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Treasures of the Inforum: Rare & Curious: The Secret History of Governor Macquarie’s Collectors’ Chest

by Stephanie Abba

This stunning book tells the story of two colonial Australian cabinets of curiosities, as well as the story of Lachlan Macquarie, the Governor of New South Wales from 1810-1822, and his family.

The two chests, known as the Dixson chest and the Macquarie chest, are beautiful, intricately crafted pieces of furniture, and contain incredible painted panels as well as all kinds of specimens of flora and fauna from New South Wales. Flipping through this book will enlighten you about the history of portable furniture, lumber production in Australia in the 1800s, collector’s cabinets and collecting, preserving specimens, as well as the political history of New South Wales at the time, and the personal stories of Governor Macquarie and his family.

Part of the brilliance of this book is its design – it comes in its own box that is made to look like a drawer! They also did not skimp on the artwork – there are illustrations on every page. It’s quite amazing. They have up-close and detailed photos of the cabinets, the paintings, and the drawers full of sea shells, seaweed, and algae.

Along with the praise of the art and illustrations comes a warning: there are pictures of dead creatures. Lots of them. Along with the sea shells and algae, there are pictures of dead insects, dead butterflies, and dead stuffed birds. They’re all very beautiful, in their own macabre way, colourful and artistically arranged, but be warned: this is a book with lots of pictures of dead creatures.

The chests are held by the State Library of New South Wales, and you can see images of the chests and their contents online:

I do recommend looking at the book, though, as the images are much clearer, sharper, and more detailed, and the commentary, context, and research in the book is phenomenal. It’s definitely one of my very favourites in the Inforum. It’s only been checked out three times – each time by me, I think – but I hope that will change, as it truly is a treasure!

Find it in the Inforum:


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