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The Ferguson Memorial Lectures.

The eighth John Alexander Ferguson Memorial Lecture was delivered by Dr Warwick Cathro of the National Library of Australia on 29 August 2007. Many members of Sir John Ferguson's family were present. It had been at the initiative of the Ferguson family that the Trust Deed to provide for the Memorial Lecture was signed by the Royal Australian Historical Society in 1975. Sir John had died in May 1969, after completing the seventh and final volume of his great Bibliography of Australia up to 1900, although he did not see it emerge from the press.

The Trust Deed stipulated that the Memorial Lecture was to be:
 a public lecture by a prominent person, such lecture to relate to
 Australian history, bibliography or literature.


The Royal, as the Trustee, has always been responsible for inviting suitable lecturers. Although the Trust Deed provided that the intervals between lectures should not exceed two years, this has not always been observed.

The inaugural lecture was given on 18 November 1975, after an appropriate gestation period: it was delivered exactly nine months after the Trust Deed had come into force. The speaker was Gordon Richardson, who had been Principal Librarian of what is now the State Library of New South Wales at the time that Sir John had been President of the Library Trustees in the 1960s. Mr Richardson devoted half of the lecture to Sir John himself and the latter half to a discussion of libraries and bibliography.

There was then a five-year gap, until in 1980, also on 18 November, John Manning Ward, already for twenty-one years Professor of History at the University of Sydney and at that time Deputy Vice-Chancellor, gave a historical lecture on 'Colonial Liberalism and its Aftermath: New South Wales, 1867 to 1917'.

Six years passed and then on 25 November 1986 the distinguished bibliographer, Ian McLaren, delivered the third Ferguson lecture on bibliographical questions about the output of the poet Henry Kendall.

In 1988 Colin Roderick, foundation Professor of English Literature at James Cook University in Townsville, talked, not on Henry Lawson but on Miska Hauser, a violinist who visited Australia in the mid-1850s. In the same year 1988 Professor Roderick, with Hugh Anderson, completed an edition of Miska Hauser's Letters from Australia, 1854-1858, published by the Red Rooster Press.

Two years later again, in 1990, as the Royal tried to adhere to the terms of the Trust Deed, Brian Fletcher, then Bicentennial Professor of Australian History at the University of Sydney, talked about those who wrote on Australian history from 1900 to 1938. This discussion centred around the fledgling Royal, which from 1906 onwards published the first periodical in Australia specifically for serious historical articles. The writers discussed by Professor Fletcher were all contemporaries of John Ferguson, who had been nineteen years old when the new century dawned in 1901.

Bad habits crept in again and it was not until 1994, that Patrick O'Farrell, Professor of History at the University of New South Wales, delivered the sixth Ferguson Lecture on the observance of St Patrick's Day in nineteenth-century Australia.

There was then a long gap, for which I made a public apology, not least to the Ferguson family, when I introduced both the seventh and the eighth Memorial Lectures. Only in 2005 did the series recommence, when the Mitchell Librarian, Elizabeth Ellis, addressed the subject of David Scott Mitchell, the greatest of all benefactors to Australian culture. Sir John Ferguson's own library was second only to Mitchell's. It was entirely appropriate that David Scott Mitchell, the greatest of nineteenth-century collectors, should be the topic of a lecture in memory of the greatest twentieth-century collector and bibliographer.

Mitchell and Ferguson lived for the printed word. So, of course, there was provision in the Trust Deed for publication of the Ferguson Memorial Lecture.

The exact wording is:
 reproducing in printed form the whole of or any extract from or
 summary of, the text of any of the John Alexander Ferguson Memorial
 Lectures if in the opinion of the Trustee it shall be desirable so
 to do.


Over the years the Trustee has not displayed any consistent policy towards publication. The first Lecture, by Gordon Richardson, was printed in the next issue of the RAHS Journal (volume 67, pt 2, 1976-7, 75-90). It then appeared as a separate offprint, with new pagination and in 1977 it appeared again in a limited edition of 150 copies published by Sir John's grandson John, in a handsome green binding stamped with a gold thistle, within a green slip-case.

John Ferguson also published the text of the second Lecture, by John Ward, in 1981, in a similar binding and slip-case, but in dark blue rather than green. This edition was limited to 175 copies.

In contrast, Ian McLaren's 1986 Lecture was published in a simple typescript format with a yellow paper cover by Dalriada Press of Melbourne, but what it lacks in style it makes up for in rarity: only twenty-five copies were produced, including the one in the RAHS library.

Colin Roderick's 1988 Lecture was not published, because he published a book on the topic instead, but Brian Fletcher's text was made available as a twenty-eight page pamphlet published by the RAHS itself in 1990. Patrick O'Farrell's lecture appeared in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, volume 81, 1995, pp. 1-16. Elizabeth Ellis's lecture also appeared in the Society's Journal, with little delay, in volume 92 for 2006, pp.83-100.

It is appropriate that the lectures in 2005 and 2007 should have been given in the Ferguson Hall of St Stephen's Uniting Church in Macquarie Street, Sydney. This Hall commemorates Sir John's father, the Reverend John Ferguson, an inspiring figure in the Presbyterian Church and minister of St Stephen's for thirty-one years. Sir John was much influenced by his father's example and he served as an elder in both old St Stephen's in Phillip Street and, after 1935, in the present church building in Macquarie Street. The Society is indebted to the Reverend Dr Matthew Jack, who has come here from New Zealand, as the Reverend John Ferguson did 103 years ago, and to the Parish Council of St Stephen's for permission to use the Hall for the most recent Ferguson Lectures.

The Acting Director General of the National Library of Australia, Dr Warwick Cathro, gave the eighth Lecture. For some time the RAHS has been anxious to involve the National Library in the Memorial Lecture. The National Library owes heavy debts to Sir John Ferguson. His personal library plays a role in the National Library analogous to that of David Scott Mitchell in the State Library of New South Wales. And, although Angus and Robertson were the initial publishers of the great Bibliography of Australia, it was the National Library which acquired the copyright in 1975, the year of the first Ferguson Memorial Lecture. As a result the National Library has published the subsequent reprints of Sir John's indispensable work, along with addenda and indexes. So Dr Cathro was doubly welcome both for himself and for the institution which he represents.

Dr Cathro's Ferguson Memorial Lecture on the topic 'Transforming Access to Australia's Documentary History' is printed in this issue of the Journal.
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Author:Jack, Ian
Publication:Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Nov 1, 2007
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