The Library’s Historical Maps and Plans Collection contains around 8000 maps on microfiche, covering the first sixty years of European settlement in Victoria. This was once one of our most heavily requested maps collections, but these days, you can find it online, thanks to a digitisation project by the Public Records Office of Victoria (PROV).

Illustrated map showing location of Melbourne CBD grid next to Yarra river, Salt Water Swamp and Salt Water River
Detail from Yarra Yarra River, Salt Water River and tributaries. Roll 113B, Anglesey — Bourke — Dalhousie — Evelyn, undated, Historical Maps and Plans Collection

You might be wondering why these maps are so popular. The answer lies in the remarkable details that lie within them, from descriptions of what the landscape was like when Europeans arrived, to the locations of early buildings and houses, tracks used by diggers travelling to the goldfields, pastoral runs, and even shipwrecks.

Illustrated colour historic map shows the locations of several shipwrecks off the coast of Port Fairy
Detail from Belfast Town. SYDNEY B3, Port Fairy (T), 1851, Historical Maps and Plans Collection. This maps shows the location of various shipwrecks off the coast of Port Fairy (formerly known as Belfast Town)

There are 48 sub-collections within this collection on a wide variety of subject matter. To follow are some of the popular ones.

Feature plans

Feature plans are a miscellaneous group of maps depicting land that was in many cases, on the threshold of settlement. They offer us unique insights into what an area was like, such as where natural water features like springs, ponds, swamps and lakes were located, what the quality of the soil was like, and the type of vegetation that was growing in an area. 

In this feature plan of Portland Bay (below), you can see that the land has been subdivided, ready for development. The location of several natural ponds have been marked on the map, as has the presence of a burial ground, although it does not say whose burial ground it is.

Illustrated colour historical map shows location of several natural ponds, a burial ground and a cricket ground
Detail from Portland Bay. Featr 585, Portland, undated, Historical Maps and Plans Collection

Feature plans may also show the names of the people who first took possession of an allotment from the Crown. You can see names on allotments in this feature plan of Queenscliffe, below:

Illustrated historic colour map shows the names of land owners on subdivided allotments
Detail from Queenscliffe, Featr 401, 1856, Historical Maps and Plans Collection

Pastoral runs

Pastoral runs show the large areas of Crown Land that were licensed by squatters for grazing between the years of 1847 and 1882. They are particularly popular with family historians trying to trace the history of their ancestors. 

All of these plans show the boundaries of runs and sometimes, they also give descriptions of vegetation and plot the location of tracks, fences, and huts.

In this map of pastoral runs from Heytesbury County (below), the names of pastoral runs have been marked in red with the squatters’ names marked underneath. The map also contains descriptions of vegetation and soil.

Detail from illustrated map shows the boundaies of pastoral runs in Heytesbury County and descriptions of soil and vegtation in the area.
Detail from Sherbrook South Stony Rises Forest Run. Run 350, Heytesbury County, undated. Historical Maps and Plans Collection, Public Records Office of Victoria (PROV)

Roll plans

These maps were named Roll plans because the originals were very large in size and traditionally rolled up.

This excerpt from a roll plan (below) shows us the localities, names and even building materials used for some of the earliest buildings in East Collingwood. At the top you can see a wooden house called Bedford Cottage. There is a large garden on the block next door. The pub, ‘Earl of Zetland’, shown at the bottom left, was located on Stanley Street. According to the map key, it was made largely of brick, although there was one section made of wood. You can also see the outlines of several outhouses, denoted on the map by vertical parallel lines.

Detail from illustrated historic map shows the location of a pub named 'Earl of Zetland' Hotel, Bedford Cottage and gardens, and several out houses and other buildings
Detail from Streets and buildings in East Collingwood. MELB RL 2A, Melbourne North, Historical Maps and Plans Collection
Key from illustrated map of East Collingwood shows symbols used to represent building materials used for buildings as well as outhouses and verandahs.
Key from Streets and buildings in East Collingwood. MELB RL 2A, Melbourne North, Historical Maps and Plans Collection


This sub-collection is great for discovering details about the goldfields. You can find information such as where leads and gullies were, the locations of townships, buildings and shops, and also routes diggers took to the goldfields. 

Detail from illustrated historic map of the Castlemaine goldfields shows locations of hills, flats, leads and buildings
Detail from Goldfields. GF73, Castlemaine, 1861. Historical Maps and Plans Collection

This map (below) shows the route diggers took to get to the Jordan goldfields. It shows where they could find provision tents along their journey, as well as where they could find water and feed for their horses.

Detail from illustrated colour historic map of track at the goldfields shows the location of feed for horses, water, and a general store. Map also describes the vegetation
Detail from Goldfields. GF21, Route to the Jordan goldfields from Buneep Bridge, undated, Historical Maps and Plans Collection

Explorers’ routes

These historical plans show the routes that explorers took in Victoria. 

This map (below) shows the location of Yankee Jim’s (later known as Warburton), which at the time this map was published in 1865, had a population of around fifty people. 1 Sources of supply are marked on the map, including a place known as “Doolan’s Store” (which has all but vanished from the history books).

Detail from historic colour map showing location of Doolans Store and Yankee Jim's, as well as contours of hills and rivers
Detail from Upper Yarra waters and New Bridle track to Woods Point from Lillydale, Travellors Rest on Great Mountain Road. Routes – Mrs Bowman’s Track. EXP 4, Anglesey — Evelyn — Wonnangatta, 1865. Historical Maps and Plans Collection

Coastal surveys

This sub-collection consist of surveys of the Victorian coastline conducted between 1840 and 1870. These surveys were intended to define the configuration of the coastline, describe the structure of coastal vegetation and identify any land occupations.

In this map (below), you can see that the quality of the soil has been noted (“good rich soil”), as has the location of a lake, thick forest, and lime stone ridges.

Detail from illustrated colour map shows coastal features along the stretch of coast from Hopkins River to Moonlight Head
Excerpt of From Hopkins River to Moonlight Head. CS 35, La Trobe — La Trobe — Mepunga — Narrawaturk — Nirranda — Paaratte — Waarre — Wangoom, 1847. Historical Maps and Plans Collection

You can find a complete list of these sub-collections, along with their classification codes (which usually consist of a prefix eg FEATR and then a number), on the PROV website.

In addition to the subcollections above, there are maps on subjects as varied as cemeteries, old and new roads, police reserves, electric telegraphs, water supply routes, railway lines, and many more.  

You can read more about the Historical Maps and Plans Collection, including tips on how to find and download maps, in our research guide: Maps for local and family history. There is also a wealth of information about historical plans on the PROV website.

With special thanks to Blair Gatehouse.

You may also like …


  1. Whitworth, R P, 1865, Bailliere’s Victorian gazetteer and road guide: containing the most recent and accurate information as to every place in the colony with map, F.F. Bailliere, Melbourne, p 410

This article has 27 comments

  1. A most interesting email
    Thank you

  2. I am interested in the work being done. I am seeking a 19th century map of Keilor including Arundal covering the area of the Keilor Man excavation.

  3. Bruce David King

    This is just terrific that all of these early maps have been made available.
    As a committee member of the Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve Moe 3825 I am very keen to find out the history of the Reserve area before it became Crown Land in approx 1879 as a railway reservoir for steam trains. I will try and arrange a search in approx June.

    Thankyou so much for bringing this resource to my attention.


    Bruce King

  4. Fascinating…any maps from this period, of the Elsternwick area please?

  5. Interested in pre 1900s maps of Koroit to Warnambool. How do I go about those?

    • Hi Shane, Thanks for your question. I will log your question and we will get back to you via email with an answer. Sarah

  6. Would youhaveamap ofElizabeth street and Flinders lane corner
    North /east cnr from 1838 onwards
    Showing a building also.Thku

  7. What an astonishing and useful resource. Thanks to everyone involved in making this generally available.

  8. Phillip Richardson

    Currently researching the history of John Richardson, MLA Member for East Geelong 1861-1876. We have located rate records showing that he occupied a property in the Strawberry Hills Division. Can you inform as to the location and perhaps a map ? We assume that it is in the Geelong area.

    • Hello Phillip, Thanks for your question. We will be in touch in the coming days with an answer for you. Sarah

  9. What a wonderful service. Thank-you!

  10. This sounds good. I am interested in two original houses in Green Street Ivanhoe, No. 7 and No. 10. Who built them, who owned them and/or resided in them and the dates. I haven’t had success in finding this information to now. Maybe your maps may help.

  11. Hi Sarah,
    My grandfather, George Henry Bausch was in the First World War & he was granted a Soldier Settlement parcel of land from the Government up in the Maloga area near Lockington.
    I was interested to know if you had any maps of that area & the Soldier Settlements there.
    I don’t what the year was that he settled there.
    Lynette Knight

  12. Looking for anything from koroit Belfast tower hill 1840,s to 1860s

  13. Hi Chris,
    I’m looking for early Fitzroy maps. Also seeking maps with topographic elevation and terrain.
    Thanks for your help

  14. Fantastic collection of maps. Love the early explorer map of Warburton especially.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *