State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 30 December 1982

44

Redmond Barry's note on the provenance of Thomson's Seasons

45

A MELBOURNE BOOK-STALL IN 1841

A rather undistinguished, and previously unnoticed, book from amongst the uncatalogued stock in the State Library of Victoria's Rare Books Room turns out to be an interesting Redmond Barry Association item, and it also offers us a glimpse of bookselling in Melbourne at a very early date. It therefore seems worth a brief description here. The book is a copy of Stockdale's 1794 12mo edition of Thomson's Seasons in a pleasant, though rather worn, contemporary straight-grained red morocco binding. At the head of the title-page there appears twice, once in pencil and once in ink, the ownership inscription ‘R. Barry 1794’, in a hand not (though not totally unlike) Sir Redmond's. Beneath the ink inscription is the pencilled date ‘1841’. On the recto of the frontispiece (see plate opposite) is Sir Redmond's note in pencil ‘Redmond Barry, June 26th 1841,’ and then in ink is this account of the book's provenance:
This book belonged to my uncle Colonel Redmond Barry who died 1812. — It was picked up by me in the year 1841 at a book stall then kept at the corner of Collins Street & Swanston Street on the site now occupied by the Melbourne Town Hall. An eccentric old fellow from Dublin established himself at this spot under the shade of a group of fine gum trees and exposed for sale many curious & rare works. With this I secured also a copy of Dante which had been the property of my uncle
Available information about Sir Redmond Barry's uncle Redmond is slight. The Gentleman's Magazine briefly records his death on 16 February 1812:
At Boyle, co.Roscommon, Redmond Barry, esq. first lieut.-colonel of the South Cork Militia.1
We should like to know more about him; but even more we should like to know about the Irishman and his book-stall under the gum-trees in 1841, where the Town Hall now stands. It has not proved possible to trace any other record of it, either written or pictorial.2 We must be content to imagine the surprise of the future Sir Redmond, who had then been in Australia for less than two years, at finding on this presumably rather rustic stall, 12,000 miles from home, two books which thirty years before had been in his Irish uncle's library. It can be supposed that the Dubliner had arrived in Melbourne during the town's very early years with a stock of old books from his native land; and quite possibly he ceased business as soon as he had sold them all.
The copy of The Seasons bears no indication of when it came to its present home. Nor, unfortunately, is there now any trace of the Dante which Barry says he bought on the same day. It is not listed in the extant inventory of books, furniture and so forth from Barry's residence, compiled c. 1867–76, nor in the undated supplementary (perhaps later) list.3 None of the pre-1812 editions of Dante held by the State Library of Victoria shows any signs of association with Barry. Only The Seasons, a very ordinary late-eighteenth-century book, survives as a relic of one of the earliest attempts at antiquarian bookselling in Melbourne.
TREVOR MILLS

1

Gentleman's Magazine, v.82 (1812), p.392.

2

I am grateful to the staff of the La Trobe Library for their efforts in this matter, and especially to Ms C. Leslie of the Historical Collection for her prolonged search for an illustration. It is a measure of the obscurity into which the Irishman's book-stall has sunk that Mr John Holroyd has no information about it; I am thankful to him for some suggestions, however.

3

MS 8380, La Trobe Collection, State Library of Victoria. The Seasons is not listed either.