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.