Hidden figures: Tom Midwood, caricatures and Tasmanian Railway Records

Sometime in the 1990s it came to the attention of the National Archives (then responsible for Tasmanian railway records) that a large collection of railway plans was languishing in haphazard storage at the Inveresk Railyards in Launceston. Archivists were dispatched to investigate and encountered a chaotic situation. Records had been stored anywhere and everywhere, including stuck up a disused chimney! Many had been badly affected by the 1929 floods and by the incursion of soot from coal-fired steam engines. However, the collection was one of marvellous significance, documenting Tasmania’s railway infrastructure. The archivists made a case for the preservation of this collection and secured funding to perform the mammoth task of cleaning, organising and properly storing the recovered hoard. In the process they found something quite unexpected.

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Banks’ Florilegium Society Islands 1769

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts exhibition – closes 31 July 2021.

Leisha Owen – Curator

Banks’ Florilegium – Society Islands, 1769 comprises framed botanical prints individually colour-printed in the 1980s, from the 18th century copperplate engravings of Sydney Parkinson’s drawings. Parkinson was the artist who drew the fresh plants collected in the Society Islands by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, as part of Captain James Cook’s first voyage round the world.

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Charles Gould’s Mythical Monsters

Research is not a straight path. It is a trail that twists through mountains and valleys. There are forks in the road and enticing sights that lay off the beaten track. These distractions can be the most treacherous aspects of the journey. Often they can be so alluring that one can forget where one was going in the first place. I stumbled across one of these tangents recently while researching the life and work of Charles Gould (1834-1893), a journey that took me from Tasmania’s wild west coast to mainland China, from giant freshwater crayfish to dragons, and from natural history to the realms of myth.

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Tales of the Unexpected

We’ve just finished celebrating Family History Month, which offered us an opportunity to reflect on some of the unexpected connections to be found in Libraries Tasmania’s archival and heritage collections. In this post, we explore four ‘rare books’ that were not written here, not published here, not about Tasmania in any way, but which unfold extraordinary Tasmanian stories through the history of their ownership and use. From a 17th century Bible once held in royal hands, to a 19th century tanner’s technical manual, here are some tales of the unexpected uncovered in the State Library of Tasmania.

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A convict portrayal: The Lewis family portraits by Thomas Bock

Nothing said ‘I’m important’ in 19th century Van Diemen’s Land more than having your portrait done.

The convict artist Thomas Bock was Hobart’s most fashionable portrait painter in the 1840s. The Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts has possibly the largest collection of Bock’s works, and it has just expanded to include an extensive range of portraits of the Lewis family, made between 1835 and 1854.

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Life at The Steppes

A stop at The Steppes was once essential for every traveller in Tasmania’s Central Highlands. On our list of recently digitised materials is a sketchbook of birds and plants  by Marjorie (Madge) Wilson, who was the last resident of the house at The Steppes.

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Bird Woman: Elizabeth Gould and the Birds of Australia

If you’ve been through the Allport gallery recently, you will have noticed the birds. They are familiar birds, with all of the endemic Tasmanian species represented – many visitors will recognise them from their own backyard. And they are lovely. But the thing that convinced us that it was worth getting these prints out for display is the controversy – whose hand created them?

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