Tuesday, 17 December 2019

The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club

One of the most interesting stories about Tasmania’s early history is the publication of a pirated edition of Charles Dickens’ the Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club in 1838-9. It seems that the Launceston Mechanics’ Institute once had a copy in its collection. (https://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/780675?lookfor=pickwick%20papers%20dowling&offset=1&max=2)
 The publisher was Henry Dowling (1810-1885), son of the prominent Baptist minister of the same name, and brother of artist Robert Dowling. In his lifetime he was a printer, publisher, bank manager and philanthropist. In 1831, at the age of twenty-one, he became the editor and publisher of the Advertiser, previously the paper of John Pascoe Fawkner.
The original Pickwick Papers had been published (with illustrations) in London in 20 instalments between March 1836 and October 1837. The illustrator (from number 4 onwards) was ‘Phiz’.  The publication quickly became very popular and obviously a copy found its way to Van Diemen’s Land fairly promptly.
Dowling’s version of the text was published in twenty-five instalments from August to October 1838 and was available from his stationery warehouse in Brisbane Street. Illustrations for this pirated publication were made available to subscribers towards the end of this time. The illustrations, copies or adaptations of those in the English publication, were said to be by ‘Tiz’. The story was later published in book form with twenty lithographic illustrations.
The identity of the illustrator ‘Tiz’ has always been a mystery. Jack Briggs, said to be a servant of Dowling’s, is usually credited with the illustrations, although he is not known to have had any artistic training.  However, an obituary for Henry Dowling in 1885, more than 45 years after his publication of the pirated version, claims the illustrations were done by a draughtsman in the Hobart Survey Office. (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/9110751)
Very few copies of Dowling’s version remain in libraries in Australia. The State Library of NSW claims to have the only copies of the original instalments version. Libraries Tasmania has a copy of the book form, as does the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery. The National Library in Canberra has two copies and one of those is noted as having the stamp of the Launceston Mechanics’ Institute! To date there is no knowledge of how the LMI acquired its copy, or how it ended up in the National Library. If you have any further information, please feel free to comment on this blog.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

'Going to the Mechanics'

                             Stefan Petrow’s history of the                           Launceston Mechanics’ Institute is now available for $10.

Thanks to the generosity of Emeritus Professor Campbell Macknight, who published the book in 1998 as part of the Historical Survey of Northern Tasmania, there are soft cover copies of Stefan’s very readable account of the LMI from 1842 to 1914 for sale through FOLMI.

Going to the Mechanics tells the story of the foundation of the LMI in detail, of the Launceston citizens who envisaged such an important cultural institution, created it, then maintained it for its first 70 years with little support from government. In 1860 they constructed the finest public building in the town to house its book and museum collection, and to provide a venue for most of the worthy scientific, artistic, dramatic and social events in the burgeoning settlement.  
Order copies through this blogspot or contact:                                                                                         Mike McCausland        mmccausl@yahoo.com / 0497 258 761

Price: $10

Thursday, 13 June 2019

LMI Furniture Gallery

The Mechanics' Institute Library effectively ceased operation in 1945. The grand old building was demolished in 1971. The books survive, and are celebrated on this blog. And so do a few precious objects – pieces of furniture and equipment.

Our photographer Nienna Fontana captured some of these objects in situ at Launceston Library a couple of years ago. Here are a few of Nienna's images;

Desk Organiser

Document Box


Impressed Stamper

Reading Room Chairs

Library Stairs

Wall Clock

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Bell's Poets Exhibition

Bell’s Edition 
The Poets of Great Britain Complete, from Chaucer to Churchill 
(109 Volumes).

Further to our previous post, readers of this blog now have an opportunity to see Bell's wonderful edition for themselves – at the University of Tasmania Library, Newnham campus – for a limited time. The Library is open seven days a week (afternoons only on Saturday and Sunday) and our exhibition is opposite the enquiry desk on the ground floor.

There are many remarkable things about this edition:

Their diminutive size (12.5 x 8cm).
The quality of the typography, printing, binding and illustrations.
Their significance in the history of the British publishing industry.
Their survival intact as a rare complete set after nearly 250 years of use, including 100 years on the shelves of a public library.

And a full appreciation of their beauty can only be gained from seeing them.

As an aside, the Bell's Poets are perfectly suited to display in our handsome travelling cabinet so superbly constructed by Tony Mitchell of TJM Woodturning and Joinery. We thank Arts Tasmania, and particularly the Lynne Stacpoole Caring for Your Collection grants program, for funding the travelling cabinet, which has more than earned its keep over the past three years.

We can enthusiastically recommend this grants program as an invaluable support for cultural heritage groups wishing to purchase capital items for the preservation or display of objects within museums and collections. The 2018 Grants round is currently open with a closing date of 1 October 2018.

Saturday, 23 June 2018


Bell's Milton volumes

Bell’s Edition – The Poets of Great Britain Complete, from Chaucer to Churchill.

In September 2016 we published a post on what we’d discovered about this set of 109 miniature volumes (12.5cm by 8cm), and promised more of their story: their provenance and what the volumes tell us about their making.

As a result of subsequent exploration we prepared an exhibition, which can now be seen at the University of Tasmania Library in Newnham.

What follows are images and text from that exhibition, and further information kindly supplied by Professor Thomas Bonnell. It was his 2008 authoritative text, The Most Disreputable Trade: Publishing the Classics of English Poetry 1765-1810 (OUP), that informed the earlier post.

First, a little more on their acquisition. No early Account Book of the Launceston Mechanics’ Institute survives, but there is a summary of expenditures up to July 1844 published in the Launceston Examiner (Aug 7, 1844, p.2). It shows £10 being ‘forwarded to England for books and periodicals’ in the March of 1843 and of 1844. These, and some purchases from local sources, were to supplement the donations to the library by a number of the founding LMI members, including Breton, Aikenhead, Henty, Kenworthy, Oakden, Sherwin and Gleadow, as well as by benefactors such as their Patron Sir John Franklin and Lady Franklin. The Annual Report for 1844 shows that Bell’s Poets was among the purchases made in 1843.

Every tiny volume, apart from two, has its LMI bookplate.  These are usually annotated with the LMI librarian’s catalogue numbers, of which there are up to four between 1845 and 1880 as the collection was progressively re-organised according to changing systems. However we noticed that these were pasted over an earlier bookplate, and in the two instance that were missed, the underlying plate was revealed.
Wright's Bookplate

Joseph William Wright, from a wealthy Ulster family whose crest appears on the bookplate, was a successful Dublin solicitor, born in 1754 in County Antrim. Later in his career he appears to have taken up a senior government position and moved to London. Although he died in Dublin (in 1825), we are presuming that this complete set of Bell’s Poets was sold in London by a bookseller to an agent buying books for the LMI. Whether there were owners before or after Wright up to 1843 is still a mystery.

The little volumes were very well produced, with paper, printing and bindings of which John Bell was justifiably proud.

The paper used for these volumes has dark ridges running horizontally and translucent lines running vertically. It has been made by hand from cotton waste. This material was broken down to make a slurry of fibres, a thin layer of which was pressed onto fine wires, and then dried. It was during this process that a watermark and other identifying features were incorporated into the paper.

From these we can learn that the volumes are octodecimo, that is, each printed sheet was folded into 18 before being stitched and bound into the volume, and that the London papermaker Hugh Bennett produced it.

The volumes were printed in Edinburgh by one of the finest printers in Britain: Gilbert Martin and Sons at the Apollo Press. Apart from remoteness from London and delays in transport caused by French privateers plying the Channel, the Apollo Press disastrously burnt down in July 1778, and many sheets printed for Bell were destroyed.  Bell’s promise of publishing a volume a week fell well behind schedule, but such was his resilience and energy that 109 volumes appeared in approximately six years despite these many setbacks.

Each volume carried a fine engraving on its opening pages that illustrates a scene in the poetry to follow. These are highly stylised by modern standards, but some were arrestingly dramatic, or evoked the period of the poet, like this one for Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

They were devised by leading artists of the period and engraved by the best craftsmen Bell could employ. These included Edwards, Mortimer, Grignion, Stothard and Heath. (A full list is given in Bonnell’s Most Disreputable Trade.)

And at the opening of the first volume ascribed to each of his chosen fifty poets there was a portrait of that poet. Some of these were modelled on busts in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey, and others on paintings in the library of the Earl of Chesterfield.

This one, of Dryden, was representative of the way Bell attempted to associate his series with was most prestigious in the literary and artistic world.

The fine binding of these volumes, ornamented in gold leaf, is characteristic of the period. This set’s covering is known as ‘tree-calf’ because of its distinctive pattern. The gold design, a vase with four circles framing it, was individually hand stamped on the leather, as was the running number in the sequence of 109 volumes. On the volume illustrated here there is evidence of the numbers and the decoration not being stamped squarely. Perhaps the work of an apprentice?

On the red leather squares the lettering is more even; these were block stamped separately, then pasted onto the spine. Gold leaf lines between designs and around the cover were applied by patterned wheels. Gold leaf was even scored diagonally into the edges of the covers.

Purchasers paid extra for marbled endpapers (coloured sheets inside the covers). These attractive patterns are made by stirring patches of paint on a liquid ‘size’, then placing the endpaper sheets on it to pick up a pattern unique to that volume. The original owner, Joseph William Wright, pasted his bookplate on the opening endpaper, and the LMI pasted one over it.

The publication of the whole series was spread out over a period from April 1777 to May 1783, by which time Bell was already bringing out second editions to replace sold-out stock. He continued reprinting his very successful series until he sold the business in 1795.

Typically, sets of Bell’s Poets include a mixture of editions. The LMI library’s set includes first, second and later editions, the latest volume being dated 1788. At this stage Bell was still in control of maintaining the range and quality of his editions. Below are the title page and half-title for Dryden’s works, showing that it is the second edition of 1784 (with the LMI stamp obscuring other publication details), while the half-title remains as the original purchaser saw it.


The creators of this blog wish to acknowledge Professor Thomas Bonnell as their most significant source of information, especially The Most Disreputable Trade: Publishing the Classics of English Poetry 1765-1810 (OUP).

This book also pays tribute to numbers of other British publishers who participated in an upsurge of national spirit in the re-evaluation of English poetry as rivalling the Classics of antiquity.
Professor Bonnell has also confirmed in private correspondence that this LMI set is bound by Bell’s own binder, and gave valuable information about the printing of Bell’s Poets from a friend, Professor David Vander Muelen of the University of Virginia.

Post contributed by Mike McCausland

Friday, 22 June 2018

Friends of the Launceston Mechanics' Institute

Friends of the Launceston Mechanics' Institute Inc.

Reports presented at the Annual General Meeting, June 8 2018.

President's Report 2017-18

It is a privilege to present this report to members on the occasion of our fifth Annual General Meeting. I take this opportunity to reflect on what has been achieved in the past year and to lay out our plans and aspirations for the coming year.

Membership has remained constant in the past year.  I would like to acknowledge the contributions of our committee members, our hard-working volunteers, and the support of all members, in what has been achieved.

Achievements This Year
As foreshadowed at our last meeting the past twelve months has been a period of consolidation primarily, with a focus on cataloguing and conservation work. Our energies have been largely directed to these ambitious projects which have required large amounts of time and effort.
Our Cataloguing Project has been outstandingly successful and a great credit to the team dedicated to making our collection more accessible. The support of the Plomley Foundation, through its Funding Grant, and under the auspices of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, has been the enabler of the project. But it has been the many hours of voluntary work undertaken by the cataloguers, largely in their own homes, that has made this project such a remarkable success.
Our Conservation Project has operated in parallel with the cataloguing work, and has concentrated on the non-fiction component of the collection. We met the targets we set in our application for funding from the Community Heritage Grants program, and our final report and acquittal was submitted in December, and has been accepted in very complimentary terms by the National Library as administrator of the Grant.  The Grant has set us up with the skills and a very useful inventory of equipment and materials for our ongoing activity in cleaning, treating and preserving the collection. It must be acknowledged however that a great deal remains to be done for us to work through the entire collection.
Other activities have included some additional work on the LMI Records held by Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, the ongoing dispersal of out-of-scope books, and incremental progress in developing a better understanding of the collection through research and interpretation.

Promotional Activities
A highlight of this year was our participation in an international conference held by the Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand, in Hobart last year – "Connecting the Colonies: Empires and Networks in the History of the Book". As an ancillary event to the conference the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (QVMAG) and the Friends of Launceston Mechanics' Institute (FOLMI) offered attendees a tour of their respective library collections on the Saturday afternoon following the conference, 25 November. We were honoured to host an illustrious group of academics and researchers from around the world for the tour, to hear their responses to the collection, and to explore its research potential with them.
We have curated a new exhibition on the Bell's Poets set of 109 volumes which has recently been placed on display in the foyer of the University of Tasmania's Launceston Campus Library.
Our online presence has continued in terms of content and reach, albeit at a slower rate than the previous year. Visits to our blog numbered around 6000 in the past year. Facebook and Flickr pages continue to attract followers. We have expanded our contribution to TROVE by developing lists on their site of digital content relating to the LMI and including a TROVE search facility on our web site which links directly to our collection.
Our very supportive friends at Mechanics' Institutes of Victoria have continued to promote our activities through their newsletter and more widely.
We have explored interesting linkages between our respective Institutes with a member of the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution and look forward to a visit from Jane Sparrow-Niang in November.

The Year Ahead
The Cataloguing project will be completed by the end of 2018, and a concerted effort will be needed to progress the work of the Conservation Team. This will become our priority task for the coming year.
Additionally we intend to complete the reorganisation of the LMI Records and produce a guide to them.
An invitation has been received from the Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand for us to submit a proposal for a publication relating to aspects of our collection. A proposal will be developed in the near future as this would be a valuable opportunity to engage with a group of specialist researchers.
We will of course continue the search for a permanent home for the collection – this being the greatest challenge we face as an organisation.

Firstly I want to record my thanks to the University Library staff, and in particular to Wendy Hoyle, the Campus Librarian and acting University Librarian, and Prue Senior, Senior Client Services Officer, for their ongoing support, advocacy and interest in our project.
I also want to acknowledge the National Library and thank their Community Heritage Grant team for their contribution. This is an outstanding scheme, exceptionally well-organised and very supportive of grant recipients. With their support we have been able to take an accelerated path through their carefully staged grants process, completing what is usually a six-year program in just three years.
I also thank the management and staff of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston LINC and the State Library of Tasmania, for their ongoing assistance and support. We are particularly indebted to the Plomley Foundation for their financial support of our cataloguing project.
Peter Richardson, President, 8 June, 2018

Conservation Group
Much of the work done over the 2017-18 year was done in the convivial (and warm) domain of the welcoming Ross Smith at QVMAG. There were up to six members of the Group at a time on Friday afternoons beavering away at constructing phase boxes and 4-flap folders, creating Mylar covers and encasing books in boards tied with tape. With practice, especially by the teams dedicated to specific kinds of construction, we became more adept at measuring, bending & cutting, wielding bone folders and Stanley knives, and turning out presentable and effectively conserved books, each with its own appropriate treatment. 
The primary step for the conservation of all items was cleaning. This, and the follow-up treatment for mould and red rot, were conducted in D007 at UTAS observing the health and safety parameters demonstrated by Noni Zachri in her training workshop in February 2017. After treatment, books were placed back on the shelves in Dewey order, working backwards from 999. We’re presently into C20th British History in the 940s. It’s fairly careful and repetitive work, and it’s not surprising that progress has been slow in 2018 with fewer members able to attend working bees or come in independently. 
The numbers of books so far treated are:                                            
Cleaning: 1095                   
Mylar sleeves: 63                             
Clarkson wrappers: 28                                            
Boards & tape: 89   
Red rot: 64                                   
Mould: 20                                                          

These cleaned and treated books represent about 11/3 rows, shelved at the back of D007.
I’d like to thank all members contributing time to the project, and to make particular mention of Julieanne Richards who has cycled out to the Uni on many occasions to work alone.
If we’re to make much headway in this really time-consuming task we’re going to have to re-invigorate the way we tackle the project. I’d welcome any suggestions.

Facebook Page
It has been a quiet year. Sue McClarron has put in 6 posts, including links to specific FOLMI blogs, articles in the Examiner and items of general interest. There are now 64 followers, double the number of last year. Sue invites comments and stories from all members of FOLMI.

We’ve mounted three displays. The first was on Charles Darwin, of which the LMI had a rich, varied and at times humorous collection of holdings. It was mounted both at the LINC and the UTAS Library in the handsome display case made by Toby Mitchell.
The second is presently on the 2nd Floor of the newly-renamed Library; it commemorates the 100th  anniversary of the final year of World War 1 from a perspective made possible by the rather tattered and well-thumbed books and periodicals now surviving from the original Mechanics’ Institute collection of that time.
The third, recently mounted in the UTAS Library, displays the 109 miniature volumes of Bell’s Edition of the Poets of Great Britain, published in London between 1776 and 1784. Our set has first, second and later editions of the works, all produced between 1778 and 1788, and was purchased for the LMI in 1843. Our set had earlier been owned by Joseph William Wright, as the original bookplates show.

Report from the Cataloguing Group 
This time last year the Cataloguing group was coming to the end of doing the Non-Fiction books in the LMI Collection. There were about 7000 titles in that area of the collection.
Since the Non-Fiction was finished we have been working away at the pre-1914 Fiction collection and to date have added 4420 books.
Our Trove total now is 11,219 titles.
There have been some unusual titles along the way: ‘The garden of resurrection: being the love story of an ugly man’, ‘Winning a wife in Australia – a story drawn from actual experiences’,  ‘The shady side, or life in a country parsonage’ and ‘Queer chums: a narrative of a midshipman’s adventures’. There have also been many, many melodramatic endings and illustrations!
Progress has been hampered by illness and other commitments of members of the group. Dorothy Rosemann has had several stays in hospital but is back doing cataloguing now. Di Worth broke her ankle badly and is slowly recovering. She is our expert cataloguer and does those books that aren’t as straightforward or can’t be found on the two databases the rest of us have access to.
We thought we were nearly at the end of the Victorian and Edwardian fiction – those dated up to 1914, but the a check of the list of books catalogued by the state library in that category in the 1990’s shows there are many books unaccounted for. Some of these may be in Launceston’s Local Studies collection or in the Phil Leonard Room, or in Hobart. We will follow this up when all the books we have in our possession at present are all added to the Libraries Australia database
We have found that about 11% of the books are not originally part of the collection but have been added later, probably for safe-keeping. Some of these were from Longford Library and have been given to QVMAG for their collection, as have some of the others which were originally school or Sunday school prizes. Many of the remainder have been given to Friends of the Library for their annual Book Sale.
We still have the fiction from 1914-1945 to be added to the database. This will bring both fiction and non fiction up to 1945. Some members are working on creating a spreadsheet for the cataloguers to use when adding this group of books to Libraries Australia, so that we keep our own record of what we have added.
We are grateful that the Plomley Foundation has agreed to us using part of the grant money to extend our subscription to Libraries Australia for another year and we hope this will be sufficient for us to finish our task.
We are able to do our work by taking boxes home from D007, working on the books and then returning them to the great stack at the southern end of D007. There’s quite a lot of hefting boxes around but it is very convenient to do it in this way.
Hundreds of hours have been expended in this task and I thank the members of the group for their continued support and hard work.
Prue McCausland

Saturday, 17 February 2018


Hello members and supporters of FOLMI,

It's quite a while since we circulated news of our activities. We've been travelling steadily on a couple of projects, so here's an update.  

All the best for 2018!

Restarting conservation work on the LMI Collection in D007
Conservation work will restart in the week beginning 26 Feb. It will be based at UTAS Room D007 and will focus on cleaning. We’ve rewritten the guidelines on this, and on other procedures, to make the tasks as straightforward and efficient as possible. Months of working on cleaning has convinced the teams that we can get much more done with a simplified procedure using the vacuum cleaner and smoke sponges for virtually all books.
If you’d like to be involved in any of the conservation activities, please contact Mike McCausland (63272540 or mmccausl@yahoo.com). He’ll also soon be ringing around the existing teams as well as potential participants inside and outside FOLMI.

There’s been steady progress made by our dedicated team in adding entries to the Libraries Australia database over the last six months. Having completed the nonfiction the team has moved on to fiction and periodicals. They have now entered over 9,500 nonfiction and fiction titles.
The final number of fiction titles to be entered will be well down on the 6749 books of the Victorian & Edwardian Collection in the TALIS catalogue we inherited from the LINC. It seems the State Library used the Launceston Stack to ‘sequester’ old books that had come from donors and other libraries around the state; these went unchecked into the V&E Collection and catalogue. Interesting as these volumes may be – coming as they do from private collections, Sunday School prizes, regional libraries at Evandale, Longford, Ouse etc. – they can’t be included as part of our LMI Collection. Fortunately many have a new home in the QVMAG’s special collections.
Di Worth, our experienced cataloguer living in southern Tasmania, has done a magnificent job in entering the periodicals, which are certainly awkward to catalogue. There are a few queries being answered by examining the hard copies on the shelves at D007, but once this is done, this most significant part of the Collection will have been entered. Eventually they will need conservation work – a vital step considering their general condition.
The long-term cataloguing project will not be completed by the middle of the year, so we shall need to renew our registration for cataloguing with Libraries Australia for another year.

Are you regularly checking our Facebook page?  It carries current news and links to the FOLMI blogspot and other sites of interest to members. Sue McClarron has been maintaining it; if you have any items you think would interest members and the general public, contact her at smcclarron51@gmail.com.
We also continue to post regularly on our blog at http://launcestonmechanicsinstitute.blogspot.com.au/

That long-term goal, a permanent home
There is a proposed collaboration between Launceston Historical Society, Tasmanian Family History Society, Royal Australian Artillery Association of Tasmania and FOLMI to establish a Launceston History Research Centre at the Paterson Barracks on the corner of St John and William streets. This is being followed up by John Dent, Gus Green and members of all four community groups. Its goal is to make a submission to the Department of Defence, the State Government and the City of Launceston to take ownership of the Paterson Barracks when it is decommissioned in a few years’ time.
The objectives of the group are to:
·         Preserve a heritage asset – the buildings
·         Bring new life to the buildings and a city precinct through a new use
·         Provide an information/research service that is currently lacking
·         Celebrate the military and immigrant history of the city
·         Provide new public access to community assets and resources
·         Create a new centre for sharing ideas, expertise and knowledge
·         Create new opportunities for collaborative research
·         Enhance the visitor experience in the city… and much more.

Mike McCausland
Secretary, FOLMI