and the Fawkner Diaries

[Shona Dewar]

Shona Dewar outlines the State Library's Manuscript Holdings

Shona Dewar has worked in the Australian Manuscript Department at the State Library of Victoria for 19 years and at present is co-ordinator of the Port Phillip Papers Digitising Project.

Since the 1990's, building renovations have transformed the State Library. The construction of a purpose built museum adjacent to the Exhibition Buildings in Carlton has enabled the Library to take over the old museum building in Russell Street, Melbourne. There is now much more space for researchers, bigger areas for displays, whilst work on the Dome has made the interior of the building very attractive. The completion last year of an off-site storage building outside Ballarat is an additional asset.

For all of us there have been huge technological changes over the last 15 - 20 years and generous funding by the State Government of Victoria has enabled the State Library to meet public expectations regarding the accessibility of the Library resources.

The Library's catalogue has been online for some time whilst digitising of photos has been progressing for 15 years. The project, known as SLV 21, is for the purpose of digitising and therefore making available, online, material of interest to researchers and students. This also enables material which is too fragile to be handled repeatedly to be made accessible. Being online of course captures a world wide audience.

The Port Phillip Papers Digitising Project mentioned above is funded by the SLV Foundation with an important band of volunteers transcribing key manuscripts about early Melbourne. Very important documents include John Batman's Diaries together with his famous treaty with the aborigines; the field book with maps belonging to the surveyor John Helder Wedge; the journal of Batman's servant William Todd; correspondence between various members of the Port Phillip Association; documents regarding William Buckley requesting a pardon; the journal of Sir Richard Bourke describing his visit to Port Phillip in 1837; the manifest of cargo on Edward Henty's ship, the "Thistle"; and Melbourne's first newspaper, the "Melbourne Advertiser" produced by John Pascoe Fawkner. The first 10 of these newspapers were hand written.

Amongst other manuscripts being digitised are papers about and by John Pascoe Fawkner. Shona Dewar first had an introduction to some Fawkner papers in 1979 when, as part of a Post Graduate Diploma at the National Library of Australia in Canberra, she did an elective subject on archives and manuscripts and was given some Fawkner papers to study.

Some of the Fawkner papers in the SLV have been donated, but the bulk of the collection was bought in 1931 from the Congregational College of Victoria for the cost of 50 pounds. Fawkner's papers include details of his arrival at the Settlement in Sorrento in 1803 when he accompanied his convict father. These are really memoirs as they were written when Fawkner was an adult.

The manuscripts in the Port Phillip Collection are made up of unpublished documents, including papers from private individuals, families and private businesses; account books; diaries and letters. Photos and paintings are only included if they are relevant, otherwise they go to the picture collections.

The Library is only too happy to take original documents, but is also interested in transcripts or copies if the owner of the documents wishes to keep the originals. The role of the State Library is quite different to the Victorian Public Record Office which houses government records.

Although it is wonderful to be able to research original records, they are often too fragile for frequent viewing and also very difficult to read. For students in particular, to be able to access the original with its transcription, over the internet at home, will most probably allow them to study material they otherwise would never see. For those with poor vision, the information will also be produced in audio form.

(The above is a report on Shona Dewar's address at the General Meeting on 10 November 2007)

Contributed by Jan Hanslow (PPPG Member No. 1057)

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