State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 79 Autumn 2007


From the Editorial Chair

‘A good book’, wrote John Milton, ‘is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit’. Most of us at some time or other have been affected by the power of books to do more than just convey information or while away the hours. To a passionate book collector like Robert Carl Sticht, the mine manager at Mt Lyell in Tasmania at the turn of last century, books were his ‘chosen companions’. Thanks to his ‘mania’ for collecting books — one of the few socially valuable forms of mania! — and the foresight of the management of the then Public Library in purchasing some of the finest of them, we can enjoy today treasures of the past that he gathered together from different parts of the world.
Looking at these beautiful volumes, one would hardly have guessed that they came from the library of an American-born metallurgist, who had been a leading authority on pyritic smelting when he was brought to Australia in 1895. As Heather Gaunt's article reveals in fascinating detail, while fully engaged in running the mine (‘undoubtedly one of the seven wonders of Australia’ in the eyes of journalists of the time, as Geoffrey Blainey tells us in The Peaks of Lyell), Sticht assembled in his house a rich collection of art and literature, and even found time to catalogue it. One wonders if he sometimes reflected on the contrast between the landscape outside his window, ruined by sulphur fumes from the smelters that he had erected, and the ideal worlds of such books as Richard Earlom's Liber veritatis, with its etchings of Claude Lorraine pastorals (one of which is reproduced on our back cover).
Following Sticht's death in 1922, Melbourne bookseller, A. H. Spencer, on whom John Arnold contributes a brief note, handled the sale of the library, which he described in his memoirs (1959) as ‘the finest library yet sold in Australia’. This sale ‘established’ Spencer, who had just started the Hill of Content bookshop in Bourke Street, a shop that many of our readers will have visited over the years.
The purchases from Sticht's library made by the Public Library were catalogued by A. B. Foxcroft, Senior Assistant Librarian, one of the most distinguished figures in the history of the Library, whose early death was a great blow to the institution. As Director of Collections, Shane Carmody has a special interest in Foxcroft, whose devotion to scholarship was so greatly admired by his contemporaries.
Book collectors, booksellers and librarians do not always see eye to eye, but these three articles show how, in their different roles, they each contribute to the process of preserving the cultural history of a society, of which books have so long been a central part. A library becomes a site of scholarship by virtue of the books it acquires and holds in trust for the future. The four articles on individual books, in turn, exemplify the great depth and range of scholarship that is now pursued within the State Library, made possible by the collecting policies it has followed since its foundation.
Dorothy Prescott, whose field of expertise is maps, demonstrates the attention to detail needed to identify a seventeenth-century atlas lacking a title page, and place it in
historical context. She establishes that the map of ‘t'Landt van de Eendracht’ is ‘almost certainly the earliest instance of a map of this continent [Australia] being included in an atlas’. (To learn why the Dutch called the continent ‘Eendracht’ you must read the article!) The volume she discusses was previously exhibited in the ‘Mirror of the World’ exhibition, and one hopes that it will be shown there again, as after this article it has greater interest than ever.
Hilary Maddocks, who wrote in The La Trobe Journal No.77 on an early printed Book of Hours from Paris, here writes on Geofroy Tory's 1531 Book of Hours, a book on which Foxcroft published a little pamphlet 70 years ago. Out of her close knowledge of the book trade in the period she is able to show why she regards this example of an illustrated French Renaissance printed book as ‘precious’, and warranting ‘further scholarly attention’.
Two members of the staff of the State Library, Olga Tsara and Juliet O'Conor, both of whom have held Fellowships that enabled them to research in their fields of specialisation, write about books that are historical markers.
Olga Tsara explains the imperial origins of Linnaeus Tripe's handsome 1857 collection of photographs of Burma, and its importance in the history of photography. That the Library holds a copy of this book, of which only seven are known to survive today, is another example of the breadth of vision shown by Redmond Barry who, as she points out, established the oldest photographic collection in Australia.
Juliet O'Conor introduces a book that is bound to attract increasing attention as the body of Indigenous Australian writing grows. In explaining the background of the author and the illustrator of The Legends of Moonie Jarl, the article, incidentally, adds a further perspective on the extraordinary life of J. B. Gribble, who appears in a number of contexts in Australian history. It is fascinating to discover that the clergyman who persuaded Ned Kelly to return his watch after it was stolen by the gang, the unnamed ‘evangelist’ in chapter IV of Furphy's Such is Life, the author of Dark Deeds in a Sunny Land, and the man whose tombstone bears the inscription ‘Blackfellow's Friend’, was the white grandfather of Wilf Reeves and Olga Miller, who created the first Indigenous Australian children's book.
Finally, a note about our last number, which contained two articles on the restored Shakespeare Window, now installed in the State Library. The conservation of the window was made possible by the generosity of Ciba Specialty Chemicals Pty. Ltd., a State Library of Victoria Foundation sponsor, and its installation was assisted by a grant from the Ethel Cutten Bequest. Copies of the Journal, which has some colour photographs of repairs to the stained glass, can still be obtained from the Foundation. And, of course, members of the public are always welcome to visit the Library and see the window for themselves.
John Barnes