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.