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2007-03, 353, Doug Mackenzie

A Work in Progress: The Australian Ladies Annual

Doug Mackenzie

ANY COLLECTION is a work in progress. Any important book in one’s collection is a work in progress because there is always more to find out about it.

We are all collectors of books, though my guess is that we vary in how we do it. Some of us go to every garage sale that mentions books. Others haunt the opportunity shops. A few have an impressive record of attendance at church fetes. Then there are the bookfairs. There are large ones, such as those at Sydney University in September, the University of New South Wales in April, and Canberra Lifeline twice a year, and there are many smaller ones. Some people visit all the secondhand bookshops regularly, say every six weeks, and occasionally include a selection of antique shops. I go to many bric-a-brac auctions where books are available, as well as to the serious book auctions that occur only several times a year. Some rely on buying from dealers’ catalogues. We can always buy from the net, first using www.abebooks.com, and we can even try a net auction on eBay. A few rich people use the phone to bid at sales in New York and London. I doubt that any single one of us does all of these things.

I find that the weeks, even the months, go by with very little of interest happening and, this year, 2006, I thought that I’d have nothing to talk about at the end of year Show and Tell meeting of the Sydney branch of the Book Collectors’ Society of Australia.

A friend had urged me to go to the 16th Great Sydney Antiques Fair 2006, in the Hordern Pavilion, as he had complimentary tickets. Without the suggestion, I would not have gone. We went on the last day, Sunday 29 October 2006. He was looking for Imari ware.

After seeing nearly all the stands, we came upon a dealer who was offering mainly furniture and porcelain but, in a cupboard with a glass front, there was a book on display that he brought out for me. Yes! Something important for my collection and also suitable for Show and Tell.

My friend and I had coffee and cakes in the pavilion. After dropping him off at his place, I rushed home and managed to find references in hardcopy pricelists from 1973 and 1974. So I rushed back to the pavilion, getting in just two minutes before closing, and bought the book for $175. Whew!

Though a bit worn, it is an attractive book: Leather with gilt, gilt on the spine, blindstamped on both covers, and with bevelled edges. There are viii + 148 pages 212 x 177 mm (8.4 x 7 inches), with every page outlined in red rule. It is nothing much to look at inside, being just prose articles and poems. There are no illustrations.

The Australian Ladies Annual was edited by F R C Hopkins and published in Melbourne by M’Carron, Bird & Co, 37 Flinders Lane West, in 1878, one and a quarter centuries ago. The first year of publication.

A quotation from the preface: “So far as I can learn, no book written exclusively by ladies, has yet been published in this, or any other country.” Clearly the editor needed to learn more.

There are 18 contributions, 11 prose and 7 poetry, and two of the prose items are written by New Zealanders. Eight of them are published under a pseudonym, with a lady named “Tasma” providing two. One lady, named “Rolf”, has a strange first name, “Ecne”, and I think that “Ecne Rolf” is really a nostalgic Florence. My first thought was that the editor, with initials FRC, was also a lady, Florence; but no, the editor is a man. The tone of the preface does suggest that a male wrote it.

Francis Rawdon Chesney Hopkins was born in 1849 and did not marry until 8 January 1884. The book appeared when he was about 29 years old. He produced another book, of essays and observations, in 1882, four years later: FRC Hopkins, Confessions of a cynic: social, moral and philosophical, Echuca, Mackay & Drought, 1882. He composed six plays

1876 Good for evil

1877 All for gold

1880 Only a fool

1882 £SD (i.e. pounds, shillings and pence)

1882 Russia as it is (aka Michael Strogoff)

1909 Reaping the whirlwind

Good for evil was published in 1875 in Melbourne by Charlwood and Son as Clay and Porcelain. The final play was published anonymously.

There was a Sydney publication in 1910, vii + 32 pages, with photo illustrations, including one of Hopkins, and facsimile playbills on various coloured papers: Francis R C Hopkins, Souvenir of the Dramatic Works, Websdale, Shoosmith Ltd, printed for private circulation only. A Sydney bookseller has a copy for sale at $300. All of the plays, except for the last one that was never produced, were staged by the actor-manager Alfred Dampier, whose wife, Kate, is one of the ladies. Hopkins died in 1916, aged about 67.

The preface of the Annual gives the editor’s address as Perricoota, NSW. We all know the whereabouts of Byron Bay and Wollongong, but wherever is Perricoota? The wonderful friend who got me to the pavilion, and so to this book, reminded me that I had at home a large wallmap, 1550 by 1435mm (5’-1″ by 4’-8″), Map of New South Wales showing Pastoral Stations etc, published in Canberra by H E C Robinson Ltd of 221 George St, Sydney, sixth edition, no date but not earlier than 1934. There I found Perricoota as a station about 15km downriver from Echuca; Hopkins was managing it in 1878.

The Mitchell Library specially unsealed for me their copy of the Annual, one with the ink ownership signature of D S Mitchell. It is in a poorish state, as there is splitting of the spine in several places. My copy, though better, is showing signs of splitting and that is why I am handling it very carefully.

Two other great libraries in the Sydney area with a large holding of antiquarian material are Fisher Library at Sydney University and UNSW Library at the University of New South Wales. The latter has an Annual that has been rebound tastefully, retaining the original gilt title of the front cover. Fisher does not have the book.

Another quotation from the two-page preface: “Should, however, this present edition receive the approbation of our ladies (first) and the public (afterwards), I promise a more interesting “Annual” next year.” This seems to say to the 16 ladies of 1878 that their literary works were boring. There were no further Annuals.

There is no current listing on the net of a copy for sale anywhere in the world.

The book is not in Ferguson, John Alexander Ferguson, Bibliography of Australia, Sydney, Angus & Robertson, 1941 to 1986, 8 volumes, though Hopkins’ Confessions of a Cynic is listed as number 10534.

It does not appear in Ross Burnet (editor), Australian Book Collector’s price guide, Uralla, Australian Book Collector, 2001, 9e, the famous ABC price guide, for many years followed so slavishly by some booksellers and some bookbuyers.

Brian Howes produced five volumes of Guide to Fine and Rare Australasian Books in 1986, 1991, 1992, 1995 and 1998. Volume 1 was published by the author in Wagga Wagga, and the rest by Magpie Books in Angaston, South Australia, where Howes has run a bookshop for many years. Not one of the five mentions the Annual.

In October 2006, the successful reference for prices was Jennifer Alison and Barbara Palmer (compilers), Australian and Pacific Book prices Current 1973, Sydney, O.P. Books, 1974 and their similar book of one year later. They note an Annual offered for sale at $26, and a damaged one at $9; probably the damage was that the copy had been in a library. The $26 is $200, $250 or more in today’s prices.

The ABC, Howes, and Alison & Palmer are very good references that I use every month, in addition to using the net.

Margaret Woodhouse compiled Australian Book Auction Records 1973-1974, and her Bookshop in Sydney published it the next year, 1975. Five biennial editions appeared. After a gap of seven years, Jill Burdon, in Canberra, started series 2, publishing ABAR biennially until volume 8, for 19981999, came out in 2000. Fiona Kells has continued with series 3, publishing so far in 2002, 2004 and 2006. Checking ABAR shows that Christie’s sold an Annual for $16 in Sydney in 1973 and, in 1977, Webster-F&G in Launceston found a buyer with $30.

We see that hardly anyone mentions the book, and it’s certainly not on the net. We cannot rely on the net to answer all of our questions. When next in Melbourne, I’ll do more work on the publication of the Annual. I think it is a very rare book.

One piece doesn’t even have an attached pseudonym. The Cockatoo is a poem for children and is “a leaf” from Grandmamma’s Verse-book for Young Australia (preparing for publication). A serial that comes out three times a year is Margin, life and letters of early Australia, edited in Canberra by Victor Crittenden. It is lucky for me that the only copy I have is issue No 64, November 2004, since, when glancing at it idly, I found an article that identified Grandmamma.

This started me on an attempt to find out more about all of the ladies. After Ferguson, I used William H Wilde et al, The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature, Melbourne, OUP, 1985. The well-known reference, Australian Dictionary of Biography, 1788-1939, 12 volumes plus an index, plus a two volume Biographical Register 1788-1939 containing brief notes on lesser personages, which has been extended by 4 volumes to 1980, and there is a supplement volume 17 covering 1580 to 1980. I consulted 13 out of these 20 volumes. After all that, references have been found for only five ladies; there remain six with names and five with pseudonyms to be traced, as well as two others mentioned at the start of the book, Mrs Scott-Siddons and the dedicatee, Miss Evelin Carmichael. There is more work to be done.


It is a very rare book. Why am I so enthused? Indeed, I became enthused as soon as I opened it. Well, I’m a Flinders Islander, and I collect Tasmaniana. Doesn’t that sound a bit like alcoholics anonymous? “My name is Doug and I’m an alcoholic.” “My name is Doug and I collect Tasmaniana.” I hope you are all saying: “Hello, Doug.” There are many similarities between book collecting and alcoholism, as both are addictions.

One of the contributions is by Louisa Anne Meredith (1812-1895), a poem written in July 1873 to her husband, with a gift of a Swiss clock, after 34 years of marriage. This poem is what caught my eye in the pavilion. Meredith spent most of her life in Tasmania and published a number of books that are now expensive. She is also Grandmamma. When the Annual was published, she was 66 and Hopkins about 29. It is a fair bet that he kept pestering her until she gave him the two poems.

I suspect that most collectors of Meredith do not know of her appearance in Hopkins’ collection; of course, the poems are very minor ones in her canon. Vivienne Rae-Ellis, Louisa Anne Meredith, a tigress in exile, Hobart, Blubber Head Press, 1979, has a bibliography, but it does not mention the Annual. Under “Pamphlets”, the first poem, the one of 1873 to her husband, together with another written after his death on 2 March 1880, is listed as being in a private collection. Under “Journals”, this poem is located at page 447 of Once a Month Magazine in 1886.

The publication date for the Annual is Melbourne Cup Day 1878. As Grandmamma’s Verse-book, put out in 1878, could well have appeared just in time for the Christmas market, it is possible that the first publication of The Cockatoo was in the Annual. Indeed, both of Meredith’s poems could have been published first there. Further investigation is warranted.

I am delighted to have the book. Especially for Tasmania buffs, I think it is worth much, much more than $250. The Annual is a work in progress.



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