Monday, 23 March 2015

Memories of the Launceston Mechanics’ Institute

 Contributed by Catherine Pearce

In 1857 my great grandfather John Joyce donated a modest sum of money to the Launceston Mechanics’ Institute building fund.  Much later he became a member of its Board of Management. The son of a convict, he rose from humble origins to become a prosperous butcher and prominent citizen.  His support of the Mechanics’ Institute signalled that he and his family had shrugged off the stain of convictism, that they were both affluent and respectable.  Likewise, the new Mechanics Institute building would demonstrate that Launceston was civilised and cultured, that it was leaving its dubious past behind.

As the great granddaughter of a man who supported the Institute at its inception, and as a librarian myself, I feel very sad that the old Institute building, the product of a community fund-raising effort described as “one of the great achievements in Australian regional history”(1),   was demolished in the 1970s. The collection is all that remains, a testament to the pride and hard work of a pioneer community. 

From an exhibition organised by Catherine Pearce in 2012 to celebrate the 170th anniversary of the Institute
I can just recall visiting the old Institute building, by then the Launceston Public Library, as a very small child in the 1960s.  We lived on a farm at Winkleigh.  My father was a great reader, so the family’s weekly visit to Launceston often included a trip to the library.  I remember standing by a towering wooden counter above which I could just see the top of the Librarian’s head as she stamped our books. I don’t recall my father’s choices, perhaps war stories or something by Wyndham or Asimov. I was a fairy tale addict. I remain an avid reader to this day.

An earlier (1928) view of the library counter from a photograph by Charles Burrows

(1) Stefan Petrow, Going to the Mechanics: a history of the Launceston Mechanics’ Institute, 1842-1914, Historical Survey of Northern Tasmania, 1998, p.34

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Oldaker Family donations

Many donations of books to the Launceston Mechanics’ Institute were not isolated gifts. Several members of the Institute gave more than one book, either in one bequest or on many occasions over the years. In this respect the collection of books from the Oldaker family appears to be nothing particularly unusual; however, probably few donations would illustrate the history of a family as well as this small collection of five or six books.
All the books, apart from one Latin dictionary, are on the subject of agriculture and finance. As one would expect from a collection of practical books, they are well used, and owners have not hesitated to write not only their names in the front, but also notes (copious, in some cases) within the pages of the books and in the end papers.
The book with the earliest date written in it is also the one with the latest date, and spans one hundred and ten years of the Oldaker family, beginning with Charles Oldaker, born Stratford upon Avon in 1800 (later pioneer on Tasmania’s NW coast) and ending with his great-grandson, Max Oldaker, internationally renowned singer and stage performer.
Morell, Thomas. Abridgement of Ainsworth’s dictionary, English and Latin designed for the use of schools, London, 1808.
Inside the front cover is written “Charles Oldaker Stratford on Avon Warwickshire”, on the following page “Charles Oldaker Feby 3rd 1812” and “Max Oldaker Sept. 1st 1922”. Inside the back cover is “Charles Oldaker Stratford”. In the section at the back of the dictionary is a list “Nominum propriorum”; at the beginning of the “O” section “Oldaker” has been added in what appears to be Charles’ hand.
It is possible that some of the Oldaker books in the LMI collection belonged to Charles’ father, William. “William Oldaker, a Miller of Cleeve Prior, Worcestershire, and Meal Merchant of Stratford, became an important banker in Shakespeare’s birth-place”.[1]
Lowrie, William, The principles of keeping accounts with bankers… with accurate tables… London, Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme, 1809.
Inside the cover is written “Charles Oldaker 1st June 1823. Stratford upon Avon”. Name and date are repeated on the title page. There are handwritten notes inside the back cover about regulation weights and measures for peas, beans and grains. This handwriting is slightly different from the signature in the front of the book.
Charles Oldaker and his brother, Edmund, became successful lawyers, operating a firm in nearby Pershore and in London.
Lawrence, Richard. An inquiry into the structure & animal oeconomy of the horse… Birmingham, Richard Lawrence publisher.
                Charles Oldaker. Pershore.”
This last book reflects Charles’ interest in farming. In Max Oldaker’s memoirs, he wrote that his great-grandfather Charles “had long imagined himself a land-owner, a leisured gentleman farmer …”[2] By 1838 it seems that Charles’ dream had come true; he retired from law and was able to purchase Hardres Court, an estate close to Canterbury in Kent.
Jarvis, Thomas. The Farmer’s harvest companion and country gentleman’s assistant… [Agriculturist’s ready reckoner]. Hythe, William Tiffen, 1836.
Chas. Oldaker Hardus Court 28th July 1838. Includes a handwritten “Table of Duties payable”. There is a handwritten note on p.190 “240 lbs make 1 Pack” – added to a section on wool weights. A stain on p. 32 looks very much like the rich red soil of the Tasmanian NW coast.

Charles Oldaker's handwritten table of duties payable
The “duties payable” and a general depression prompted Charles to migrate to Van Diemen’s Land with his wife, Emma, and young Francis and Emma in 1850. Charles’ two older sons, William Henry and Charles Ford from his first marriage, also accompanied them. Their life in Van Diemen’s Land began at once with great difficulties. Their ship, the ‘Phillip Oakden’ struck Hebe Reef on arrival in the Tamar estuary. Fortunately, for the passengers and for us, a lot of the cargo was saved. In the case of the Oldaker family, our small collection of books must have been amongst the items saved.
The horse; with a treatise on draught... London, Baldwin and Cradock, 1831.      
Contains a newspaper cutting on horse treatment. A slip of paper (wrapping paper?) with “Cornwall Chronicle” printed on it and the name “W Oldaker’ handwritten on it. There are at least two hands on several pieces of notepaper, one apparently Charles senior and one possibly William. One a recipe for Pink Linseed Oil balls, a remedy for scoured horse.
The next book is also not dated, but the handwriting in it includes that of Charles Edmund Wells Oldaker. Charles senior’s son, Francis Frederick Orson Oldaker married his second wife, Maria Ann Higgs in 1878 and their son, Charles Edmund Wells Oldaker was born in 1879. Maria Ann Higgs was the daughter of Joshua Higgs, architect, of ‘Arnwood’ near Torquay (East Devonport). Joshua Higgs was later to give the same name to his house in Trevallyn.
Youatt, W. Cattle, their breeds, management, and diseases. London, Baldwin and Cradock, 1834.
P. 486 et al marginalia, in the section on “diarrhoea and dysentery”. Childish handwriting inside the front cover includes letter writing practice and “C E W O” and “C Oldaker” [This would be Charles Edmund Wells Oldaker, Max Oldaker’s father.]
This collection of books from the Oldaker family made its way from Stratford upon Avon in 1812 to East Devonport at some time after 1879. At some point they became part of the collection of the Launceston Mechanics Institute. For anyone using the LMI collection now, the books can be seen as “snapshots” from the history of one of Northern Tasmania’s most well-known families.
Contributed by Sue McClarron

[1] Osborne, Charles, Max Oldaker; last of the matinee idols, London, Michael O’Mara Books Ltd, 1988, p. 3.
[2] Ibid, p.4.