State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 5 April 1970

[Back matter]



Miss P. Adam Smith took up the position of Manuscripts Field Officer in the La Trobe Library in January.
The Library, the Friends and the sponsoring Foundations are fortunate that someone so talented and experienced has been appointed. Patsy Adam Smith is a noted authoress (Hear the Train Blow, Folklore of the Australian Railwaymen, There Was a Ship and several other books) and is well versed in the problems of locating historical material and persuading reluctant owners to produce their holdings.
The question is how much manuscript material (family papers, diaries, correspondence) remains to be found. There are good reasons for pessimism. Over the years historians who have traced descendants of notable men have drawn blanks nine times out of ten. Of about thirty-five Premiers of Victoria, for example, scraps of papers have been deposited in libraries only in four cases. None of their families (with one exception of a collection still held privately) cared enough to collect, cherish and pass on their papers to posterity, as for example the children of Alfred Deakin and Henry Parkes did. In several cases the papers were preserved and then wilfully destroyed by fools of the second and third generation who were too ignorant to care. An angry Editor here declares his interest: the book he is writing on Victoria in the 1880's suffers considerably from the fact that the leading characters are necessarily shadowy in the absence of substantial collections of private papers. James Service, for example, was a great man; but he will never be recognised as one of the major figures in Australian history, he will never receive full justice, because no more than a sketchy biography can be written. The same applies to Berry, Stawell, O'Shanassy, McCulloch, Shiels, Watt, Irvine, Peacock and scores of other distinguished men.
It is interesting to conjecture why prominent Australians and Australians in general have been so careless of the need to document and cherish their and their forbears’ achievements. There may be particular local reasons. Fear of disclosure of convict links has not been as important as elsewhere. Perhaps Victoria's scarifying experience of the land boom of the 1880's and the subsequent collapse, when there was a general conspiracy to forgive and forget iniquitous business behaviour, may be relevant. Papers are often destroyed by old men or women —– either the leading figures themselves or their children —– because they fear the occasional item which might be discreditable either to themselves or other people and cannot face the task of sorting and censoring. (We may be sure, by the way, that nearly all the great collections which survive have been weeded out.) How else can we explain the deliberate decision of the banker and historian of Victoria, Henry Gyles Turner, to destroy thousands of the letters he had kept? The scandal of the land-boom period lingered in many families for half a century and may have resulted in the destruction of many private papers.
We all hope, however sceptically, that more families than anyone realises have been jealously preserving their treasures. The ease of modern photo-copying has provided a largely satisfactory alternative to negotiations for donation or purchase. If the pessimists are correct in their view that little remains from the nineteenth century, then it is all the more important to locate and safeguard what does survive and to concentrate then on the twentieth century.
Friends of the La Trobe are earnestly requested to refer to Miss Adam Smith any leads they may have to material in private hands and to ponder over inquiries she might profitably make.

The La Trobe Library

is a section of the State Library of Victoria and is Victoria's chief research-centre and reference library for Australian history and literature. It is the State's principal repository for manuscript material, historical paintings, newspapers, etc., relating to the history of Australia and the Pacific and especially Victoria.

Friends of the La Trobe Library

is a society founded in 1966. Its aims are to publicise the Library, to attract financial support for it, to help to fill gaps in the book-collection, and to encourage the donation of manuscript and other material.
With regard to the last objective, the Friends seek to locate diaries, letters and other family or institutional papers which have survived, and to acquire such material for the Library or to arrange to have it photocopied by negotiation with the owners.
The Friends’ Patrons are H.E. The Governor, Sir Rohan Delacombe, K.C.M.G., K.B.E., C.B., D.S.O., K.St.J. (Patron-in-Chief); Hon. Sir Henry Bolte, K.C.M.G., M.L.A.; Lady Bassett; The Lady Casey; Professor R. M. Crawford; Hon. Sir Arthur Dean; Sir John Jungwirth. C.M.G.
The Friends’ office-bearers are: President, Tristan Buesst, Esq.; Vice-President, Dr. Geoffrey Serle; Hon. Treasurer, S. R. C. Wood, Esq., D.F.C.; Hon. Secretary, Major-General R. R. McNicoll, C.B.E.; Librarian, Miss Patricia Reynolds (La Trobe Librarian).
New Friends will be welcomed, especially if they are prepared to be active. The annual subscription is $3 (which includes the Journal). The Friends’ address is State Library of Victoria, Swanston Street. Melbourne, 3000.
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