Sometimes, items in a specialist library collection might seem to veer a little off-topic...

In the late 1960s, Halley Ward (wife of the late naturalist, Melbourne Ward) donated her husband’s extensive collection of books to the Australian Museum Research Library.

Adventure novels
Adventure novels Image: Emma Gray
© Australian Museum

Mel Ward (1903-1966) ran the Gallery of Natural History and Native Art at the Hydro Majestic Hotel in Medlow Bath and his library was housed there. The donation consisted of around three thousand volumes of material mainly to do with natural history and anthropology, but also other items, like this collection of illustrated adventure novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Edgar Wallace and H. Rider Haggard.

Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) is best known for his Tarzan novels, but he also created many other series, including the Barsoom series, featuring Mars adventurer, John Carter. Edgar Wallace (1875-1932) was the co-creator of King Kong and a prolific writer of adventure fiction. H. Rider Haggard’s (1856-1925) most famous work is the Allan Quartermain series of novels which includes King Solomon’s Mines.

These sorts of novels fall into the category of pulp fiction - cheaply and widely published books aimed at a very broad readership with eye-catching and often lurid illustrated covers.

This is a particularly appealing example of off-topic material which often gets caught up in collections donated to the Museum. Once identified, staff then need to decide whether or not to keep these items in the collection, or to offer them to a more appropriate institution.

For the time being, though, the novels from Mel Ward’s collection are on display at the entrance to the Research Library.