is extensive. There are 239 letters from Hugh McCrae, 150 letters from Mary Gilmore, and over 2000 letters from other writers and collectors. Among the correspondents are Arthur Bayldon, William Baylebridge, John Le Gay Brereton, Alan Chisholm, Alec Chisholm, Sir William Crowther, Sir William Dixson, M.H. Ellis, Sir John Ferguson, R.D. FitzGerald, Miles Franklin, Ernestine Hill, Rex Ingamells, Arthur Jose, Dorothy Mackellar, James McAuley, J.K. Moir, E. Morris Miller, Eris O’Brien, Nettie Palmer, Geoffrey Rawson, Percival Serle, P.R. Stephensen, Douglas Stewart and Frank Wilmot.

Other papers of Mackaness comprise the manuscripts of his biographies of William Bligh (MS 86) and Arthur Phillip (MS 9975), a typescript account of the wreck of the Quetta in the Torres Strait in 1890 (MS 3783) and an album of newspaper cuttings on the western district of New South Wales (MS 4664).


The books and pamphlets in the Mackaness Collection have been integrated in the Australian and general collections. The literary manuscripts and correspondence are held in the Manuscripts Collection at MS 534. They occupy 16 boxes. A 36-page finding aid is available online at

Related Collection

The Mitchell Library at the State Library of New South Wales holds papers of Mackaness, including literary and historical notes, broadcasts, some letters, and reviews of some of his books (MLMSS 2835, MLMSS 2374).


De Berg, Hazel, Oral history interview with George Mackaness, 1967, ORAL TRC 1/261–262.

The George and Alice Mackaness Collection of Australiana, Catalogues, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1967–69.

Mackaness, George, Bibliomania: An Australian Book Collector’s Essays, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1965.

Mitchell, Bruce and Rutledge, Martha, George Mackaness, Australian Dictionary of Biography online

First posted 2008 (revised 2019)