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Disclaimer: It is important to emphasise that this report is intended only to offer insight into the care and challenges surrounding map materials. Readers with vulnerable or damaged items that require conservation intervention should contact a professional conservator. Conservation experts at the State Library Victoria (SLV) have produced a series of collection care information guides, which can be accessed at If further advice is required, call the conservation inquiry line on (03) 8664 7359 or toll-free on 1800 999 735, or email Another useful resource is the website of the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material Inc.:, which includes a visual glossary of different types of damage and deterioration, as well as a directory of conservators in private practice within Australia.

The SLV Maps Collection encompasses over 110,000 maps, including drainage, auction and fire insurance plans, aerial photographs, geological and goldmining maps, topographic maps, township, parish, county and squatting maps, as well as geographical and cartographic reference books and atlases, and a wealth of rare and antique materials (Ryan 2017). Maps reveal unique information often unavailable through other sources--for example, topographic maps can reveal the changing natural features of a landscape, and town plans can give an indication of the jobs and educational opportunities once available. Maps also help to make information found in other sources much clearer (State Library Victoria 2017).

The SLV has supported mapmakers in its time. In 1860, four years after the opening of the Melbourne Public Library, founder Sir Redmond Barry (1830-1880) commissioned three pen-and-ink drawings of the Magna Charta, the Habeas Corpus Act, and the Petition and Bill of Rights to great public anticipation (Star 1860, 2). The commission was awarded to James McKain Archibald Job Meek (1815-1899), a graphic artist best known for his distinctive miniature penmanship and production of large illustrated charts and detailed maps. At this time Meek was also busy producing perhaps his most celebrated work of cartographic significance, Meek's Historical and Descriptive Atlas of the British Colonies in Continental and Insular Australia (1861) (hereafter Meek's Atlas).


James McKain Meek left Great Yarmouth, England, to join the colony at Sydney, NSW in 1838. Although Meek enjoyed many and sundry occupations across Victoria, NSW and New Zealand including miner, poet, spa manager and entrepreneur--he is best known for his work as a skilled draughtsman and graphic artist (Luxemburg 2015, 9). Meek produced a number of large illustrated pen-and-ink charts celebrating the histories and achievements of the various colonies. These were more widely obtainable as photolithographic reproductions produced by subscription, with a number still available in public collections across Australia today.

Meek remained little known during his lifetime, and has only more recently started to gain serious recognition. On 15 June 2015, the Ballarat Art Gallery opened its exhibition, The Inimitable Mr Meek, to coincide with the bicentenary of Meek's birth. Curated by Joan Luxemburg in partial completion of her doctoral research for the Collaborative Research Centre in Australian History (CRCAH) at Federation University, Ballarat, the exhibition was accompanied by an illustrated scholarly catalogue (Luxemburg 2015). Luxemburg completed her doctoral exegesis, The Inimitable Mr Meek: Rediscovering a lost art, in late 2016 (Luxemburg 2016).


Meek's Atlas (1861), which took around ten months to produce in pen-and-ink on paper, endeavoured to "present to the spectator, at one view, something like a complete idea of the Australias" (South Australian Register 1861, 2). Indeed the chart is comprehensive, including not only maps of each of the Australian states and New Zealand, but information about their history, geography, institutions, and resources, with statistical tables, historical text, census data and seals (Hamilton & Kocsis 2017). Meek's Atlas received a First Prize in the 1861 Victorian International Exhibition, after which it was sent to the London International Exhibition of 1862 (Archer & Knight 1861, 292; Sydney Morning Herald 1863, 13). Meek presented his work in an elaborately carved timber frame made entirely of colonial woods, including Huon pine, Sydney cedar, Tasmanian musk, myrtle and blackwood. The frame was designed by James Martin of Buninyong and carved by Felix Terlecki, Melbourne (Launceston Examiner 1862, 5). The location of both the original pen-and-ink drawing and its exquisite frame are currently unknown.


As fortune would have it, Meek also printed photolithographic copies of his Atlas by subscription, each chart given an identifying number in the upper right corner. The National Library of Australia holds one (No. 491, published in 1861: National Library of Australia MAP RM 633, online at and two more are held in the SLV Maps Collection.

The SLV's photolithographs of Meek's Atlas include one published in 1861 (No. 430), and a second published in 1862 (No. 739). It is currently unknown how these charts, which came to the attention of the Maps Librarian in 2016 during a collection survey, came to be in the SLV collection. The earlier of the two, No. 430, despite its inexplicable absence from the SLV catalogue, has a library stamp dated 28 June 1911. No. 739 remained unaccessioned and uncatalogued until September 2016. It is known that Meek had a professional relationship with the Melbourne Public Library at this time--having just completed Redmond Barry's commission in 1860--suggesting that these charts could have been in the SLV's possession for even longer. Nor is there any evidence of the SLV Atlases having been exhibited since their acquisition.

Conservation assessment in 2016 showed both charts to be in a severely deteriorated state. Constructed from inherently low quality materials, the charts had been stored tightly rolled and showed signs of acidic deterioration and damage caused by poor handling, pests and mould. During conservation assessment Meek's Atlas No. 739 was found to be particularly significant, containing a number of additional printed elements adhered post-production, including thirteen portraits of 'Discoverers and Explorers'. These components have not been noted on other available photolithographs of the chart, suggesting it is perhaps the only known representation of a second "version" of Meek's Atlas (J. Luxemburg, pers. comm., 19 July 2016). The unique content of Meek's Atlas No. 739, combined with its social and historical significance, aesthetic appeal and deteriorated condition, made it an obvious candidate for conservation treatment and digitisation.


Maps can be constructed of a broad range of materials including photographic and tracing papers, early writing surfaces such as parchment and papyrus, modern plastics, as well as textiles such as drafting cloth. The media can range from printing and writing inks to colourants including pigments, dyes, gouache and watercolours. These materials may be inherently unstable--as is the case with iron gall ink or paper made from ground-wood pulp such as newspaper--but also adversely affected by coatings, sizes and other additives, historical restoration treatments, or adjacent materials found in storage. To complicate matters further, maps also come in varying formats: they may be folded up and bound within a book, rolled onto a timber rod and roller, or they may be oversized by design and therefore constructed of numerous sheets adhered together, often with the support of an incompatible backing material.

Such is the case with Meek's Atlas No. 739, which consists of four sheets of Western machine-made wove paper, adhered along the inner margins to form one oversized sheet measuring 1894 x 1193 mm (approximately two-thirds the size of the original pen-and-ink drawing (Argus 1861, 7)). The photolithograph also featured a number of additional elements, likely intended to protect the paper support. These include a natural varnish across the recto, a folded red silk bias tacked along the left and right edges, a heavy linen backing on the verso, and a red braided textile bias separating the chart's lower edge from a varnish wooden roller affixed through the verso with seventeen metal nails. The wooden rod that existed at the upper edge is missing.


Paper is an inherently vulnerable material. Even papers of the highest stability are still susceptible to deterioration caused by chemical (e.g. acids), mechanical (e.g. handling) and biological (e.g. mould, insects) agents. The main agents of damage to paper are acids, either inherent in the fibre, introduced during manufacture, or from contact with acidic materials such as wood, cardboard or atmospheric pollutants. Heat, high humidity and overexposure to light (both natural and artificial) will accelerate chemical reactions that cause paper to degrade. Further, dust tends to absorb moisture, providing an optimal environment for mould growth and insect activity, both of which are exacerbated by humidity (SLV n.d., 1). In other words, it is important to keep paper in a clean and stable environment, without fluctuations in temperature and humidity, and stored in such a way as to protect the paper from direct light, pollutants and acidic materials.

The following condition overview of Meek's Atlas No. 739 will highlight some common damage to materials that are often found in maps collections.

Paper support and media

The paper support of Meek's Atlas No. 739 showed characteristic signs of acidic damage including severe discolouration and embrittlement with extensive cracking, losses, and paper fragments raised and curling away from the paper plane. Microscopic analysis, supported by chemical spot testing, suggested that the paper was likely composed of flax combined with a second short-fibred plant, possibly wood pulp. Therefore, the acidic damage was likely both inherent in the paper, but also caused by exposure to light and pollutants (e.g. dust, industrial pollution) at some time during the last 155 years, with fluctuating atmospheric conditions compounding the problem. The paper was particularly fragile in the upper quadrant and vertically through the centre of the chart, corresponding to its rolled format, which exposed the uppermost section and placed uneven strain on the chart. Inadequate support in storage and incompatible tensions between the paper, heavy linen backing and rigid timber roller would have contributed to this weakness. In addition, the paper showed extensive staining and surface losses indicative of water damage, mould activity and insect grazing, suggesting poor storage conditions in the past. The lithographic ink appeared stable except for some incidences of abrasion and loss associated with the paper substrate.

Natural varnish

The natural varnish, likely mastic, was heavily discoloured, hard, brittle, fissured and abraded. The deterioration of the varnish had caused the delamination, flaking and fragmentation of the underlying substrate, exposing the paper and media to atmospheric gases and moisture.

Linen backing

The linen backing showed extensive surface and ingrained dirt, staining, fraying and losses concentrated to the upper fifth of the chart. The concentration of damage to the uppermost section is common to rolled items, as this area is inevitably exposed. The backing had become detached from the paper support at various points throughout, likely due to the failure of an aging adhesive. Additionally, the competing expansion and contraction rates of the paper and textile would have created a destructive tension, resulting in such damage as splitting, tearing and losses.

Other textile components

Other textile components displayed various states of deterioration dependent on their composition. The red edge bias was faded and displayed extensive losses due to shattering, typical of silk, while the tacking thread had failed at numerous points as it wore with use. The red braided bias, which appeared to be synthetic and therefore a later addition, was in generally good condition, with only minor fraying and losses. While these textile components appeared to have no apparent negative affect on the underlying paper support, the sewing sites associated with the tacking thread had produced points of stress that promoted further fragmentation of the paper support.

Wooden roller

The varnished wooden roller displayed general mechanical damage at both finials. All the metal nails were heavily corroded to a rust-brown, indicating iron content (Ankersmit et al. 2008, 8-11). Corrosion products from the nails had transferred to the paper support and synthetic braided bias, causing areas in close contact to become darkened and embrittled.


When planning for the conservation treatment of maps, there are a number of factors to take into account. During the risk assessment phase a condition report is prepared that includes photo-documentation for reference during treatment. Testing is undertaken to identify material composition, construction and such parameters as media solubility. The risks versus the benefits of treatment must also be considered along with the significance of the item and all of its components. For example, are all components original? If not, are they significant to the reading of the object as a whole? This is a particularly important question, as sometimes conservation treatment involves sacrificing certain elements that might be significant to the object's narrative for the benefit of the object's longevity. For example, removal of a varnish is an irreversible treatment that takes away part of the object's original make-up, however it may be necessary due to harmful effect on the underlying medium. In this case, a comprehensive report supported by photo-documentation may be sufficient to capture this information.

More specific to map materials is consideration of how conservation treatment may affect the object's literal reading, particularly regarding scale. The cartographer will have selected the baseline, the scale, and the size of the finished map or desired reduction with great care. The accuracy of these features will directly affect the accurate reading of the map's content (Monkhouse & Wilkinson 1971, 13-14 & 16).

Handling considerations

When handling works on paper, it is imperative to adhere to some simple standards. The most important is to ensure that hands and surfaces are always clean. Despite common belief, when handling paper clean hands are always preferential to gloved, as gloves reduce manual dexterity and therefore increase the risk of mechanical damage. In addition, it is advisable to keep the item supported during any movement, whether that is using a plastic sleeve or a rigid support such as archival board.

When working with oversized works, the problems faced in handling such vulnerable materials are amplified. Not only are oversized works more difficult to move, but they also require more resources including staff and space. For example, any handling of Meek's Atlas No. 739 required two to three staff, ensuring that the chart was adequately supported at all times and that pathways were clear.

Stage 1: Removal of original materials

A major ethical consideration for a conservator concerns the removal of original materials. At times this is considered necessary in order to ensure the long-term preservation of an object. In the case of Meek's Atlas No. 739, a number of original materials were removed to allow for better access to the paper support during treatment as well as to eliminate agents that have a deleterious effect. Good documentation is crucial under these circumstances.

First, the metal nails were carefully removed, allowing for the wooden roller and red braided bias to be lifted away from the paper support. The red silk biases along left and right edges were then removed by cutting through the tacking thread. After selecting an appropriate solvent, the varnish was then removed using cotton swabs in areas approximately the size of an A5 sheet. A temporary facing was applied to the paper surface to prevent risk of further fragmentation and loss during treatment. 'Facing' layers are commonly adhered to protect weakened papers during conservation treatment by applying a sympathetic material across areas of damage using a weak reversible adhesive. In this case, 'funori', a traditional Japanese adhesive made from dried refined seaweed, was used to adhere a lightweight Japanese kozo paper to the surface. Once stabilised by facing, the chart was turned over and the linen backing rolled away. Maps of this period commonly feature textile backings, however the heavy linen was not reattached. Its unstable condition and known incompatible tensions with the weakened paper support were key factors in this decision.

All removed materials were retained in archival housing and labelled according to their original locations. The smaller components--including the textile biases, tacking thread and samples of removed varnish--were filed with the condition and treatment documentation, while the larger components--linen backing and wooden roller--are now safely housed with the chart.

Stage 2: Wet treatment

Any conservation activity that employs moisture will pose the risk of visual, tactile and dimensional change to a paper sheet, whether by gentle humidification for the purposes of flattening, or through more interventive means such as washing for stain reduction. Such dimensional change is most likely to occur as an expansion in the cross direction of the paper sheet (as opposed to the grain direction), commonly the width (Carr et al. 2006, 69). In the case of Meek's Atlas No. 739, consultation between the Maps Librarian and conservation staff concluded that wet treatment was the only practicable means of removing water-soluble acidic products from the paper, and thereby return some measure of strength and flexibility to the chart. To reduce the risk of superficial and dimensional change, great care was taken when developing washing and drying procedures.

As the chart was larger than any available washing facilities in the conservation laboratory, a large Mylar[R] bath was constructed for the purpose of immersion washing. The chart was lightly humidified to allow the paper fibres to take up moisture slowly before immersing in pH-adjusted deionised water. The chart was washed in timed intervals, four times. Testing of the bath water following each wash revealed significant release of acidic products from the paper.

When drying Meek's Atlas No. 739 it was important to preserve the paper's visual and tactile features smooth and regular--and retain original dimensions as closely as possible. With these considerations in mind, it was decided to dry the paper gradually under moderate pressure. Following treatment, Meek's Atlas No. 739 was measured and dimensional change in the width was found to be negligible. The surface qualities of the paper were unaffected.

Stage 3: Application of new materials

The field of Western paper conservation has borrowed heavily from that of Eastern practice. In fact, many of our materials, tools and techniques have come directly from Eastern scroll-mounting traditions. The use of their materials and techniques on Western heritage is widely practiced in the paper conservation sphere. In the case of Meek's Atlas No. 739, a number of Japanese materials and techniques were employed to stabilise the weakened paper support and to impart strength and flexibility. Conservation is primarily concerned with the stabilisation of an object, preserving as much as possible of its existing state. Sometimes this requires the use of new or diverse materials that have been proven fit for the purpose, while providing a suitable level of longevity and reversibility.

First, all creases, splits and tears were realigned, repaired and reinforced on the verso of the chart using 'Dry Tear' kozo strips and fresh 'nori' (wheat starch paste). The chart was then prepared for a new lining. Lining paper objects is a technique derived from Eastern scroll-mounting, which aims to provide a strong yet flexible backing that supports the scroll during repeated rolling and unrolling without damage to the paper support and associated media. The advantages of this technique to Meek's Atlas No. 739--which due to its large scale would have to be stored rolled--are obvious.

Following extensive research into lining practices, a two-layered lining system using two types of Japanese kozo paper applied with two different adhesive mixtures was considered to be the best option. Japanese kozo paper (from the paper mulberry tree, Broussonetia papyrifera) is frequently used in the conservation of paper for its long fibres that offer good wet strength, flexibility and firm adhesion (Burdett & Thomson 2002, 32-33; Webber 2006, 48). The first lining layer was adhered using fresh nori diluted with deionised water, which is known to provide a strong bond that is suitable for paper reinforcement. The second layer used an adhesive mix lesser known to Western conservators: 50/50 nori and 'furunori'. Furunori is wheat starch paste that has been aged for up to ten years in a cool dark environment. It is not widely known in the field of Western paper conservation largely because specific environmental conditions are required for its production. However, it is regularly used in Japanese scroll mounting for its great flexibility, relative strength and reversibility, which is particularly beneficial for rolled items.

A series of complex steps were undertaken to achieve the two-layered lining, remove the temporary facing and dry the chart, finishing with the use of glass polishing beads ('ura-suri-tama') to aid in the break-up of wheat starch crystals and increase flexibility. Aesthetic reintegration was then achieved by 'filling' losses using Western and Japanese paper repairs toned with acrylic paint. The highly successful outcome as result of these treatments demonstrates the applicability of these materials and techniques. The paper support of Meek's Atlas No. 739 is now supple and flexible, and able to be rolled with no movement of previously fragmented paper.


Although flat storage is generally preferred for works on paper, oversized items often have to be rolled as the only practical means of storage. Conservators generally recommend rolling oversized materials around the outside of an archival tube, or tube prepared with archival wrapping, and which is at least 100mm in diameter and long enough to extend beyond the object edges. Meek's Atlas No. 739 was rolled onto a Mylar[R]-covered cardboard tube of 150mm diameter, wrapped in archival paper and secured with cotton ties.

The rolled chart was then housed in a custom-made acid-free corrugated-board box with drop-down front and close-fitting lid. Archival boxing is an effective way of creating a stable environment for works on paper, buffering the object from changes in temperature and humidity while keeping out light, pests and pollutants (SLV n.d., 1). Acid-free corrugated-board 'saddles' were adhered into the ends of the box to support the inner tube without placing any pressure on Meek's Atlas No. 739. The linen backing and wooden roller are stored safely within the same box.

Camera-capture digitisation and cataloguing were completed in September 2016, concluding a treatment that took almost a year and well over 250 hours to complete. This is just one of over 25,000 maps and plans that have been digitised and made accessible online. To see Meek's Atlas No. 739 in its conserved state, visit:


The SLV Maps Collection--like most collections of maps, plans and charts--is made up of a wide range of materials and formats. With over 10,000 individual items from town plans to reference books, the collection includes paper, parchment, timber, textile and plastic, the combination of which can pose complex preservation issues.

It was the aim of this report to offer insight regarding the care of such collections by reflecting on the recent conservation treatment of a significant photolithographic chart in the SLV collection. Meek's Atlas No. 739 (1862) was in an acutely deteriorated state when it was discovered during a collection survey in 2016. The chart's poor condition was the result of its large-scale, tightly rolled format, poor historical storage, and multifaceted composition, which included a number of incompatible materials. Above all, the chart featured a badly discoloured natural varnish and heavy linen backing that were causing damaging tensions and fragmentation of the paper support. The stabilisation of this complex object called for conservation interventions that raised certain ethical issues, including the removal of original materials and the addition of new cross-cultural materials, such as the use of furunori as a secondary adhesive. Moreover, this report offers the reader information on the handling and storage of works on paper, particularly those that are oversized and rolled.

The success of this treatment--as measured by the chart's stabilisation, renewed strength and flexibility --allowed for its digitisation and cataloguing. Meek's Atlas No. 739 is now accessible to the general public online, making the potentially unique information of this second "version" widely available for the first time in 155 years.


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--(2016), The Inimitable Mr Meek: Re-discovering a lost art, PhD Exegesis, Federation University, Ballarat. Online at

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--(2017), Why use maps for your family history research?, Melbourne. Online at: https ://guides .slv.vic

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Albertine Hamilton (1)

(1) Albertine Hamilton is a Paper Conservator at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, where she works with archival documents on paper and parchment, maps and plans, photographic materials, and works of art on paper. She graduated from the Master of Cultural Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne in 2011, and also holds an undergraduate degree in Fine Arts from RMIT University. Email:

Caption: Figure 1. Before treatment image of Meek's Atlas No. 739, 1862, photolithograph on paper, 1894 x 1193 mm, State Library Victoria, Melbourne.

Caption: Figure 2. During treatment image of varnish removal and facing application.

Caption: Figure 3. After treatment image of Meek's Atlas No. 739, 1862, photolithograph on paper, 1894 x 1193 mm, State Library Victoria, Melbourne.

Caption: Figure 4. After treatment image of Meek's Atlas No. 739 in custom rolled storage.
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Title Annotation:graphic artist James McKain Archibald Job Meek
Author:Hamilton, Albertine
Publication:The Globe
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Apr 1, 2018

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