How to use the index

To get the most out of this index you need to understand three main things.

Locating incomplete data

To say that the information is raw means that if a tender notice appeared in the Melbourne Argus for a house for John Smith in Grace Park, that will have been indexed under Hawthorn [old municipality] and Boroondara [new municipality], but it will not normally be under the modern street and number, because nobody has worked that out.  If you are looking for this house, and you have its modern address, say 18 Chrystobel Crescent, a search using that address will not retrieve it.

By all means do a search for 18 Chrystobel Crescent.  But even if you get a hit, this may not be the only relevant entry.  So thendo a search for Chrystobel Crescent, and see if any of the results seem relevant.  Then do a search for all houses in Hawthorn:  this will produce hundreds of results, but you only need to look at those for which no street is named – which therefore could possibly refer to Chrystobel Crescent.  Now if you happen to know that the house was built for John Smith you may recognise the relevant entry or entries.

You can see that you will be at a huge advantage if you have found some data beforehand – if you’ve searched the titles, rate books or directories, and believe you have the name of the first owner or occupier. Or if you have the date of construction.  Or even if, from the style of the building, you have deduced the likely architect.

Now consider another sort of search.  You are looking for the headquarters of the AMP Society in Melbourne.  If you do a search for office buildings / Melbourne, it will come up, but you may not recognise it.  If the architect called tenders for ‘new insurance offices, Melbourne’, the index entry will not normally contain the name ‘AMP Society’ (though sometimes an intelligent indexer has worked this out, and added it to the entry).

But if you have looked at the Sands & Macdougall Directory of Melbourne and found that the AMP Society was  at 581 Collins Street, corner of William Street, you will only have to look through the office buildings in Collins Street, and you may even be lucky enough to find it immediately under 521 Collins Street. See also Keyword searches, below.

And please – if you do work out that an entry refers to 18 Chrystobel Crescent, or 521 Collins Street - email us so that we can refine the index entry accordingly.

Limiting your search parameters

It follows from the above that if you put unnecessary detail into your search request you will reduce the number of hits, and often exclude the very material you are seeking.  Don’t put in ‘Chrystobel Crescent’, because you may not pick up an entry under ‘Chrystobel Cres’, much less an erroneous one under ‘Chrystobel St’ or ‘Chrystobel Ave’ – so just enter ‘Chrystobel’.

If you believe the first owner to have been John Smith, rather than put this name with ‘Chrystobel’ into the one search, do a separate search for houses owned by John Smith, and then check the results for those which are in Hawthorn.

Keyword Searches

You can search for builders, housing estates, publications, technical aspects, and much else.  These will almost certainly be in the ‘Documentation’ field, so put the relevant keyword in this field.

Builders, for example, are not given a field of their own because they not mentioned in most items.  But if you search the documentation field for ‘Langford’ you get a number of references to the work of the prominent builder, Clements Langford.  But DON’T put in ‘Clements Langford’, because most of the entries are under C Langford, or just Langford, and you won’t retrieve them.

Enter ‘AMP’ and it is true, as discussed above, that you will not pick up those tender notices for ‘insurance offices’ which do not name the company: nevertheless you will get many entries for the buildings of the AMP Society.  Put in ‘cavity’ and you will get a small number of references to cavity wall construction.  Put in ‘kauri’, and you will find that this timber was favoured by one firm of architects in particular.

If you are interested in prefabrication, you will find that a search for ‘prefabrication’ under ‘Building Type’ produces some results.  But also search the documentation field for ‘prefab’: that way you pick up references to prefab, prefabs, prefabricated, and prefabrication. Finally, if you know your subject well, you will search the documentation field for ‘portable’, which was the usual nineteenth century term for ‘prefabricated’, and will get many more results.

If you are interested in the Grace Park estate, of course try ‘Grace Park’.  But perhaps also try ‘Grace’ – you will then get irrelevant references to people called Grace, to churches called Our Lady of Grace, and so on – but you might just pick up something on Grace Park missed in the first search due to some spelling or formatting error.  But DON’T try Park, because you will get some hundreds of items.

If you are interested in the influence of John Ruskin in Australia, ‘Ruskin’ will get you a few results (all but one, not unexpectedly, in the writings of H D Annear).

Searching Architects

The term ‘architect’ was not a protected one in the nineteenth century, and the index treats as an architect anyone who is reported to have designed a building, or who calls tenders for it as if he were an architect.  Quite often he will be somebody better described as an engineer or a surveyor, or sometimes simply a shire clerk, or secretary of a hospital committee.  ‘He’ is used advisedly – only gradually, from the 1920s, do female architects appear.

You can search for any architect or pseudo-architect, using the appropriate field, but even the slightest misspelling will vitiate your search (for example, it is Gerard Wight, of Wight & Lucas, not Gerard Wright, of Wright & Lucas).

To avoid problems of spelling, for major architects and firms you can use ‘quick search’ and select the name from the menu.  But bear in mind that work of Walter Butler is not only under ‘Butler, Walter’, but also under ‘Butler, Walter & Richmond’, ‘Inskip & Butler’, &c.  Usually if you go to the architect’s personal name ‘Butler, Walter’, you will find biographical material, and a list of names of his partnerships and practices, which you can then search separately.

Understanding the Sources

If you are not used to research of this sort you may be confused by the sources referred to.  In the twenty-first century tenders are called only for major projects.   That is, builders are invited to look at the architect’s designs and submit a price to do the work.  The best price – usually the lowest – is chosen, and a contract is let.  That is, the owner signs a contract with the builder to do the work.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries this procedure was often followed in building quite ordinary houses.  So many of the entries on the index are advertisements inviting builders to submit tenders.  Much more rarely there is an entry a week or more later, reporting that the contract has been let to a particular builder.

We have indexed tender advertisements first in the daily press – early newspapers like the Port Phillip Herald in the 1840s, then the Argus, the principal newspaper founded in 1846.  By the 1880s there are weekly trade journals, the Building and Engineering Journal (with some variations in title) and the Australasian Builder and Contractor’s News, and these have been indexed in preference to the daily press.

In the early twentieth century there is Cazaly’s Contract Reporter, and then the monthly journal Building. From about the 1920s tender advertisements cease to be an important source.

The index also covers illustrations.  These are not found in the daily papers like the Port Phillip Herald and the Argus, but in specialised illustrated papers like the weekly Illustrated Australian News. Sometimes these illustrations are general views, and sometimes they are based upon the architect’s perspective drawing of a project.  In trade publications like the Building and Engineering Journal there may be architect’s perspectives, elevations, sections and technical details and, before the end of the nineteenth century, the first photographs.

The trade journals also contain information about architects – the formation and dissolution of partnerships, reports of their travels overseas, and talks given by them at professional gatherings.  In the early twentieth century the Journal of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects gives such details, as well as reports of who has been elected an associate or a fellow of the Institute, which students have won prizes, and so on.

The index covers much other material such as selected books, information sent in by building owners, and even inspections of buildings made on site, but it is impossible to summarise this material here.

Architectural Drawings

The index also covers some collections of architects’ drawings, though, contrary to common assumptions, architects drawings rarely survive.   The Public Records Office has extensive collections of drawings of Victorian colonial and state public buildings.  The Commonwealth Archives hold drawings of Commonwealth Government buildings after 1901.  A few owners, especially institutions and banks, hold drawings in their archives.  Churches hold many drawings, usually in central collection such as a diocesan archive.  A very few local councils hold the drawings which were submitted for building purposes, unsually from after World War I.

Architects themselves usually keep their drawings while the practice continues in existence, but they are commonly destroyed when it is wound up.  The ‘Melbourne University Architectural Collection’ was acquired from various offices and other sources by the then School of Architecture, in the 1950s and 1960s, and it is now held by the State Library.  Each set of drawings has a number, like ‘WD HOU 13’ (working drawings;  houses;  no 13), which will bring up all the drawings held of that house.  In the 1970s the Urban Conservation Projects survey went to a number of architects’ offices which were known to hold significant collections, and these are indexed.  Some of those collections have since been transferred to the State Library, but others remain in private hands.

The Melbourne Mansions Data Base

The Melbourne Mansions Data Base, which is also accessible on line, indexes the larger and more interesting houses of Melbourne and its immediate surroundings from the first settlement into the early twentieth century.  It incorporates all the relevant material from the Australian Architectural Index.

For major Melbourne houses the Mansions Data Base should be your first port of call, because searching is easier.  All entries include the modern address where this is known, and indicate whether the house is known to have been demolished or to survive.  Often information from a number of sources is combined in the one entry.  But for more detailed work you may then decide to return to the Australian Architectural Index.