Truth and fiction: the bequest of David Scott Mitchell: the 2005 John Alexander Ferguson Memorial Lecture.
For those of us who are concerned with Australian history, it is almost impossible to imagine life without Sir John Ferguson's enduring magnum opus, the great Bibliography of Australia 1784-1900, in which he aimed, and to an astonishing degree succeeded, to record an accurate description of every book, pamphlet, broadsheet, periodical and newspaper relevant to Australia. This he achieved, in part it is said, by offering vacation employment to any willing young undergraduates who were prepared to spend their holidays as novice bibliographers. To this day, amongst Australiana bibliophiles and researchers, the phrase 'Not in Ferguson' has an immediate connotation of great rarity, as does the companion phrase often uttered in the same breath, 'Not in the Mitchell Library'.
Sir John Ferguson had strong associations with both the Royal Australian Historical Society as a councillor and President in 1922 and again in 1940 to 1942, and also with the Public (now State) Library of New South Wales as a Trustee from 1935 until 1969, and as President from 1963 to 1967. Right up to his death, he retained a special desk in the Mitchell Reading Room.
Sir John Ferguson married a daughter of the bookseller and publisher George Robertson, hence bringing another link to the subject of this evening's lecture. And to complete this intertwining of connections, David Scott Mitchell was the founding patron of the Australian (later Royal Australian) Historical Society from 1901 to his death in 1907. Nor should we forget that much of this story is in one way or another anchored in the precincts of Macquarie Street where we are gathered this evening.
On 18 November 1975, the distinguished former Principal Librarian, Mr Gordon Dayell Richardson gave the first John Alexander Memorial Lecture on 'The instruction and good of his country: Sir John Ferguson, libraries and the historical record'. (1)
My own introduction to the name of Sir John Ferguson came when as a very young librarian, I began work at the National Library and was taken to the hushed splendour of the Ferguson Room where his personal library found its final resting place. Later on I heard some of the stories about how the National Library came to acquire this great collection and had the enormous pleasure of getting to know well his maps in the Library's Map Collection. Some years after this, as an Australiana researcher, my whole working life came to depend upon daily consultations with the Bibliography.
I have entitled this evening's lecture 'Truth and fiction: the bequest of David Scott Mitchell'. As Lord Byron reminded us: 'T'is strange--but true: for truth is always strange--stranger than fiction' (2), and indeed truth and fiction are as closely intertwined (and sometimes strange) in how the Mitchell Library came into being as in the history of many another person, institution or event.
There have been many anecdotes, myths and legends originating back in the nineteenth century and continuing to the present day, about the apparently enigmatic founder of the Mitchell collection, about the establishment and history of the library which bears his name and, not least, about the collection itself. Some of the unravelling of the truths will have to wait for Emeritus Professor Brian Fletcher who is currently writing a history of the Library commissioned for the centenary of the Mitchell Bequest in 2007.
However, for now, I am going to allude to some of the questions and suggest some of the answers.
What is indubitable is that on his death on 24 July 1907, David Scott Mitchell, known to his contemporaries, and ever afterwards, as a wealthy, eccentric and reclusive collector of Australiana, bequeathed to the people of New South Wales through the Trustees of the Public Library the greatest single cultural bequest ever made in Australia. This bequest single-handedly established the wherewithal for the serious study of Australian and Pacific history as a pursuit open to anyone with the curiosity or inclination to investigate the primary and secondary source material available in the Library which bears his name.
The path leading to this magnificent gesture is interwoven with the history of colonial New South Wales. It begins with Dr James Mitchell, a Scotsman born in Fife in 1792, the son of a farmer. James Mitchell joined the Army Medical Corps in 1810 and three years later qualified as a licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh. He saw active service during the Napoleonic Wars in Europe and America and accompanied the 48th Regiment to Sydney, finally settling here in 1821. Mitchell transferred to the Colonial Medical Department in 1823 and was posted to Sydney Hospital where he became Head Surgeon in January 1829, a position he held until 1837. (3)
Astute and ambitious, Dr Mitchell married well when he chose Augusta Maria Scott as his bride, a match which gave him entree into the colony's social elite of the pastoral aristocracy. Augusta Maria was the only daughter of a distinguished medical officer, Dr Helenus Scott, who served for thirty years in India.
Dr Scott died at sea in 1821 en route to Australia, accompanying his young sons, Robert and Helenus, who were to take up extensive land grants on the rich alluvial flats of the Hunter River near Singleton. They called their main property, Glendon and there for twenty years led a charmed life, breeding race horses and indulging their penchant for architecture by designing their house, outbuildings, even gates and fences. (4)
By 1832 when their sister and mother emigrated to New South Wales their landholdings had extended to ten thousand acres. Mrs Helenus Scott, another Augusta Maria, rather confusingly with the same Christian names as her daughter, was quite grand. She was a member of the wealthy Frederick family of London and led an elegant life in artistic circles, a family friend of the artist Landseer and was very well read and well connected. She was also shrewd and wealthy in her own right. The young Scotts in the Hunter Valley seem to have understood the need to keep her informed and amused in their letters, banking on the times when they needed to ask for her financial assistance. Soon after arriving in Sydney, Mrs Scott purchased from Robert Campbell Senior the house he had built on the peak of The Rocks, then called Bunker's Hill. The house was known as Cumberland Place, and had been designed by Francis Greenway in 1825, with early 1830s additions by John Verge. (5) It is long gone, having been demolished just before World War I.
It was this house, owned by his mother-in-law, to which Dr Mitchell moved after his marriage in 1833. Mitchell resigned from the army the same year and went into private practice at Cumberland Place, dividing his time with hospital duties. In the meantime, he had acquired extensive landholdings and gained a reputation as a shrewd property dealer and financial manager. His shrewdness is particularly evident in hindsight. Family legend says that he did not acquire land for its apparent grazing potential, but rather, harking back to his boyhood on the Fifeshire coalfields, for its coal bearing potential. (6) This led, ultimately, to his being in possession of thousands of acres of what became the Hunter Valley coalfields, stretching from Burwood on the coast south of Newcastle, through Rothbury and Cessnock to Muswellbrook.
David Scott Mitchell--or DSM as he was known by Sydney's booksellers, and to some of us to this day, though his friends and family always called him David-was born on 19 March 1836 in the officer's quarters of the Military Hospital in Macquarie Street, not far from the site where the building housing his collections would later stand. He was an only son, with an older sister, Augusta Maria, and a younger one, Margaret. He grew up at Cumberland Place and attended St Phillip's Grammar School, Church Hill, a short distance from his home (7). One of his first books, an edition of Robinson Crusoe, given as a birthday present by his father, is now in the Mitchell Library as are several of his school prizes. (8) It is said that first intimations of a propensity to collect books came when he saved some of his father's dusty old volumes destined for the saleroom. (9)
DSM was in the first intake of seven undergraduates at the newly established University of Sydney in 1852. It appears that he was not always a conscientious student, if not lacking ability. An extract from the University Senate meeting of 4 September 1854 noted that Mr Mitchell was to be formally censured for the gross and wilful neglect to his studies reported by his professors, and deprived of the Barker Scholarship, won the previous year. (10) However, he went on to graduate as Bachelor of Arts in 1856 and three years later as Master of Arts. In December 1858 he was admitted to the Bar, but never practised the law, or any other profession. One of the anecdotal truths in the story of DSM and the Mitchell Library is that it was his father's eye for coal-bearing land in the Hunter Valley and Newcastle region which enabled him to pursue his own interests.
Many legends have grown up around his personal life as a young and middle-aged man. One thing is clear--that he was not quite the reclusive hermit without family connections, friends and chosen acquaintances that some have suggested.
A dark-bearded, serious-looking young man, (11) he was part of the tightly knit circle of leading legal, medical and landowning families which then constituted Sydney society. The main source of information about his life at this time is in letters to his highly intelligent and strong-minded cousin, Rose Scott, then living in Newcastle. (12) She was eleven years his junior, and daughter of his mother's brother, Helenus Scott of Glendon.
His letter to Rose dated 9 July 1865 notes that he had been 'out nearly every night. A bill of fare for a week's dissipation!' (13) Three months earlier, he had written to Rose that 'it is now more than three weeks since I became that "queer beast" an engaged man ... It will be a long engagement as I have to make up for a good many idle years but the time will tell more on me than her as I am 29, and she is not yet 20'. (14) The girl in question was Emily Manning, daughter of Sir William Manning, a Supreme Court judge and Chancellor of the University of Sydney. It was regarded as an eminently suitable alliance, but within a few months, Mitchell had ceased to make any mention of Emily in his letters. We will never know what happened. As late as 1869, the former Governor of New South Wales and family friend of the Mitchell's, Sir John Young wrote to his mother: 'I saw Miss Manning in London-looking quite well and handsome--David might do worse than marry her yet.' (15) The only actual evidence of other romantic inclinations in DSM are transcribed and original poems in his hand of a distinctly sentimental Victorian type, (16) and a characteristically enigmatic exchange of correspondence with his cousin Rose in 1875 about his intentions in regard to her, and vice-versa. (17)
Following Dr Mitchell's death in February 1869 the family successfully contested his will in a messy court case against a German-born adventurer into whose control the considerable estates of the old and ailing doctor had passed in his declining years. As an interesting aside, DSM did not keep all the books he ever owned and within six months of his father's death sold his law library through Bradley, Newton and Lamb. (18)
It was another three years before a partial division of the estate was formulated. David Scott Mitchell acquired his father's Hunter Valley land, including the coalrich estates of Rothbury, Cessnock and Branxton and part of the Burwood estate; his younger sister, Margaret, was given what became the coalfields around Booragul and Fassifern on the western shores of Lake Macquarie. She married William Bell Quigley, sometimes described as a 'coachman', at Cumberland Place in a discreet arrangement after the death of her mother. There was always an implication that she had married beneath her to a man with a reputation as a drunkard. His elder sister, on the other hand, made a most satisfactory alliance with Edward Christopher Merewether and she inherited most of the Burwood estate with her husband.
Edward Merewether played his own part in what his direct descendant has called 'the wherewithal' leading to the Mitchell Library, as he had not only assisted with the doctor's interests for many years, but also later managed David Scott Mitchell's Rothbury estate in which the absentee landlord showed no interest whatsoever, except for the income it produced as the means to sustain his book collecting. (19)
David Scott Mitchell's mother died in 1871 while all this turbulence was still in the air. Up to that time, he had lived in his childhood home of Cumberland Place. Following her death, he moved first to another address in Cumberland Street and, in 1877, to what was then Darlinghurst--number 17, formerly 143, and later 65 Darlinghurst Road. The site of his two-storeyed, seven-roomed terrace house is in the heart of King's Cross, just to the north of the entrance to the King's Cross Station. (20) There he remained for the rest of his life, attended by his faithful housekeeper, Sarah Milligan, to whom he left an annuity of one pound per week when he died. (21)
The conventional wisdom is that after DSM moved from The Rocks to 17 Darlinghurst Road he closed his doors to society, living in an increasingly parsimonious way, with one great exception--the growing sums he spent on his single great obsession of book collecting. As G. D. Richardson, a former Principal and Mitchell Librarian noted in his 1961 T. D. Mutch Memorial Lecture: 'It is almost as if the scholarly and still young gentleman of leisure disappears to reemerge after a quarter of a century as the venerable, ailing and superficially odd sort of bibliographical patriarch!' (22)
Rose Scott writing to another Principal Librarian W. H. Ifould in 1923, two years before her death, strongly disputed the idea that Mitchell became an unsociable recluse and demanded that an official statement to this effect be placed in the Library's records. (23) Rose Scott seems to have had a point because there is ample evidence that DSM enjoyed (and was very good at) card games, was a regular visitor all his adult life at the Australian Club and had a life-long interest in cricket which he had played well in his youth. (24)
Mitchell began his serious collecting with English literature, especially Elizabethan drama, eighteenth and nineteenth century writers and poets. His catalogue of the mid-1870s, handwritten in five small volumes, (25) records a strong emphasis in this field. Some fine examples of incunabula and illuminated manuscripts were amongst his early acquisitions and one of his most enduring interests were English cartoons and caricatures of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth-centuries, including some marvellous examples of the collected works of Gillray, Hogarth and Cruikshank. He also had more than a passing interest in contemporary French literature, owning complete editions of the works of Charles Baudelaire, Gustav Flaubert and Stendahl. (26)
His obsession with Australiana came relatively late, although he had been buying examples since 1868. By 1880, however, most of his contacts with the outside world were with dealers, including Maggs, Quaritch, Sotheran and Francis Edwards in London and Muller of Amsterdam, who wrote to him with tempting offers, and locals, such as George Robertson, David Angus, James Tyrrell, William Dymock, and especially Fred Wymark of Angus and Robertson (his first encounter with Mitchell was around 1884 when he was hardly more than a boy, working for David Angus) who recorded numerous amusing and illuminating reminiscences about this extraordinary client. It is an anecdote from Wymark, and alluded to by G. D. Richardson in the Mutch Lecture, (27) which dates Mitchell's purchase of the Australiana library of Thomas Whitely in 1887 as setting him on his dedicated and all-encompassing pursuit in this field.
The colloquial account of Mitchell's life henceforward is that, unlike his father, who was a prominent public figure and director of numerous companies and boards, DSM's single weekly excursion to the city took place on Monday mornings, starting promptly at 9.30 a.m. when a hansom cab collected him, then took him to various booksellers until 1.30 p.m. His nickname amongst Sydney cabbies was 'Old Four Hours'. He enjoyed nothing more than rummaging through second hand bargain boxes for rare or curious pamphlets and oddities, even browsing in pawnshops or haggling with a bookseller as he did for two to three hours, talking down the price of two Conrad Martens watercolours. (28)
A favourite Wymark story was visiting 17 Darlinghurst Road with a parcel of manuscripts for which he was asking 340 [pounds sterling]. While he was there, a workman called to repair the stove at a cost of thirty shillings which DSM regarded as robbery and extortion, calling the man a 'damned scoundrel', as he handed over the 340 [pounds sterling] to Wymark. (29)
Wymark also told the tale of his outwitting Alfred Lee, a rival book collector and his most serious local competitor, over items from the collection of Dr George Bennett-probably the greatest assembled in New South Wales from earlier in the century. Lee had made his selections and set them aside in William Dymock's shop. Mitchell arrived, and undeterred on being told the items were no longer available, selected and made off with over two-thirds of them anyway, after paying a well spent 300 [pounds sterling]. (30) In 1906 Mitchell scored another point against his rival. He acquired the whole of Alfred Lee's library, although it contained many duplicate titles found in his own collection, in order to secure several great rarities, notably the manuscript journal kept by Joseph Banks on Captain Cook's first voyage around the world on HMS Endeavour, as well as the De Quiros memorials. And yet another tale is that of an inexperienced bookseller who left an album of bookplates with him for appraisal, but omitted to put a price in the front. On his return, DSM thanked him for the gift. (31)
The bookseller James Tyrrell left a vivid description of his appearance:
In manner and appearance, Mitchell was a typical book collector ... Even his beard, short and turning black to grey, was somehow in character for the part. His usual dress included a black bowler hat, black-cloth paget coat, matching black trousers and black elastic-sided boots. His loose change he carried distributed in his vest pockets-sovereigns in one; half sovereigns in another and silver change in his coat pockets! His daily habits also indicate the same methodical, if eccentric and frugal traits: he ate two meals per day, and both were identical, breakfast at 11 o'clock in the morning and tea at 8 p.m., the menu for both consisting of grilled chops. (32)
On one of his weekly bookshop visits, the local artist Walter Syer made some quick sketches, unbeknownst to his subject. These were later made into etchings for Sir William Dixson by Lionel Lindsay. (33)
Limited attention had been given to the collecting of Australiana up to the time Mitchell made it his sole pursuit, although it is not correct to assume he was the only pioneer in the field. Some notable predecessors were Justice Edward Wise who bequeathed his Australian book collection to the Public Library of New South Wales in 1865, Alfred Lee, Sir Alfred Stephen and Dr George Bennett and smaller collections such as that of journalist and newspaper proprietor W. A. Duncan, or the Camden Park library of the Macarthur family, for example.
But it is true that some of the unpublished evidence in official records was confronting for many settlers. When Mitchell came on the scene the history, particularly of the country's relatively recent convict past, was a subject many people, including some in high places, wished to forget rather than celebrate. There are tales of pages being cut from incriminating lists of convicts whose names descendants wished to excise forever. At the height of his passion, Mitchell had no time for this distortion of the facts. 'I must have the damned thing, if only to show how bad it is', he is said to have proclaimed. (34) 'The main thing is to get the records. We're too near our own past to view it properly, but in a few generations the convict past will take its proper place in the perspective, and our historians will pay better attention to the pioneers' (35)--prophetic words, which have only come to pass in the century after Mitchell's death.
From the 1880s, the bookseller George Robertson gave Mitchell first right of refusal on any item of Australiana and Fred Wymark and Richard Thomson, also of Angus and Robertson, pursued desirable objects for their best customer with as much alacrity as he did. For example, David Angus, coming across a workman in Rowcroft's Cordial Factory in Hunter Street about to burn boxes of manuscript papers belonging to the first Premier of New South Wales, Stuart Donaldson, is said to have quickly rescued these for his best client. Increasingly, DSM would acquire entire formed collections to add to his own, as in the case of the outstanding Pacific Islands printings in the famed Colenso collection which he acquired in 1899. (36)
One example will have to suffice, quite inadequately, to illustrate DSM's quality as a book collector: An Essay on the Scurvy ... by Frederick Thomson (London, 1790). The first edition was presented by the publisher to William Bligh prior to the second 'breadfruit' voyage on HMS Providence, then given by Bligh to colonial surgeon William Redfern in February 1809, before passing through another collector to Mitchell. (37)
By the early 1890s, this unbeatable competitor came to the attention of H. C. L. Anderson, the astute Principal Librarian who realised, as he put it, that he was 'being cribbed, cabined and confined by a dreadful human bogey whose lair was 17 Darlinghurst Road' in the race to acquire the choicest volumes of Australian history. There was only one solution--'if you couldn't beat him, win him around'. (38) Anderson asked Rose Scott to arrange an introductory meeting with her cousin, and so from 1895, Anderson became a weekly visitor at the lair, bringing anything of note to Mitchell's interest, arranging purchases in London through the NSW Agent-General's Office, and generally acting as his agent. Over the next ten years, Anderson spent 26,000 [pounds sterling] on behalf of his client.
This did not go unremarked in government and official circles. In fact, in 1900 a Select Committee of the NSW Parliament was appointed to investigate Anderson's administration of the Public Library. One of the criticisms was his relationship with Mitchell and the main witness against Anderson was William Dymock who felt he was being sidelined and treated unfairly. The Bulletin commented archly that Anderson's association with Mitchell as his unpaid agent and private secretary was a singular position for a public servant to occupy. One of the matters discussed was the verbal agreement which took place between Mitchell and Anderson on 17 October 1898 when Mitchell stated his intention to bequeath his collection to the Public Library, but only if a new building were provided to house the collection separately under the name of the 'Mitchell Library'. He also indicated his intention to provide an endowment of 30,000 [pounds sterling], later increased to 70,000 [pounds sterling], for the purchase of additional books, manuscripts and binding. As confirmation of his intent, he presented to the Public Library ten thousand of his non-Australian titles which, for lack of space in the Library, were kept in the Principal Librarian's house next door. The government agreed to the offer and conditions which were promptly incorporated into the 1899 Library and Art Gallery Act. (39)
While the 1900 Select Committee supported the need for a new building, it took another six years to get construction underway. Frail and ill as he was, by 1905, Mitchell let it be known that if he did not hear something forthwith from the Premier, the Hon. J. H. Carruthers, his collection would go to the University of Sydney. It was finally in large part due to the evidence of George Robertson to the 1905 Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works which drove home to the parliamentarians a real understanding of the unparalleled generosity and value of Mitchell's offer: 'When I hear the money value of the Mitchell Collection spoken of, I always feel tempted to break the peace. When safely housed by the State, its value will be what it is worth to New South Wales and the world at large, not what a Carnegie or a Pierpont Morgan would be prepared to pay for it.' (40)
Carruthers capitulated, immediately referring the matter of a building to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works and engaged the Government Architect, Walter Liberty Vernon to begin drawing up plans. (41) The site was next to Parliament facing the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Domain where once Governor Macquarie's Light Horse Barracks, later used for the Female School of Industry, had stood. The foundation stone was laid by the Premier on 11 September 1906. (42) Mitchell was by this time too ill to attend the ceremony, but theoretically could have seen the building rising across Woolloomooloo Bay and the Domain from the upstairs rear windows of his Darlinghurst terrace.
In his way and in his fashion, DSM had therefore continued a long established family association which his father had begun as a committee member of the Australian Subscription Library, which became the Public Library, from 1832 to 1853, then Vice-President and President from 1856 to 1869.
Fred Wymark recalled Mitchell's last days:
I can see him lying on his bed with pillows all around him hardly able to move when he asked me to put some pillows at his back so he could sit up and look at a book I had taken up. His eyes were just as alert as ever, but he looked so fragile, his wrists no thicker than two of my fingers. His life from day to day was still the hope that something would turn up to add to his pleasure and make an addition to his collection.
Wymark was able to give Mitchell his last moment of delight. He had longed for, but never found a copy of Baron Field's First Fruits of Australian Poetry, the first book of verse published in Australia. On receiving it, Mitchell is reputed to have said: 'I did not think we would ever see this. I have been looking for it for years'. (43)
Wymark continues his reminiscences: 'With this remark he gave a gasp and fell back on his pillow. I thought he was dead and was going to tell Sarah (the housekeeper), when a voice came from the pillow "So where were we Fred?" His character comes through even more strongly in another remark he made to Wymark, 'If you hear anyone say I was converted, say I died mad'. Dr Robert Scot Skirving, DSM's doctor, had far less romantic recollections in his memoirs in which he recalled his dismay at the general state of dereliction, and the dusty, untidy state of the unruly collections in the house at 17 Darlinghurst Road at the end of Mitchell's life. (44)
David Scott Mitchell died at the age of seventy-one on 24 July 1907, of pernicious anaemia and general debility. He was buried under lemon-scented eucalypts in the Church of England section of the Rookwood Cemetery. Only a small group attended the graveside--a few relations, several of the Trustees of the Public Library, H. C. L. Anderson who was no longer Principal Librarian, F. M. Bladen, his successor, some members of the government and George Robertson. Premier Carruthers took the unusual step of issuing a Government Gazette Extraordinary on 25 July to commemorate:
... the decease of David Scott Mitchell Esquire M. A., an old and worthy colonist, and one of the greatest benefactors this State has known-to whose memory is due an everlasting debt of gratitude for the noble work he has undertaken in gathering together all available literature associated with Australia, and especially with New South Wales, and in making provision that the magnificent collection should, for all time, on his death, become the property of the people of his native state. (45)
The Mitchell Library was far from complete--it did not open its doors until March 1910. Before the great collections were moved from 17 Darlinghurst Road to temporary quarters, a series of photographs were taken. (46) As Bertram Stevens, another of the exclusive few permitted weekly visits, observed--the books were piled on every available surface, crowded to the ceiling in the hallways, even taking up space in Sarah Milligan's attic. Through the gloom on the walls could be glimpsed the glint of gilded frames on Mitchell's favourite Australian artworks by Martens, Briefly, Gill, and in the sitting room the large somewhat romanticised portrait by Marshall Claxton of his worldly-wise father whose eye for coal lands laid the foundations for it all.
The best contemporary accounts of Mitchell's collection are those of Arthur Jose and Bertram Stevens published in The Lone Hand in September and October 1907. (48) These give detailed descriptions of the range of his interests and add substantially to Fred Wymark's anecdotal reminiscences.
What occurred next after his death--the enormous task of removing the fabled collection from every corner, nook and cranny of 17 Darlinghurst Road--has affected generations of librarians working in the Mitchell right up to the present day and will continue to do so for years to come.
Number 17 Darlinghurst Road was far from well maintained, being damp and requiring considerable repairs. The collection, aptly described as a 'fortress of books', needed to be removed post-haste, so it was hurriedly packed into damp-proof boxes, loaded onto drays and transported down William Street to the vaults of the Bank of Australasia in George Street until the new Mitchell Wing stacks were ready for occupation.
As reported in the 1909 Annual Report of the Public Library, the final move to the collection's new home was completed by 1 April 1908. The critical point as far as posterity goes is that there was no inventory of the contents made at the time the collection was moved and Mitchell had maintained no catalogue lists of his collection since Australiana had become his obsession in the 1880s and it had grown exponentially. Mitchell's pictures, a very small component of the whole collection, comprising some several hundred items, were described in a basic inventory before being temporarily housed at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. (49)
The Mitchell Library was officially opened on 8 March 1910 by Lord Chelmsford, Governor of New South Wales. In a speech we could do well to remember today, he spoke of the need to care for the collection by those who were (and would be) the custodians and in the use of it by the readers for their research:
As I have pleaded for reverence in the valuing of this library, so I would plead for reverence in using it ... And may I hope that those who are going to mine this quarry will do so in the scientific search of truth ... I believe that ninety-nine out of a hundred of us who go into a library go there not to find out what is the truth, but to find out something that is going to support our preconceived ideas and notions. In this matter we must be students in the school of science ... [to] pursue truth regardless of prepossessions, and regardless of established theories. (50)
After the opening of the Mitchell Library and the installation of the collection in its new home, additions were soon acquired. These were incorporated into the Dewey Decimal System sequences of arrangement without any catalogue annotations to distinguish DSM and non-DSM items. The original DSM items were therefore merged with the new acquisitions, and the ability to identify his original collection as a whole soon lost.
If we fast-forward almost a century, to mid-2002, ignoring all the dramas and stories of the years in between, with the centenary of Mitchell's death and his bequest in mind, a four-year project was proposed to the State Library Executive and approved by the Library Council of New South Wales, with funding provided by the State Library Foundation. (51) The stated aim was to identify, provide electronic bibliographic records and appropriate preservation of the material contained in the Bequest of David Scott Mitchell, the terms of which were described in his last will and testament dated 14 February 1901, with a codicil of 30 October 1905 (52)
The initial task was to agree upon an irrefutable way of identifying DSM collection items. His bookplate pasted onto the front endpapers of many volumes at first seemed a clear indication of his ownership. But it was not so, as the bookplate had also been affixed to some of the early additions after the opening of the Mitchell Library. In the end, there was only one possibility for printed and manuscript volumes--to work along every shelf, checking in every volume for the only definite proof of possession--the firm, clear signature usually inscribed in the top right comer of one of the preliminary pages or the title page of every volume he had ever owned.
The question was then how to find suitable people to undertake this gargantuan and extremely time-consuming task. As so often in the Library's recent history, our wonderful volunteers stepped in, and a small but dedicated team were recruited and trained in identification and handling techniques. They quickly formed an enthusiastic band researching and locating further information about the elusive character at the heart of it all. In order to be able to gather the whole collection together, virtually through the database or in reality should that later be decided upon, we have given a collective form entry to each item and amended the call numbers with the prefix 'DSM'.
To catalogue the items once they had been identified, a new team drawn from our experienced staff was established, with replacement for those removed wherever possible. The process did not stop there, because every volume required some type of preservation treatment. To this end, an entire new book conservation laboratory was set up in the Collection Preservation Branch. To protect and identify physically the DSM books, each is fitted with a clear mylar external jacket. So those of you who use the Mitchell Library will know immediately when you have requested an item from DSM's collection by its protective cover.
If the volume requires further repair, it is classified as 'Tier 2' or the top level, 'Tier 3'. For all but the most significant Tier 3 titles, our funds do not cover full conservation treatment, but we thought it important to be able to return to these should we receive further benefactions or donations to allow this to occur. So, how have we progressed as the centenary anniversary of DSM's death and bequest draws ever closer?
There has been over thirty thousand printed volumes identified thus far, and almost twenty-five thousand titles catalogued. It has come as a surprise to all of us that a high percentage, over 30 per cent, are titles which exist nowhere else in Australia on the National Bibliographic Database and are therefore new additions to this great resource. The number of printed volumes treated in the Mitchell Bequest Preservation Laboratory is almost equal to that catalogued. For those of you who like figures, it is estimated that the cost of cataloguing to the high level required is an average of $38.00 per title, so this is not a small undertaking financially.
Due to the haste with which the original collection was removed from Darlinghurst Road, it appears more than likely that the total number of items given as sixty thousand in the 1911 Annual Report of the Public Library is an overestimate. Our volunteers have now tracked through over two-thirds of the shelves, but we will rest our case until the entire holdings of the Mitchell Library have been trawled through.
The counts of pictorial material (including framed paintings, watercolours, prints and drawings, both separate and in albums and portfolios, miniatures, photographs), the maps and the manuscript items have proved more consistent in matching with the original figures--partly because of the lesser quantities and partly because there was, at least for the pictures, an inventory of part of the collection.
Mitchell's coins, medals, tokens, stamps and bookplates have been harder to reconcile, again for the lack of an original inventory and the intermingling with later additions. Like many of his later acquisitions, in 1899 Mitchell purchased an extant collection of coins, medals and tokens formed by the anthropologist Walter Edmund Roth. A major portion of the Mitchell numismatic collection was quietly transferred to the Australian Museum between 1935 and 1937 in exchange for items from the great James Cook collection acquired in 1887 by Sir Saul Samuel. The collection was later transferred to the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in 1961. (53)
The Mitchell Bequest Project is far from over, though we are well aware of our deadline looming in 2007. The hunt, and the work, will continue.
For someone whose name has become world-famous, David Scott Mitchell as a person is remarkably elusive, with most of the details of his life and personality relying only on anecdotal evidence. It is impossible to escape the conclusion that this is exactly as he wanted it, and that he would have concurred with the famous tribute to Christopher Wren in St. Paul's Cathedral, London: 'si monumentum requiris, circumspice'--if you seek a monument, look around you', as was remarked by Joseph Carruthers at the laying of the commemoration stone of the Mitchell Library. (54) That Mitchell was more than capable of defining precise details is obvious when studying his last will and testament in which, with admirable clarity and perspicacity, he defined the future in perpetuity for his collection of Australiana:
... I give and bequeath to the Trustees of the Public Library of New South Wales all my books, pictures, engravings, coins, tokens, medals and manuscripts ... upon the trust and condition that the same shall be called and known as 'The Mitchell Library' and shall be permanently arranged and kept for use in a special wing or set of rooms dedicated for that purpose ... so that the Mitchell Library may be permanently kept separately from and so as to avoid intermixture at any time with other books and collections and ... that the said Mitchell Library shall be managed and conducted in all respects according to the rules for the time being in force in the British Museum so are as the same are or may be applicable to this bequest ... (55)
We who are the present-day custodians of the Mitchell Library, and therefore part of the long continuum extending from 1910 into the future, should always be mindful of these clear and precise words which are as true now as when they were first written.
State Library of New South Wales
(1) G.D. Richardson, 'The instruction and good of his country: Sir John Ferguson, libraries and the historical record', Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. 62, part 2, 1976, pp. 75-90.
(2) George Gordon, Lord Byron, Don Juan, XIV, ci.
(3) Elizabeth Guildford, 'Mitchell, James', Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, Melbourne, 1967, pp. 235-8.
(4) James Broadbent, The Australian colonial house: architecture and society in New South Wales, 1788-1842, Sydney, 1997, pp. 269-74.
(5) The best images of Cumberland Place (the house and the view) at the time it was purchased by Mrs Scott are two watercolours by Charles Rodius, painted in 1831. (ML ref. SSV*/SpColl/Rodius 1 & 14). For a photograph of the house just prior to its demolition, see ML ref. PXA 679, no, 617.
(6) E. J. Merewether, 'David Scott Mitchell's wherewithal: parts one and two', Volunteers' Voices, State Library of NSW, August & December 2002.
(7) The most comprehensive account of David Scott Mitchell's life to date is in Treasures of the State Library of New South Wales: the Australiana collections, by Anne Robertson, Sydney, 1988, ch. 1: 'David Scott Mitchell: a passion for collecting'.
(8) Daniel Defoe, The life and adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Edinburgh, 1837. ML ref. DSM 823.5/D314/3K1. Inscribed on front endpaper: 'To D. S. Mitchell from J. Mitchell 19th March 1843'.
(9) Bertram Stevens, 'The Mitchell Library', The Lone Hand, 1 October 1907, p. 581.
(10) Extract from University of Sydney minutes, 4 September 1854. Typescript copy, ML ref. ML DOC 2513.
(11) Portrait of David Scott Mitchell, November 1870. Carte-de-visite photograph taken by B. C. Boake, Sydney. ML ref. PXA 1009/3.
(12) See Rose Scott: vision and revision in feminism, by Judith A. Allen, Melbourne, 1994, chapters 1 & 2. For a portrait of Rose Scott at this time (1864), see the carte-de-visite photograph taken by Croft Brothers, Sydney, ML ref. PXA 1009/7.
(13) Letter from D. S. Mitchell to Rose Scott, 9 July 1865, Papers of Rose Scott, ML ref. A1437, pp. 25-28.
(14) Mitchell to Scott, 13 April 1865, pp. 21-24.
(15) Letter from Sir John Young to Mrs James Mitchell, 9 August 1869, Papers of Dr J. Mitchell, ML ref. A2026, pp. 295-98.
(16) Mitchell, D. S. Poems. Manuscript. ML ref. B1552.
(17) Letter from D. S. Mitchell to Rose Scott, undated, Papers of Rose Scott, ML ref. A1437, p. 273b. The contents imply that relations between the cousins were complex. Mitchell wrote: 'I have already told you, and I now repeat it, that in all human probability I shall never ask anyone to share my lot ... I have never told you I cared for you, I have never asked if you cared for me, I have never intentionally done anything to make you do so ... I could not understand, nor can I now, what there is to tell your parents. We are not engaged. You are as free as the air'.
(18) Wallace Kirsop, Books for colonial readers: the nineteenth-century Australian experience, Bibliographical Centre of Australia and New Zealand in association with the Centre for Bibliographical and Textual Studies, Melbourne, 1995, pp. 14, 17-18. I am most indebted to Wallace Kirsop for informing me of this reference, and that at fn 23.
(19) Merewether, 'David Scott Mitchell's wherewithal: part two', p. 5.
(21) E. J. Merewether, 'Sites of David Scott Mitchell's residences'. Unpublished manuscript, c. 1990-91. ML ref. PXA 902/1-14.
(22) Last will and testament of David Scott Mitchell. Typescript, p. 1. ML ref. Safe 3/20a.
(23) G. D. Richardson, 'David Scott Mitchell: The T. D. Mutch Memorial Lecture 1961', Descent, vol. 1, no. 2, 1961.
(23) See D. S. Mitchell Papers, ML ref. A1461, pp. 368-9, for typescript memorandum dated 20 February 1924 by W. H. Ifould: '... on 8 November 1923, Miss Rose Scott wrote objecting to the repetition of stories relating to the founder of the Mitchell Library, and particularly to the statement that David Scott Mitchell withdrew from the society of his fellow men owing to an early love affair which went awry ...'.
(24) Frederick Wymark, 'David Scott Mitchell', 1939, [introduction]. Typescript. ML ref. Am121/l, p. 4.
(25) D. S. Mitchell, Catalogues of books in his collection. Manuscript, ML refs: C368-71; C394.
(26) Wallace Kirsop, Australian journal of French studies, vol. VI, 1969, p. 341, fn. 21; vol. XX, 1983, p. 254; vol. XXX, 1993, p. 149.
(27) Richardson, David Scott Mitchell, p. 8.
(28) Wymark, David Scott Mitchell, p. 6.
(29) Frederick Wymark, quoted in Old books, old friends, old Sydney, by J.R. Tyrrell, Sydney, Angus & Robertson, 1952, p. 83.
(30) Bertram Stevens, 'David Scott Mitchell', 1919. Manuscript. ML ref. C373, p. 34.
(31) H.C.L. Anderson, 'David Scott Mitchell: some reminiscences', 1920. Typescript. ML ref. A1830, p. 48.
(32) Wymark, David Scott Mitchell, p. 5.
(33) Portraits of David Scott Mitchell, 1893, Etchings by Lionel Lindsay after sketches by Walter Syer. ML ref. DLPX 131/39.
(34) Anderson, David Scott Mitchell, p. 48.
(35) Wymark, David Scott Mitchell, p. 19.
(36) Wymark, David Scott Mitchell, pp. 14-18.
(37) ML ref. DSM 616.39/T
(38) Anderson, David Scott Mitchell, p. 2.
(39) For a comprehensive selection of press reports on the Select Committee, see Mitchell Library Press Cuttings, vol. 1. ML ref. Q027.5/M.
(40) George Robertson, quoted in Tyrrell, Old books, old friends, old Sydney, p. 146.
(41) New South Wales Parliament, Standing Committee on Public Works, Report ... with minutes of evidence relating to the proposed Mitchell Library ... Sydney, 1905.
(42) The mallet and silver trowel presented to the Premier on the occasion of the laying the foundation plaque, 11 September 1906 are in the Mitchell Library collections, ML ref: R 915. The plaque was removed at the time of the Public Library extensions from its original position under the north-west window of the Mitchell Wing to the Macquarie Street frontage above the Mitchell memorial window.
(43) Wymark, David Scott Mitchell, Introduction, pp. 3-4; p. 3.
(44) Ann Macintosh, ed., Memoirs of Dr Robert Scot Skirving 1859-1956, Sydney, 1988, pp. 258-60.
(45) See Mitchell Library Press Cuttings, vol. 2, p. 18. ML ref. Q027.5/M. Also New South Wales Government Gazette Extraordinary, no. 88, 25 July 1907.
(46) David Scott Mitchell--selection of photographs of his residence at 17 Darlinghurst Road, 1907. ML ref. SVl/Res/Mit/1,6,7; V1/Res/Mit/la, 6b, 7a, 9a.
(47) Bertram Stevens, 'David Scott Mitchell', ML ref. C373, p. 3.
(48) Bertram Stevens, see fn 9, Arthur W. Jose, 'David Scott Mitchell', The Lone Hand, 2 September 1907, pp. 465-70.
(49) Lists of pictorial material bequeathed by David Scott Mitchell and deposited for safe-keeping with the National Gallery of NSW. Typescript, 1 October 1907-25 June 1908. ML ref. ML MSS 4344.
(50) Lord Chelmsford, Speech at the opening of the Mitchell Library, Sydney, 8 March 1910, quoted in Well may we say ... speeches that made Australia, ed. Sally Warhaft, Melbourne, c. 2004.
(51) Mitchell Bequest Project, State Library of New South Wales Executive Papers, 4 June 2002, agenda item 6 (File no. 4510).
(52) The Mitchell will: extracts relevant to the Library. Typescript, ML ref. Q027.5/21A1.
(53) Australian Museum Archives: series 235, central correspondence files: D299-Cook relics. Also INST 69/305 Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences (items 20-26). Also ML correspondence files, out letter, 4 November 1935 (1035).
(54) Joseph Carruthers, Address by the Premier, quoted in F. M. Bladen, Historical notes: the origin and development of the Public Library of New South Wales, 1826-1906, Sydney, 1906, p. 82.
(55) Last will and testament of David Scott Mitchell.
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|Title Annotation:||Royal Australian Historical Society|
|Publication:||Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2006|
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