Thursday, 24 December 2015

A Swallow at Christmas

Click on image to enlarge
Our Christmas image this year is the work of George Cruikshank, at his most Rabelaisian, and is taken from The Comic Almanack for 1841. Here's to excess!
Seasons Greetings 
from the 
Friends of the Launceston Mechanics' Institute

Monday, 14 December 2015

Fawkner's Circulating Library

I recently picked up a book in our collection which was in a sorry state. No back cover, spine chipped and torn, front cover loose. Faded and inkstained. Volume one of Criminal Trials (1832) from The Library of Entertaining Knowledge, long separated from its companion volume.

Our policy is to retain all the surviving books of the Launceston Mechanics' Institute, irrespective of their state, and this was a perfect example of why. Sometimes it is the meta-content which is even more interesting than the book itself.

Below the series title was a faded signature – John Fawkner, Jur. – underlined, and the same signature was repeated above the chapter heading on page 40.

Museum Victoria Collections
It was indeed a book from the library of John Pascoe Fawkner; the man who beat Batman in the race from Launceston to establish a foothold on the banks of the Yarra. The man who built Melbourne's first hotel, published its first newspaper, and played a key role in its first parliament. The man who helped establish the Melbourne Institute and championed the mechanics' institute movement throughout Victoria.

Launceston was the place in which he served his "apprenticeship", building the Cornwall Hotel, publishing the Launceston Advertiser and operating the settlement's first library, between 1822 and 1835. He also ran a bakery, a plant nursery and a coaching service.

Fawkner's Circulating Library.
The Public of Launceston, are respectfully informed that the above Library will in future be kept at the residence of G. L. Gooch, Charles-street, where the subscribers can be supplied with Books, as heretofore. Launceston, June 13th, 1831.
Launceston Advertiser, Monday13 June 1831, p 188

 Presumably this was George Lonsdale Gooch, a transportee who had served out his sentence as overseer of the George Town hospital, married and settled in Launceston in 1831, and was insolvent by 1836.

On June 27, 1831, John Pascoe Fawkner placed a further advertisement in his newspaper, the Launceston Advertiser:

ALL Persons who have borrowed Books from the Undersigned, are respectfully requested to return them within one week from this date, or they will be held responsible to pay at the rate charged for each book by the printed regulations, published in this journal some time back, and to be seen in the various books now in my Library, at Mr. G. L. Gooch's. There are also a number of my Books, some with, and some without my name written in them, which persons hold, who have not received them from me.  Such Persons as with-hold them after this Public Notice, must expect to be prosecuted for such illegal detention. JOHN FAWKNER, jur.

It offers some evidence of the operation of Launceston's first library, as well as some insights to the character of Fawkner and his modus operandi. This issue of the newspaper is significant as the last under Fawkner's editorship, and other advertisements point to a major restructuring of his business interests.

Clearly Fawkner's Circulating Library was a casually arranged service, where some books were identified by a printed slip, some by the owner's name, and others not at all.

Criminal Trials, which could not have been added to his Library before 1832, is of particular interest because of its subject matter. During his time in Launceston, Fawkner operated as an advocate, effectively a "bush lawyer" who appeared in court for many defendants at the rate of six shillings. No doubt studying the great trials in the English courts was a part of his legal "training".

Whether or not this particular book did duty in Fawkner's Circulating Library, it soon found its way to a successor. Pasted onto the cover is the plate of Hill's Circulating Library, which operated as a part of James Hill's establishment in St John Street. 

 The advertisement below, from the Launceston Advertiser, by this time owned by Henry Dowling, appeared on 21 May 1835, just as Fawkner was arranging a vessel for his voyage to Melbourne.

Exactly when the book made its way into the Mechanics' Institute collection is not yet clear. From the evidence of its accession numbers it survived three great reorganisations of the books, finally settling at No 1610 in the 1880s.

Much has been written about the character of John Pascoe Fawkner but  James Bonwick's description of 'a native energy that made him rise superior to all assaults, endure all sneers, quail at no difficulty, and that thrust him ever foremost in the strife, happy in the war of words and the clash of tongues' best evokes the man who by his actions demonstrated an unyielding sense of social justice,  a passion for learning and ideas, a deep respect for books, and a lifelong belief in the value of libraries.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Seeking a Fugitive

Our collection of the Printed Catalogues of the Institute is complete with one very important exception. We have access to copies of all but the very first catalogue. It appeared in late 1849 or early 1850, and does not seem to be held in any Australian library, nor to be listed by Ferguson.

There is however clear evidence that it existed. Firstly, in an announcement in the Launceston Examiner on 21 April 1849 that a "catalogue will shortly be printed". Then in the same newspaper on  19 Jan 1850,  an announcement that "Catalogues of the library are now printed, and may be obtained from the librarian, during the hours the library is open - price one shilling."

According to the accounts of the LMI for 1849-50, two hundred and fifty copies of the catalogue were printed and sales of catalogues to Oct 1850 had realised income of £3/5/- (i.e. 65 copies had been sold.)

The Annual Report for 1850 gave the total size of the collection as 1293 volumes, and the "fugitive" catalogue would be an invaluable guide to the principles upon which the early collection was organised.

Because a second catalogue appeared in 1858, the original had relatively brief currency and no doubt most copies were discarded at that time. It can only be hoped that a copy may have survived somewhere.

One publication which has survived from 1850 is a pamphlet of nineteen pages entitled 'The Intellectual improvement of the working classes: a lecture delivered at the Launceston Mechanics' Institute, April 4th, 1850', by the Rev. Charles Price. Copies of this pamphlet are held in the National Library, the State Library of Victoria and by LINC Tasmania.

The pamphlet has been digitised by SLV which holds a copy formerly belonging to the Melbourne Public Library (title page illustrated).

The statement of publication is particularly interesting – "Reprinted by desire and at the expense of tradesmen and mechanics of Launceston" – as it goes directly to the original aims and objects of the institution.

Perhaps the mechanics of Launceston were responding to a call to arms from Rev. Price in his lecture. Speaking of Mechanics' Institutes and Schools of Arts he said:

If such institutions do not flourish in every community where the arts of life are practised, it must be the fault of the mechanics themselves. If they do not flourish in any spot, there the labouring classes are falling behind in the onward spirit of the age. The facilities of their formation and maintenance are so many and cheap, that nothing but idle indifference or sordid demoralisation can prevent their rise and progress. Let the will to improve be present, and the way is wide open.(p9)

Sunday, 1 November 2015

In the Launceston Library

The article reproduced below was discovered through the agency of those two most valuable Australian resources, Austlit which indexed it and TROVE which digitised the source publication.

In the Launceston Library

Monday’s Mercury contained a letter by a member of the anonymous staff, who signed himself J.B. It contained an extract from what is vulgarly called a "slating" critique of the poems of Essex Evans, a critique which appeared in an English paper. Of the extract, the two or three lines snipped and appended give a fair idea.
A full third of the “ Secret Key ” is mere thundering rant, with no particular meaning, no sense of poetic style, only a delight in rapid movement, as though the writer were gotten upon a pegasus, and galloped full tilt, devil take the hindmost.
The reader will note that this is merely the abusive outpouring of a literary back who expresses his contempt - real or affected - without literary art of any sort. Iago was nothing if not critical, this man is nothing if not dogmatic. And his dogmatism lacks distinction, it is the dogmatism of the nobody. The somebody does very indifferently what the SATURDAY REVIEW in its palmy days used to do very skilfully.

But why does J.B. quote this poor stuff, and thrust it on the notice of Mercury readers, not one in a hundred of whom could tell you who Evans is or what he has written? That is the question I asked myself as I lay back in the Launceston express on Monday (1). Is it malice? Is J.B. a disappointed poet, one whose still born verse no bilious writer in another hemisphere has cared to scarify. For, after all, it is something to be abused 12,000 miles from home : it signifies at least that one’s voice has been distinctly audible at that distance. Perhaps so, for he opens his letter thus:
I have elsewhere called attention to the widely-exaggerated estimate of our local verse on the part of a Sydney coterie, and their fierce resentment of English criticism.
What is the Sydney coterie to J.B. unless it has flung his epic or his lyric into the waste paper basket?
But the initials suggest Joe Bagstock, the famous Major of Dombey and Son, who was wont to inform his friends “J.B is tough, Sir, tough and devilish sly.” Is this J.B. sly: is his seeming attack on Mr Essex Evans a mere puff in disguise. Anyway, it reminded me that recently, incited thereto by favorable notices in the English press, I bought the “ Secret Key,” read it, liked much of it, and proposed to review it. It reminded me also that a number of us, shocked by the scant regard for Australian authors shown by the book committee of our Public Library, had resolved to fill the blank on shelves where seven volumes represent Australia’s poets and essayists of the 19th century. And the next idea that occurred was that possibly the people of Launceston were a little kinder to our poets from Harpur to Hebblethwaite, than are our Hobart literary censors.

The Launceston Library is a big one. It has five and twenty thousand volumes, whereas Hobart has but thirteen. The books make a formidable array, completely lining the available wall space, and towering high above the head of the would be reader. Of course, many of them are literary ephemera—novels which had their day, and that a brief but not particularly merry one—but with these there are a great many valuable books, and of those latter not a few are up to date. Somebody displays considerable judgment in selection: for example, to take the author who concerned me last, Charles Dickens; the recent criticisms of the great novelist, works by Chesterton and Gissing were there, and these in Hobart, one had to purchase.

But this is a digression and our main concern is with Australian authors. Mr----- admitted that his committee has not impoverished itself by spending excessive sums on local works. But, for all that, they are better represented than in the Hobart library. There are some very curious gaps in both collections, for example, of the three poets whom Sutherland and Turner selected as our foremost, two — Kendall and Brunton Stephens—are missing. This seems to me unpardonable, and to betray a lack of the literary sense. Poetry is very largely a description and an interpretation of Nature, and in Australia such description, if at all accurate, must create a language of its own. Fifty years ago a shrewd observer noted this, and pointed out that right down to the leaves of the gum trees, and to the whisper of the wind as it swept them, the sights and sounds of the new world were unlike those of the old. But that does not trouble your “superior” person of the merely booky sort. He is nothing if not conventional. If the words which fall on his ear are euphonious, and are sanctioned by long usage, such a trifle as that they have become wholly inappropriate does not vex him.

We want an Australian literature, because neither nature nor human nature at the antipodes are what they are — still less just what they were — in London.

We enthuse a little insanely concerning our cricketers and prize-fighters, we grow wholly mad in deification of our footballers, and we atone for this by undervaluing our writers. Launceston is kinder to these last than is Hobart, it has several volumes by Lawson, several by Paterson, several by Steel Rudd. And Steel Rudd, the librarian tells me, is the favorite of the subscribers to the Mechanics’ Institute. His books circulate constantly, and are endorsed by those imprints so highly valued by all authors fortunate enough to secure them—the thumb marks of the many. Then there are Gordon, Boake, Dyson, Ogilvy, Green, Slade, and of course, Ada Cambridge aud Rolph Boldrewood, whose novels find their way through Mudie’s into all the ordinary libraries. There are two or three others. It is a rather larger and better selection than we in Hobart have, but that is all it is possible to say.

NSW Bookstall Co. Ltd. (1920)

The thing is the more curious in Launceston, as Mr Pritchard, the editor of the Examiner, is occasionally guilty of verse, and is not without a fellow feeling for more hardened rhymsters. On Monday he showed me some fine verses for which he paid Mr Evans five pounds—a high price for a very short poem “made in Australia.” He and Mr Balfe, of the Courier, have done what they could to encourage the muses, and are fairly versed in Tasmanian verse. Neither of them is to be reckoned amongst those whose literature, like the wine of the connoisseur who affects the French vintage concocted in London, must be imported.

And it is the more curious again, because the Launceston Library is a business concern, and the book committees of such concerns usually support the author whose books circulate merrily. There is, the librarian tells me, a growing interest in Australian periodical literature. Some of that literature is very poor stuff, as most of the stuff which appears in the STRAND, the WINDSOR, and the rest is. But it is increasing in quantity and improving in quality, and will increase the faster if Australian magazines are decently supported. Even the poet and the novelist must keep the pot boiling, and whether they send copy to London, to Sydney, or to Melbourne is, in the main, a matter of money.

That there are a number of reading people in Launceston is clear. The Library has over six hundred subscribers, and has paid so well that £2000 is available for reconstruction, which will put all the books within reach of the readers. The librarian and his assistant cater for the six hundred subscribers to the circulating library, look after the two reading rooms - one free, the other for members only, and they see to the letting of the hall. In the annual report salaries are down for only £260, and the £260 is well-earned. But to return to our text a little, Tasmania's coterie must do for Australian literature what J.B.’s terrible “coterie in Sydney” is doing for it in N.S.W.
(The Critic, 2 Nov 1907, p4) 

(1) Although this article appeared without a by-line, it is surely no coincidence that a review of "The Secret Key" appeared in the next issue of The Critic, contributed by Milner Macmaster, editor of The Critic at that time. 

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Community Heritage Grant 2015

I am pleased to advise that we have been successful in our application for a grant of $6127 to undertake a Preservation Needs Assessment of the Launceston Mechanics' Institute collection. 
This year's round of Community Heritage Grants were announced in Canberra last night and a full list may be viewed at;
The National Library's media release may be found at;
Tasmanian supporters will be pleased to see that it was a bumper year for the state with a total of seven grants awarded to Tasmanian organisations.
NLA's wonderful Community Heritage Grants program has funded 338 preservation needs assessments (PNA)s, (previously called preservation surveys). In each case, an external consultant was appointed to conduct the PNA. The aim of a PNA is to look at the physical condition of a collection, the suitability of current housing and storage facilities and to make recommendations for the development of a conservation program.
Negotiations are under way with an exceptionally well-qualified consultant to undertake the Preservation Needs Assessment on our behalf, including a site visit before the end of the year.

Peter Richardson

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Enquire within...

A selection of obscure, intriguing and ill-considered titles from the LMI Collection.

In a large lending library some spine titles catch the browser's eye and invite further attention while others doom the book to be forever passed over and ignored. Here is a selection of personal favourites from our collection.

11. Preston-Thomas, Herbert, The Work and play of a Government Inspector. (Edinburgh; William Blackwood and Sons, 1909.)

The question is begged. How much work and what sort of play would be reasonable in the life of a Victorian bureaucrat? And the answer appears to be fifty years in the Civil Service made bearable by occasional interludes of mountain-climbing.

10. Misrepresentations in Campbell's Lives of Lyndhurst and Brougham, corrected by St Leonards. (London; John Murray, 1869.)

A title page bristling with outrage even down to the authorial statement, this little volume came out in the same year and under the same imprint as Campbell's Lives, although in a far superior binding. The two books now sit side-by-side in the collection, memorialising an internecine feud among the Lords Chancellor.  Sir Charles Wetherell once addressed Lord Campbell as "my noble and biographical friend who has added a new terror to death", but Edward Sugden, 1st Baron St Leonards, was still alive to defend himself in a hundred pages of forensic detail.

9. Mackay, Charles, Memoirs of extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds. (London: Office of the National Illustrated Library, 1852.)

A title that demands to be picked up, and doesn't disappoint, if only for the chapter on 'Influence of politics and religion on the hair and beard'. The short title (for the Institute catalogue) was Popular Delusions.

8. Wolff, Sir Henry Drummond, Rambling Recollections. 2 Vols. (London: Macmillan & Co., 1908.)

It is one thing to differentiate your memoirs from the rows of "The Life of X" and "The Diaries and letters of Y" but quite another to proclaim the absence of structure via your title. To emphasise the point , Sir Henry asserts that the contents of the book "are given just as they come unbidden into my memory" and "I fully recognise the defects arising from want of premeditation". He warns the reader that his "declining years have not been over-crowded with enjoyment" and that it would be his "misfortune" to write a sequel. Two volumes, each of 400pp, but was his heart really in the project?

7. L'Estrange, Roger, Intereft Miftaken: or, The Holy Cheat: proving from the undeniable practifes and pofitions of the Presbyterians, that the Defign of that Party is to enflave both King and people under the Mafque of Religion. By way of Obfervation upon a treatife, intituled, The Intereft of England in the matter of religion, &c. 3rd imp. (London; Printed for Henry Brome, at the Gun in Ivy Lane, 1662.)

This may be the longest title in our collection, falling just short of a full synopsis.  And the '&c' suggests the author had something even longer in mind. The title must have defeated the binder as the tooled leather covers are entirely blank.

6. Naish, Percy Ll. The Rollings of a mossless stone. (London; John Ouseley Limited, [19--])

Such a clumsy title that it demands attention. If so, the author's apology at the start of Chapter One would not have inspired the potential reader; "One may well doubt if there is room for yet another book of recollections? Well, perhaps there may be a public for a totally novel author, the perfect nonentity, who not only is not at or near the head of any of the professions ... but cannot even have claimed to have belonged to any of them." For the record this is a book about hunting, travel and golf.

5. Marvin, Charles, Merv, the Queen of the world; and the scourge of the man-stealing Turcomans. With an exposition of the Khorassan question. (London: W H Allen and Co., 1881.)

A "comprehensive compilation dealing with current political questions" all of which will mean little to the twenty-first century reader. Compilation is the irreconcilable enemy of good title-making. Merv was once the largest city on the planet, and the names may have changed but the world's trouble spots have not.

4. Mather, E J, "Nor'ard of the Dogger". (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1887.)

An intriguing title, full of possibilities, exciting the imagination and asking to be read aloud. But a look inside at the sub-title; "Deep sea trials and gospel triumphs. Being the story of the initiation, struggles and successes of the mission to deep-sea fishermen" would surely have deflated the expectations of most browsers.

3. Forbes, Archibald, Glimpses through the Cannon-Smoke. (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1883.)

This little book has been badly served by the Institute's binder but perhaps it was picked up more often because of that. What could 'ANNON_SMOKE' possibly signify? The author confesses to "certain compunctions of conscience as to the title... [which] may be thought to have rather a lurid aspect of sensationalism". Well yes, but not so much as the two titles below in our list.

2. Adams, W H Davenport

Wrecked lives; or, men who have failed. First series.

Wrecked lives; or, men who have failed. Second series.

(London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1880.)

A quintessentially Victorian title, where the failure is moral (as might be expected from this publisher). To illustrate his thesis, Adams highlights Jonathon Swift who "may hand down his name and fame to after ages; but was not that a wrecked life which passed away under the heavy shadow of imbecility?" Chatterton, Burns, Wolsey and Poe also feature. A book to frighten men.

1. Colomb, Captain, Slave-catching in the Indian Ocean. (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1873.)

Since this is a very well-informed and measured account of the suppression of the East African slave trade, the lurid and highly misleading title invites speculation. What on earth was the publisher thinking? Several books on the topic appeared at the time but this title was bound to catch the eye –Victorian click-bait?

Posted by Peter Richardson

Monday, 7 September 2015

Michael Davitt and the Salvation Army

In its hundred years of operation many other mechanics' institutes in Tasmania turned to the Launceston Institute for assistance, most frequently with requests for books, and advice.

One particularly interesting enquiry came from the Scottsdale Young Men's Mutual Improvement Society in September 1884 seeking guidance on policies for use of the Institute. Their first question was; "To what classes of persons and for what purposes, public and private, would the Mechanics' Hall be let?" A specific example was given. Would the hall be let "to Michael Davitt or to the Salvation Army?"

Their trepidation regarding the Salvation Army was understandable. At the time the "Army" was regarded as a controversial moral crusade, radical in its views, enthusiastic and noisy in its public demonstrations. The organisation was new to Australia and its members often faced rowdy disruptions at their assemblies. On 11 September 1884, for example, Launceston Army representatives brought actions in the Police Court against four men who had attempted to disrupt their tent meeting on the previous Sunday. All were convicted and fined. Similar disturbances were reported at the time at Longford, Deloraine and the Don.

But what was the special interest in Michael Davitt; Fenian, MP and founder of the Irish National Land League?

Reports circulated throughout the colonies in 1884 that Davitt was planning to visit on a speaking tour. The Launceston Examiner made its view plain; "when Mr Michael Davitt arrives -should he deem it advisable to visit us – let that gentleman be politely informed that here at least his room will be preferable to his company."(1)

See Footnote (2)
As it turned out, Davitt's visit to Tasmania did not take place until 1895 and the Institute was not required to decide whether or not he was a welcome guest. He spoke at a reception at the Cornwall Assembly Rooms and was warmly received by a large audience. His visit was extensively reported in the the newspapers of the day.

Three years later he published an account of his visit in 'Life and progress in Australasia', in which he recalled his impressions of Launceston, including these observations;

The city has a very commodious Mechanics' Institute, with a free reading-room and a library of over 20,000 volumes. In clubs, societies, associations, and in institutions of a religious, charitable, literary, social, and athletic character the reputation of Launceston is very high. There is a bewildering number of these set forth in the local directory, and this probably explains the decidedly favourable estimate which the citizens form of their own culture, commercial standing, and political importance as compared with the opinions they hold and express upon Hobart and its people.
Launceston, in fact, holds its head very high when instructing a friendly stranger how to differentiate between a city with brains and capacity and an accidentally selected capital. You are soon reminded by Launcestians that Melbourne is the daughter of the little city by the turbulent South Esk, as Victoria's capital was founded by the adventurous Batman and other exploring Tasmanians. This historic fact causes your Launceston politician, pressman, lawyer, dock labourer, or newsboy to speak of Hobart, the capital of the colony, in the most patronizing manner, and to predict with the confidence of a prophet the advent of the day when the seat of government will be transferred from the banks of the delightful Derwent to those of the tranquil Tamar.(3)

That a democrat and autodidact should draw special attention to the Institute is not surprising. The Mechanics' Institute at Haslingden in Lancashire had played an important role in the development of Davitt's political ideals. The image below is from the Haslingden Old and New blog and shows Michael Davitt working in the upper rooms of their Institute.

The Launceston Mechanics' Institute quickly acquired a copy of 'Life and progress in Australasia' when it was published in 1898, and the book is still in that part of the collection (some 500 volumes) housed in the Launceston Library.

Scottsdale's Mechanics' Institute Hall was commenced in 1881, opened in 1883, and was operated by the community until 1917 when the building and its library were taken over by the Municipal Council. The building still stands and a volunteer committee has recently taken on the task of redeveloping the hall. Images of the building can be accessed at their Facebook page.

1. 'Launceston Examiner', 13 June 1884, p2.
2. Portrait of Michael Davitt from 'Harper's New Monthly Magazine', August 1887, p422. (LMI Collection)

3. Davitt, Michael, 'Life and progress in Australasia' (1898). p314.