Hunting for Australia’s Nineteenth-Century
A paper presented to the Victorian branch of the Society on 23 September 1999
BOOK COLLECTING in 19th century Australia is a serious topic and I have been writing about it in The History of the Book in Australia, Vol. 1. Books such as James Tyrrell’s Old books, old friends, old Sydney (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1952) and A H Spencer’s The Hill of Content: books, art, music, people (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1959) contain some information. There was a talk given to the Book Collectors by Ian F McLaren, many years ago, on early book collectors in Victoria (cf. his article constituting the 174th issue of Biblionews of August 1960, on Charles L Barrett (1879–1959), pp.25–29, which alludes to his “extensive library of Australiana collected over 50 years”, though most of the article consists of a bibliography of Barrett’s own works). A useful book is Provenance research in book history by David Pearson (London: British Library, 1994).
Most books in Australia come from somewhere else. Evidence for their provenance is not always found in books of Australiana, but often in books from other fields of interest, indeed very often in otherwise insignificant books.
My first foray into provenance research occurred in 1945. New South Wales schools were in that year given an extra week of holiday and the young Wallace went with his parents to stay at a property near Singleton which had belonged to Reggie Allen, a solicitor. It had been a horse-breeding stud and had been sold to my uncle. I came across some books among the debris in the stables. They were odd volumes of Lardner’s Cabinet Cyclopedia, from the Toxteth Park Library. This had previously been the Allens’ house in the Sydney suburb of Glebe.
My first antiquarian acquisition took me into the heart of 19th century Australian book collecting. In 1950, when I was a University student, I went to Tyrrell’s bookshop, at the time located in Sydney’s George Street. My first purchase was a volume of Byron, The Giaour and The Corsair, in one volume. This volume had once belonged to Georgina and Frederick Hely and, since Frederick had been a Superintendent of Convicts in early Sydney, it had for me an interesting provenance.
I lived in Sydney until May 1962, when I came to Melbourne to teach at Monash University. There I spent time in the stack of the State Library of Victoria, looking at 19th century book catalogues of Australian book collectors. My father had met a relative of a certain Fitzgerald, a Melbourne collector, whose family was giving away his library. Fitzgerald had bought from William Rae’s collection which was sold by Lloyd’s Bookshop in Melbourne, long after Rae’s death. Many of the Rae books went into the collection of Monash University Library later. Rae had done a catalogue of his own library. Some of his books had previously belonged to William Storey, who had bought many from a bookseller named Brooks, who had taken over Dwight’s business. He still had a collection of 3000 volumes at the time of his death. I wrote some years ago an article on Storey in my Books for colonial readers (Melbourne: Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand in association with the Centre for Bibliographical and Textual Studies, Monash University, 1995).
Syd Grant’s collection of auction catalogues from the 1870s included the auction catalogue of Storey’s books. The valuation for probate was £80, but at auction they fetched about £200. His mark was “WS” and a number inside a circle. The number was the number of the book in his manuscript catalogue, which does not seem to have survived. There was also a pencil collation on the recto of the last leaf of many volumes.
Another discovery I made in 1962 was that of some of Sir Charles Nicholson’s books with his book-plate, in Melbourne bookshops. The English-born Nicholson (1808–1903) was one of the founding fathers of the University of Sydney in 1850 and was elected Vice-Provost of the new University at the first meeting of its Senate on 3rd March, 1851. He was a generous donor to the university of classical and Egyptian antiquities—so that the university named its museum of antiquities after him—and also of books. Consequently, his books were usually found in the university’s Fisher Library. However, from checking the newspapers, I discovered a notice of the sale of Nicholson’s library in Melbourne in 1861. At that time Melbourne was the most important book market in the Australian colonies. There was a catalogue, but it appears not to have survived. His library consisted of several thousand volumes, and included a second folio Shakespeare. There is a four volume set of Robert Estienne’s Thesaurus linguae Latinae. (London: Sam. Harding, 1734–35) in the Monash Rare Book Collection with Nicholson’s book-plate and a note saying he had given the set to Sir Archibald Michie. Monash bought it from John Dean. I am intending to publish sometime a study of the dispersal of Nicholson’s library.
In time I also began to see items with the bookplate of Sir Redmond Barry (1813–1880), the Irish-born judge famous, or infamous, in Australia for having sentenced the bushranger Ned Kelly to hang. He became in 1855 the first Chancellor of the University of Melbourne. When John Ponder was at that university’s Baillieu Library he had begun to list Barry’s books. After Barry died his library was sold at auction in March 1881, but the catalogue does not survive. I wrote an article on Barry’s books in the La Trobe Library Journal in 1980, the centenary year of the judge’s death.
In 1985 the Book Collectors’ Society produced a facsimile of the sale catalogue of the library of John Pascoe Fawkner (1792–1869), one of the founders of Melbourne. Fawkner was an indiscreet writer on his own books. Because he owned a Circulating Library, he made a practice of writing his name at several points in each book, to discourage theft.
The considerable library of books owned by the US-born Australian metallurgist Robert Sticht (1856–1922) was sold by the abovementioned author and bookseller A[lbert] H[erbert] Spencer (1886–1971), many being bought by the State Library of Victoria.
John Macgregor’s books were sold in 1884 in Melbourne by Gemmell, Tuckett & Co. The sale took three days and disposed of 10,000 volumes, many of which were in the fields of the history of philosophy and science. He gave a lot of books to Melbourne University and the State Library of Victoria. There are no provenance marks in these books, but I have a book owned by H K Rusden, who noted that he had bought it at the 1884 sale.
My research includes work on catalogues, library records, provenance marks, and newspaper notices. A problem with the newspapers is that advertisements are, unfortunately, not indexed.
Samuel Pratt Winter’s library is still in situ, but I have a copy of Poetry of the Anti-Jacobin which belonged to him. I bought it from the Victorian bookseller, Gaston Renard. Winter’s family had the Melbourne bookseller Kenneth Hince do a catalogue of his library and I have a duplicate set of the card file.
Hince also bought the remnants of the library of Edward Micklethwaite Curr (1820–1889), author, farmer, expert on sheep and authority on Aborigines. This included his Spanish books, and I have as one of my interests holdings of early Spanish books in Australia. Many of these would have been brought here by officers who came to Australia after service in the Peninsula War (1808–1814), which was fought in Spain and Portugal. The name of South Australia’s German-settled Barossa Valley is, incidentally, a Spanish name, and results from the 1836–37 Surveyor-General of South Australia and planner of the site of Adelaide, William Light (1786– 1839), having served in Spain. Interesting in this connection is that the Scottish-born surveyor and explorer of much of south-eastern Australia, Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell (1792–1855), translated from the Portuguese the epic poem known in English as the Lusiads by the Portuguese poet Luis de Camões (1524/25–1580)—the title of which is, of course, based on his given name.
The catalogue of the library of Irish-born Australian political economist, politician and lecturer Willam Edward Hearn (1826–1888) survives. I published an article on this in the La Trobe Library Journal in 1973.
I also have items from the collection of the English-born publisher John Speechly Gotch (1829–1901), founder of the Australian firm Gordon & Gotch, especially known for its role as distributor of books and magazines to booksellers and newsagents. I wrote the entry on J S Gotch for the Australian Dictionary of Biography.
Salvage drives for paper in connection with the war effort during World War I and World War II would have seen a lot of early books pulped. Ignorance of the value of old books and documents on the part of collectors’ families also accounts for many losses, by their being sent to the tip on the father’s death. This affects especially pamphlets and smaller format books, which appear to be mere “rubbish”, even if larger items do come to be kept because of some sense of their possible value.