Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Mary Fisher

The Friends of the Launceston Mechanics' Institute have just commenced a major reorganisation of the Institute's records. Our first task is to sort out the correspondence files for the years 1842-1945. One letter from 1939 raises a question for readers of the blog – do you remember browsing in the Mary Fisher Bookshop, or even remember Mary Fisher herself? We would love to hear your stories.

Mary Fisher Bookplate

Here is a transcription of the letter (itself a reminder of a perennial question for libraries – do they purchase locally or rely on larger volume interstate and international suppliers?)

September 19 1939. 
From Mary Fisher Book Club. 
Referring to my recent conversation with you, I have given much consideration to your Board’s decision to purchase books direct from London and elsewhere through a mainland firm.  If this is not your final decision, I would esteem it a favour if my firm could be given an opportunity to quote to you for your requirements. ….  I am prepared to supply books at present on an equal basis of cost as those mentioned by you in our talk, i.e. 7/6 fiction at 5/10 less 3¾% discount on a monthly settlement ….                   
Mary Fisher

We know a little about Mary Fisher from an interview with her adopted son, David, conducted by Dorothy Rosemann and Julie Miller;

Mary Fisher was born 19th September 1899.  Her sister Joan was born in 1897, then there were twins who died at three months of age.  Her brother Jack was 18 months younger than Mary.  Her father was a steamship company manager at Strahan, then an accountant at McKinlays just after Mary was born.  She went to school at Broadland House – was captain of the hockey team.

She opened her first shop in 1932.  For the first six years it was a circulating library.  Her close friends, Nancy Gilbert, a mothercraft nurse, with whom she lived, and Helen Miller, another Guiding person, helped look after the shop, particularly when she was Girl Guides State Commissioner (1949-1951).  Registration of Mary Fisher Book Club and Cheap Book Company, both 14 The Quadrant.  Shop was sold in 1973.

Mary loved fishing, fossil hunting and photography.  She was taught fly fishing by Max Oldaker’s father.  Mary rode horses until she was 75 years.  At 82 she did a University course in German – she loved German music.

Lived at 14 Lanoma Street until 1950-51 when she moved to Westbury.

Close friend of Mrs Margaret McIntyre.

Mary died 10th January 1985, the day after visiting her sister-in-law.  Her ashes were scattered at Mother Cummings Peak.

Mary Fisher bookplate, c1938.
We also have a brief but fascinating memoir of Mary Fisher from the biography of composer Peter Sculthorpe;

By 1945, Peter was a regular browser at Mary Fisher's Bookshop, in those days in Brisbane Street, one of the best-stocked bookshops outside the capitals. Fisher herself was a classic blue-stocking, who habitually sported a suit coat and tie.... Another school-boy in those years, C. A. Lamp, remembers Fisher's generosity in allowing him to borrow books he could not afford. When the notorious 'Ern Malley' issue of Angry Penguins was unmasked as a hoax in 1944, Fisher ensured that Peter had a copy. In 1945, she sold him the first edition of Eliot's Four Quartets, and for his birthday she suggested his Lutwyche cousins might buy him a new Faber anthology of verse by Auden, Sassoon, Spender, and Lawrence. (1)

We believe later owners of the Bookshop were Michael and Pauline Brewer and that they continued to trade under the Mary Fisher name.

1. Skinner, Graeme,  Peter Sculthorpe: The Making of an Australian Composer (2007), pp 87-88

Launceston Mechanics' Institute Building

 The foundation stone for the Launceston Mechanics' Institute was laid on 24 June 1857, and the building was officially opened on 9 April 1860. 

Tragically, a life was lost in the construction of the building, and we are indebted to FOLMI member Angela Prosser-Green for this transcription of a report on the accident from the Cornwall Chronicle;

About seven o'clock on Saturday morning last, the men employed in raising the girders for the roof of the new Mechanics' Institute were loosing the tackling from a girder which had been lifted to its place on the previous evening, for the purpose of raising another. Charles Trinder, a stonemason, and a very efficient active man at such work, was standing on the girder, loosing and handing down the tackling with the blocks to the Fore man, when, unfortunately, one of the carpenters shifted the foot of the girder next St John-street with a crowbar. It had been rested on a beam of wood, which was very wet with the heavy night dew, and this caused the girder to slip round, until it got off its support on both walls, and only rested in an angular portion on the beam, where it had originally been placed. The men had not got to their stations at the windlass in Cameron-street, and   the guy-rope attached from the girder to it slacked, allowing the girder to cant over and fall with poor Trinder on it to the first floor, a distance of 26 feet. The unfortunate man saw his danger, and screamed out to his fellow-workmen to hold on by the girder; but the damage was done, and nothing could avert the consequences. The immense girder,   formed of strong beams, fell with a tremendous crash, breaking one of the beams in two as if it had been a mere sapling. Poor Trinder's head struck against a rafter, and that injury alone would no doubt have caused instant death,— but, in addition to that, the front bones of his chest and his ribs were crushed in such a manner as must have caused almost instant death The Foreman, who was standing under the girder taking the tackling from Trinder at the time it swayed round, had a most miraculous escape, for it was impossible for him to know under the circumstances which way to run for safety. Immediately after the accident the Foreman ran to Dr. Maddox's, and found that gentle man ready to step into his gig, to go down the river, so that in five or six minutes after the accident occurred he was beside the injured man, but prompt as he was in his attendance, before he reached the spot poor Trinder had expired. All Dr. Maddox could do was to ascertain the nature of the injuries which had been the immediate cause of death, and direct that the deceased might be laid out where he was to await the coroner's inquest. The corpse of the healthy robust man who had cheerfully commenced his work about half-an-hour before was then covered over, and the ladders which gave access to the first floor where he lay were taken down, to prevent any person from visiting the place until the coroner and jury should see it, just as it appeared immediately after the accident. The wife and several of the children of de ceased heard but too soon of what had occurred, and lingered long about the building, looking up with weeping eyes to the spot where they were told the dead man lay. The jurors were summoned, and met the coroner, Francis Evans, Esq., at the London Hotel at two o'clock. The following were sworn : — Messrs. Bruce R. Harvey, (foreman,) Henry   Button, Henry Turner, Robert Bain, Joseph Grigg, R. H. Price, and S. Joscelyne.     Accompanied by the coroner, they ascended to the floor where the body, beside the fragments of the ponderous girder, lay. Having heard the particulars of the accident described on the spot, they returned to the London   Hotel, and the facts being so clear, the jury   were satisfied of the cause of death on hearing   the following evidence : — Dr. Maddox sworn — I have just viewed the of Charles Trinder now lying dead ; I was   called at half-past seven o'clock, this morning, to see him ; I found him lying nearly in the   same position he is in now ; I examined the body externally, I believe that the whole front part of the chest is fractured ; there is a wound   on the head on the left frontal bone ; I think   the skull is fractured ; the right arm is broken above the elbow ; I should think the immediate cause of death is the fracture of the front part of the chest ; the injuries are such as   would be inflicted on a body by falling from a   great height.   William Hawkshaw, sworn— I am a mason by trade ; I am foreman over the masons employed at the Mechanics' Institute ; I was employed there this morning, the deceased and   I went up to the scaffolding to release the blocks from the girder ; he went on the girder and released the blocks ; we were pulling down the blocks to take up another girder ; in   doing so the girder swung round with deceased on it until it accidentally slid off the wall and fell a distance of 26 feet and deceased with it ; after the accident John Lewis came to my   assistance, and we found deceased lying on   the girder, he moaned three times faintly and then expired ; I was pulling down and he was lowering the blocks when the girder swayed over ; I ran to the angle next Cameron-street and only in that way escaped being struck by it in its fall; deceased was a very expert man with such tackling ; I believe that every precaution was used that could be thought of, and  when we go to raise another girder it must be by the same means ; one of the workmen lifted the end of the girder with a bar, and   that was the cause of its sliding, and as the   other men had not got to their stations, of the   accident ; the wood was slippery, not with frost, but with heavy dew; I believe the fall of the girder was altogether accidental.   The jury then recorded a verdict of "Accidental Death."  Cornwall Chronicle 8 June 1859 p5 col 2-3.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

President's Report 2014-15

Friends of the Launceston Mechanics' Institute Inc.

President's Report 2014-15
It is a privilege to present this report to members on the occasion of our second 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.

This group was formed at a public meeting on 18 October 2013. The group had its ownership of a major part of the LMI Collection confirmed by a Launceston City Council resolution in November 2013, and began to take delivery of the collection early in 2014. Since our last AGM that process has been completed and we now have approximately 22,000 volumes in our collection.

One of the goals adopted by that meeting were to establish and maintain a working research Launceston Mechanics’ Institute Collection, by:
1. Locating, selecting, organising, cataloguing and preserving existing materials once the property of the Launceston Mechanics’ Institute between 1842 and 1929;

Since adopting those goals, and in the light of further research, the closing date for the collection has been revised to 1945, the year in which Launceston City Council assumed responsibility for library services in the city.

FOLMI currently has over 60 members, and membership continues to grow as supporters are made aware of our activities.

Achievements This Year
Reviewing the goals set out at last year's AGM it is pleasing to see that we achieved all that we set out to achieve and more. As foreshadowed we:
             Produced an electronic version of the LMI Accession Registers.
             made substantial progress in recording all Launceston Mechanics' Institute items still held in the State Library of Tasmania's reference and heritage collections and in the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery's collections.
             started work on producing an inventory and photographic record of all surviving objects associated with the Institute, but will only be able to complete this when renovations at Launceston LINC are finished.
             scoped a cataloguing project with Libraries Australia and TROVE, developed a budget to undertake this work and established a group of five volunteer librarians who are willing to undertake the copy cataloguing project.
             Investigated local options for a permanent home for the collection.

By far the most important achievement in the past year has been the completion of the Significance Assessment process and the receipt of Dr Susan Marsden's final report which will be formally tabled at this meeting.

Dr Marsden's assessment has confirmed our belief in the importance and value of saving the collection in the strongest possible terms.

This significance assessment has confirmed that the size, quality, scope age and provenance of the LMI collection places its importance equal to or above any similar collection in Australia, and hence its national significance. The LMI Collection is not only the most substantial and comprehensive Institute library to have survived in an Australian regional centre from before 1850, but appears to be the most substantial and comprehensive library collection to have survived from the entire period of the flourishing of mechanics institutes in Australia, between the 1840s and the 1940s.

Based on the Report we have made further applications to the Community Heritage Grant program for;
1.            A Preservation Needs Assessment
2.            Cataloguing the collection and adding it to the National Bibliographic Database and TROVE.

During the year we also received a Grant of $1000 from Arts Tasmania from the Lynn Stacpoole 'Caring for Your Collection' scheme, for the purchase of a display cabinet.

In terms of energy expended the biggest task undertaken this year has been the recording of all of the uncatalogued books in the non-fiction and popular fiction collections. We have had a dedicated team of eighteen volunteers working on this project and they have recorded over 12,000 items which will facilitate the cataloguing of the collection when the time comes.

It has also been exciting to see our online presence growing, both in terms of content and usage. The blog now has 59 posts and has received nearly 6000 visits, our Flickr site has been expanded to seven albums and is even more heavily used, and we have a Facebook presence thanks to Sue and Emily McClarron. All of this activity increases our outreach and awareness of the project locally, nationally and globally.

We have made substantial progress in creating electronic archives of the Institute's Annual Reports and Printed Catalogues, which has greatly increased our understanding of both the Institution and its Library Collection.

Individual members have undertaken research projects of enormous long-term value, including Dorothy Rosemann who has spent many hours at QVMAG working through the Institute records to record the role played by women in the Institute, Sue McClarron who has researched the history and many changes in the way the library collection was organised, and Anna Lynde who has identified and recorded a substantial collection of books by the intrepid lady travellers and explorers of the nineteenth century.

We have also worked with QVMAG to establish and reassemble their collections of the surviving books from many smaller libraries in the region, most notably those of Evandale, Longford and Deloraine.

The Coming Year
The central priority in the coming year must be to support the two major projects (if funded) of completing a Preservation Needs Assessment and managing the cataloguing project. We were able to manage the Significance Assessment process very effectively and learnt a lot in the process. That we were able to complete that project on budget and eight months ahead of the deadline should give both FOLMI and the Community Heritage Grants team confidence in our capacity to deliver.

We will also use this year to build our network of support in the community and to reach out to communities of interest, especially academic research projects who could benefit from access to the collection (e.g. University of Sydney, Librarianship students). Our Significance Assessment Report offers a strong foundation for publicising the collection in the local community and we are working on a plan to achieve this.

Through the coming winter we will be working with the staff at QVMAG to reorganise the Institute's records into a more user friendly archive.

In conclusion I acknowledge the contributions of our committee members, our hard-working volunteers, and the support of all members, in what has been achieved to date.
I take this opportunity to record my gratitude to Dr Susan Marsden for the thorough, professional and timely completion of her report. It was everything we could have hoped for and more, and a most cordial and productive collaboration. We were indeed fortunate that someone of Susan's calibre was willing to undertake the brief.
I also thank those members and supporters who met with Dr Marsden, gave their time to supporting her site visit, and provided input to the report.
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.
I 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.
And again I thank the members of Mechanics' Institutes of Victoria Inc. for their advice, guidance and their enthusiastic support this past year.
Peter Richardson, President, 22 May 2015