The Institute's governing body was a Board of Management, with an elected President. Many individuals prominent in Launceston's civic life took the role of president. This post is the first of two listing the Institute's presidents with brief biographical notes focussing on their contributions to the city.
It was Institute practise to request a portrait from each president to be hung in a place of honour in the Reading Room. The illustration below shows a part of the portrait gallery.
William Henry Breton
The founding President of the Institute, William Breton was a retired Royal Navy officer who served as Police Magistrate at Launceston. He was the author of Excursions in New South Wales, Western Australia, and Van Diemen's Land; During the Years 1830, 1831, 1832, and 1833, published in London in 1833.
A member of the Henty family, prominent in the white settlement of three colonies – VDL, Western Australia and Victoria, William was a solicitor and active in church, educational and horticultural activities. He represented Tamar in the Tasmanian House of Assembly and became Colonial Secretary in 1856. Resigning in 1862 he returned to England, where he died in 1881.*
Reverend Robert Kirkwood Ewing
Ewing was successively a minister of the Congregationalist, Presbyterian and Anglican churches. Included among his many interests during his time in Launceston were the St Andrew's Club, a benefit society promoting co-operation within the Scottish community, the Launceston Philharmonic Society and St Andrew's Teetotal Society. While president of the Institute, he taught elocution, gave lectures and helped to raise funds for a new building. Among his publications were "A Lecture Replying to Objections against Phrenology" (Launceston, 1852), Moses and Colenso (Hobart, 1864), and a book of poetry, Filings of Time (Launceston, ).*
Cornelius Gavin Casey
Casey was a surgeon, who served for a time as assistant colonial surgeon and as medical officer to the gaol, watch-house and police at Launceston. He was an important investor in mining ventures in western Tasmania and prominent land developer in both Tasmania and Victoria.*
Arthur John Marriott
Marriott served a brief period as President of the Institute and was a central figure in the controversial acquisition of the Brindley organ. He was secretary to the Launceston Chamber of Commerce, a choirmaster and a talented cricketer who represented Tasmania in the 1851-52 season. He left the colony suffering ill-health, and died at Nice, France, in 1866.
Ronald Campbell Gunn
Gunn was a prominent figure in many areas of life in the colony; a commandant/supervisor of convicts, commissioner of crown lands, estate manager, magistrate, Member of the House of Assembly, Member of the Legislative Council, and pro-transportationist. He is particularly remembered as a fine botanist and plant collector. In 1842 he wrote Observations on the Flora of Geelong. For seven years he edited the Tasmanian Journal of Natural Science in which many of his articles appeared. He also contributed to the London Journal of Botany. In 1862 he helped to compile Walch's Almanack, and he wrote the section on zoology in John West's The History of Tasmania (Launceston, 1852).*
William Stammers Button
W.S. Button was a respected businessman, brewer and company director who was Launceston's first Mayor. He was an enthusiastic promoter of railways, banking and insurance services. He served as a Member of the Legislative Council for six years, helped establish the Launceston Examiner newspaper, and was a very active member of the Princes Square Independent Church.
Reverend Charles Price
Price founded a Congregational Church in Launceston in 1836 and maintained his ministry for 55 years. He played a key role in the establishment of the temperance movement in the city, the City Mission and the Bible Society. Several of his sermons were published in Launceston and his lecture "The intellectual improvement of the working classes" was published by the Institute in 1850.
Edward Taylor Boyes
The son of G.T.W.B. Boyes, well-known as a diarist and correspondent who chronicled life in Tasmania in the 1830s and 1840s, Edward was resident in Launceston for 36 years and Collector of Customs for the City until 1883 when he was promoted to that position in Hobart.
Canon Marcus Blake Brownrigg
Brownrigg was inducted as rector of St Johns Anglican Church on 2 August 1868. He published several of his addresses, including one on "Regeneration, and Public Services for the Young". His lecture on temperance, delivered at the Institute in 1870 was also published. One of Brownrigg's chief interests was the Mission to the aboriginal peoples on the Islands of Bass Straits, which in fourteen years he visited thirteen times. Among his published records of these trips was The Cruise of the Freak (1872), which he also illustrated. For the mission he also built the five-ton yawl-rigged 'Franklin' with his own hands at his rectory.
He also studied astronomy and built a small observatory at his rectory where the government astronomer from Hobart often conferred with him. Brownrigg studied homoeopathy so that he could treat his poorer parishioners. With talents inherited from his parents he was also an artist of some merit, painting sea, forest and bushland scenes and in 1878 an excellent view of Launceston. Brownrigg succeeded in making St John's, Launceston, probably the most vital church in northern Tasmania.*
Reverend William Law
Reverend Law was pastor of Christ Church, Launceston, for forty-eight years. Prior to settling in Launceston in 1854 he was active in the London Missionary Society in the Pacific Islands. Law was a life governor of the British and Foreign Bible Society and a dedicated supporter of the Launceston City Mission.
These brief biographical notes are based in part on entries in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Those notes marked with an asterisk refer the reader to ADB Online for further information.
The second post in this series will cover the presidents who served the Institute from 1873-1928.