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.

Continue reading “Tales of the Unexpected”

Reading, Writing & Arithmetic: The Public School Curriculum 150 Years Ago

What would you have learned at a Tasmanian public school in 1869? Mostly, just reading, writing and arithmetic, from a teacher not much older than yourself, in a class of 40-60 students, and in a textbook that your grandfather might have read in Ireland thirty years earlier. The texts might have been boring and out of date, but the reasons why are fascinating. That’s because the public school curriculum in 1869 was deliberately designed to be bland and uninteresting, in order to avoid social conflict. What follows is the story of a journey – from the idea that education needed to reform and contain children, to the radical idea that children in public schools should be inspired to learn, and to become curious and informed citizens. Read on to discover more!

For an audio introduction to this story, check out our interview with ABC Radio!

Continue reading “Reading, Writing & Arithmetic: The Public School Curriculum 150 Years Ago”

The Orphan Schools

This year marks the 150th anniversary of public education in Tasmania.

To help us understand where we’ve come from (and perhaps where we’re going!) the librarians and archivists of the State Library and Archive Service are producing a series of blogs on the history of public education in Tasmania. These aren’t comprehensive – rather, they’re snapshots of places, people, and institutions, as well as a guide to the resources we hold at the State Library. Some of the common themes that feature throughout the blogs are concerns about the curriculum; about health, physical fitness, and nutrition; about sanitation; about industrial training and academic outcomes. But these blogs are also something more – they’re about the history of childhood in Tasmania, and how our view of children – and what education means – has changed since the nineteenth century. We hope you enjoy the journey!

The Orphan Schools established in Hobart in 1828 were an early form of public education, but a harsh one. Their aim was to transform poor children into ‘respectable’ industrious adults. The system was cruel even by the standards of the day – based on discipline, religion, punishment and control. Most of the children were not true orphans, but the children of convict parents, whose imprisonment and work for the convict system prevented the parents from caring for them. Others were the children of the unemployed, destitute, or those that the authorities perceived to be leading immoral lives. Some Aboriginal children were institutionalised as well. All were separated from their parents, housed in cold rooms with no fires and poor sanitation; disease was rampant and mortality was high.

What follows is not easy reading, and it is not suitable material for young children. The story is characterized by cruelty, abuse, and neglect, but also by tremendous resilience, resistance, and compassion. The historical records in the Tasmanian Archives tell this story – and throughout this blog, we will link to them. You, the reader and researcher, can choose to follow the story further in as much in depth as you choose to.

Continue reading “The Orphan Schools”

Two forgotten bushranger plays

For more than 200 years, bushrangers have captured the imagination of storytellers and audiences alike.  Their exploits have inspired songs, books, and, of course, plays. Read on to find out more about two forgotten bushranger plays that span the centuries and the globe, from the floorboards of the Royal Coburg Theatre in London to the airwaves of Tasmanian radio.

Continue reading “Two forgotten bushranger plays”

The Southern Tasmanian Volunteer Artillery

Have you ever driven past the Alexandra Battery in Sandy Bay and wondered what it was for? Have you ever heard rumours of a planned Russian invasion of Tasmania in the 19th century? As Anzac Day approaches, we’d like to share the story of the Southern Volunteer Artillery Regiment with you. Thanks to our new corps of online volunteers, we can now tell this amazing story in a new way, preserve it for future generations, and maybe even link it to your own family history. Intrigued? Want to get involved? Read on!

Continue reading “The Southern Tasmanian Volunteer Artillery”

Colonial Cunning Folk, part two: Moses Jewitt and Benjamin Nokes

Our previous post described the notebook of William Allison, a cunning man or traditional healer active in Van Diemen’s Land during the 1830s and 1840s. Survivals of such documents are extremely rare, and unheard of in colonial Australia. Besides recording Allison’s activities, his notebook sheds light on his network, naming two other practitioners from whom he obtained recipes: Moses Jewell or Jewitt, and Benj Knokes also noted as ‘BN’. Continue reading “Colonial Cunning Folk, part two: Moses Jewitt and Benjamin Nokes”

Colonial Cunning Folk, part one: William Allison

A nondescript little notebook, hidden in plain sight in the state archives, has opened a window onto two extraordinary lives and yielded some startling insights into the popular beliefs and practice of traditional medicine in colonial Tasmania. William Allison (ca.1789-1856) and Benjamin Nokes (ca.1780?-1843) were ‘cunning men’, skilled in the use of herbal remedies, lacking formal qualifications but widely respected, operating somewhere on the spectrum between magic and science.

This post is about William Allison’s notebook, and what it reveals about his life and career. Our next post will explore the life of his co-practitioner Benjamin Nokes. Continue reading “Colonial Cunning Folk, part one: William Allison”

Cricket and patriotism: Hobart Town and Oyster Cove

Hobart Town

In the late summer of 1862, Hobart Town residents awaited the arrival of the first ever All England Eleven to play against a Tasmanian Twenty-two team.

The game was played over three days at the cricket ground on the Domain, near Government House, on Friday, 21st, Saturday, 22nd, and Monday, 24th February.

The English visitors proved to be so popular that an additional game was played on Tuesday, 25th February.

All England cricketers. S. S. Great Britain, 1861

On the eve of the first day of play, crowds welcomed the visitors with an enthusiasm bordering on hero worship. After a rousing reception held at the Horse and Jockey Inn at New Town, coaches for the two teams started towards the city.
Continue reading “Cricket and patriotism: Hobart Town and Oyster Cove”

The Theatre Royal – Australia’s oldest continually operating live theatre

Where theatrical performances were enjoyed by the light of sperm whale oil lamps and theatre goers could enjoy a tipple in the tavern underneath. Through name changes, alterations, additions and a fire, Hobart’s Theatre Royal has survived the ravages of time.

Continue reading “The Theatre Royal – Australia’s oldest continually operating live theatre”

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?

Continue reading “Bird Woman: Elizabeth Gould and the Birds of Australia”