The bird’s-eye view is a representation of a city from above and was popular during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It can be an aerial photograph or a drawing typically showing street patterns, individual buildings and major landscape features in perspective. Before photography became popular and before there were high-rise vantage points, these views were constructed from imagined perspectives.


A bird’s-eye view of Melbourne from Sandridge, IAN02/09/85/144

The image below is a colour engraving by Albert Charles Cooke. He was a painter, engraver, illustrator and draughtsman. Cooke migrated to Victoria from England in 1854 and apparently was a prospector on the goldfields before returning to work as an artist. The engraving was produced in 1882 and presents Melbourne from the south bank of the Yarra looking north. The Port Melbourne railway line runs diagonally across the Yarra, with Queen’s Bridge to the left and Prince’s Bridge to the right. Major landmarks depicted north of the river include Customs House in Flinders Street, the Melbourne Public Library on Swanston Street, with the Melbourne Hospital to the right, and further afield in Carlton lies the Exhibition Building and the grounds of Melbourne University. You can download a high quality file by clicking on the image.

Map of Melbourne

Melbourne. [picture], H17929

The ‘then and now’ images below present Melbourne in 1838 from the Yarra, compared with Melbourne in 1888 from the Fitzroy Gardens, when the city had its first land sale. It includes a chronology of historical events and a list of some key statistics. There is an accompanying pamphlet attached to the catalogue record with a map of Melbourne in 1838 featuring a key to local businesses along with advertisements and illustrations of businesses and buildings in 1888, including the Exhibition Building, M.L. Hutchinson Bookseller and Publisher, Melbourne Young Men’s Christian Association, Australian Mutual Provident Society, Melbourne Permanent Building Society and Melbourne Savings Bank.

1838 - 1888, Melbourne then & now

1838 – 1888 Melbourne then & now : together with the first land sale and present value, MAPS 821.02 EH 1838-1888

The image below is a wood engraving by Samuel Calvert. He was a prolific wood-engraver and painter and his works appeared in the vast majority of Melbourne illustrated newspapers and periodicals. He arrived in Australia from England in 1848. The engraving was produced in 1880 and presents a view of the city looking north. There is an accompanying image attached to the catalogue record which includes a key to the street plan including prominent landmarks.

Melbourne 1880

 [Melbourne, 1880 and accompanying key to the street plan] [picture], IAN09/10/80/supp

You can browse other bird’s-eye views of Melbourne on the Library’s catalogue.

Written by Sarah Ryan
Librarian, Australian History and Literature Team


This article has 2 comments

  1. Hi Sarah, loved your article about Melbourne Bird’s Eye views and it led me to the view from Sandridge, which I hadn’t found despite many weeks of scouring the SLV database of similar views. I am creating a virtual tour of Melbourne called “Melbourne 19-21st Century” using many panoramas and bird’s eye views from SLV, other sources and my own recent 360° panoramas of Melbourne from clocktowers and church spires. I’d like to meet with you to tap into your knowledge, if that’s possible. Webpage below is merely a sample of the concept.
    Regds, Barney

    • Hi Barney,
      Thanks for reading. Your website looks great.
      I’ll send you an email with more detail regarding your enquiry.

Leave a comment

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