‘The Queen’s Reading Room’, named in honour of Queen Victoria, was opened on her birthday (24 May) in 1859 when the south wing of the Library was completed.

Photographs taken on the opening day show the Chief Librarian, Augustus Tulk, sitting at the end of a table, with his assistants and some workmen posing as patrons.

Queen's Hall image

Queen’s Hall Reading Room, Melbourne Public Library, 1859, H3679

In 1862, Redmond Barry compiled a list of the workmen employed on building the north wing of Queen’s Hall. You can read a transcript of the names in this research guide.

List of workmen image

List of workmen employed during the construction of Queen’s Hall, MS13020 Box 5 Folder 1

The north wing was completed in 1864, extending the vast hall to 44 metres in length. Only part of the new extension was used for the Library, the rest was reserved for the temporary exhibition of pictures, which would become part of the National Gallery collection.


The National Picture Gallery at the Public Library, Melbourne, 1865, IAN25/01/65/8

In 1860, Queen’s Hall was redesigned by Edward La Trobe Bateman. He used decoration and colours inspired by Owen Jones’ The grammar of ornament.


E. La Trobe Bateman, 1870-1880, H94.118

The colour scheme was different to anything seen in Melbourne at the time. Bateman’s design still exists today beneath layers of paint. [1]


Image of Bateman’s design beneath paint scrapings in Queen’s Hall

Originally lit by skylights, the reading room was flooded with natural light during the day. Gas lighting was installed a few months after opening, which remained in use for 25 years as a back-up system, as there were frequent breakdowns in the electricity supply. [2]


[Interior view of Queens Hall, State Library of Victoria], 1898, H3974

In November 1901, a severe storm hit Melbourne. The Queen’s Hall skylights were shattered and readers had to be evacuated.

“the skylights in the great Queen’s Hall were so shattered that the waters came in, and the readers had to be warned out…”

The Weekly Times (Melbourne), Saturday 16 November, 1901

In 1913, a grand marble staircase was installed. Replacing the wooden stairs, it joined Queen’s Hall and the newly opened Domed Reading Room.


Marble staircase, Public Library, 1911-1917, H12922

In 1915, the Industrial and Technological Museum (later known as the Science Museum) re-opened in Queen’s Hall. [3] According to newspaper reports, it displayed the first motor car imported into Australia. In 1973 the Library closed Queen’s Hall for renovations as the room was in need of restoration with plaster work crumbling and roof leaking.

The original skylights were covered during these works and a gabled roof was added to prevent ongoing storm damage. Hundreds of broken mouldings were replaced and new chandeliers, based on the original gaslight fittings, were installed. [4]

Image of Queen's Hall

Queen’s Hall, State Library of Victoria, after renovations, 1975, H81.241/3
This image is in copyright.

Queen’s Hall reopened as the Art, Music and Performing Arts Library in 1975. Visitors could browse 40,000 books in the fine arts and music, and listen to the latest records with new state-of-the-art equipment. [5]


Study carrel, Arts Library, Queen’s Hall, State Library of Victoria, 1977-1980, H2013.383/20
This image is in copyright



Arts Library stacks in Queen’s Hall, State Library of Victoria, 1979, H2013.383/19
This image is in copyright.

After nearly 30 years as the Arts Library, Queen’s Hall was falling into disrepair. In 2003, the Arts Library was relocated, and Queen’s Hall was closed as a public reading room.

In April 2015, the Library embarked on a major redevelopment project (Vision 2020) which included the refurbishment and re-opening of Queen’s Hall as a public reading room. The Library redevelopment was funded by $55.4 million from the Victorian Government and $28 million in philanthropic contributions.

The Ian Potter Foundation was the lead philanthropic donor for the Queen’s Hall refurbishment through a $10 million donation. Works commenced in 2017 and on 5 December 2019 The Ian Potter Queen’s Hall reopened to the public after a 16-year closure.


view from mezzanine of Queen's Hall



You can watch a video detailing the process of the restoration below.


[1] Building a new world: a history of the State Library of Victoria 1853–1913, Harriet Edquist

[2] [3] The Queen’s Hall and the murals: historical notes, State Library Victoria

[4] La Trobe Journal, 16 October 1975, Relocation of services in the State Library, Margery C. Ramsay

[5] Queen’s Hall: a regal setting for art and music treasures, State Library Victoria

This article has 3 comments

  1. Hi Sarah,
    My name is Bob McLeod and I work for McGraw-Hill in Sydney. We have amongst our digital platforms the acclaimed Access Science which has a vast amount of multimedia science content suitable for high school and university students as well a s the general public interested in science and technology. With contributions and biographies on 40 Nobel prize winners it is a superb resource.

    My question is-who should I approach at your library to see if there is any interest in a possible 30 day trial?

    Thank you,


  2. Hi Sarah,
    Interesting article with lovely photos and informative video.
    One of the coloured photos shows a man with glasses reshelving art books from a trolley.
    He is Ian Smiley who was a library attendant.
    Thank you to Peter, Roger and Walter for confirming this.
    I had the pleasure of working with Ian for a number of years before he left.
    Library attendants who retrieved and reshelved books in the main stacks were also rostered to retrieve and reshelve art books in Queen’s Hall,
    Which was known as A.M.P.A. This stood for Arts,
    Music, Performing Arts.
    It is good to see that Queen’s Hall will be used again.

  3. commendable initiative

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