Reimagining the Collection for Library and Information Week 2022

by Shannon Robinson, Queensland Museum Librarian

Rewrite. Renew. Reimagine. This is the theme of 2022’s Library and Information Week #LIW2022, to not only celebrate Australian libraries and the stories their collections hold but to also consider the opportunities for re-telling and re-interpretation.

What better place to find a collection full of material primed for this theme than the Queensland Museum Library? Our library holds items that allow our curators, scientists, and researchers to review and re-examine. Considering our oldest book is from 1554, there’s eons of published and unpublished items that can offer alternate narratives and unexpected information.

In honour of this theme here are just a few that have caught our attention.

Here ye, here ye

There’s Turpin’s London Cries[1]from 1797, a printing of the words to town cries, such as ‘Hot Cross Buns’. It’s just under 10cm in height, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.

Cover of Turpin’s London Cries. Source: Queensland Museum Library

But the story waiting to be told starts with the inside front cover. There are three ink signatures on the first few pages. “Sarah Thorpe 31st January 1797”, “Ann Thorpe 20 January ‘97” and “Mary Ann Pindar(?)” Ann has claimed it first looking at the dates. We’re left to wonder if Mary Ann, who has had a different surname, is the daughter of Sarah or Mary Ann. There’s also the unknown history of how this tiny book travelled from London in 1797 to Brisbane in 1924, the year it was registered in the library collection.

Ink signatures inside Turpin’s London Cries.
Source: Queensland Museum Library

The feathers

The Queensland Museum Library also has unpublished manuscripts in the rare book collection, some of which are handwritten diaries. One of these is a journal circa 1890, belonging to Captain Samuel Gilling (A.U.S.N), in which he lists birds and eggs and the dates seen. It’s also accompanied by a letter from his sister to him alongside a chart of British nesting birds, correspondence and newspaper clipping. A lovely surprise in the journal is on page 76, where Gilling has placed 2 small feathers.

Captain Sam Gilling’s journal, letters and ephemera. Source: Queensland Museum Library

We know that Gilling was born in 1874 near Manchester and would’ve been in his late teens when he wrote the journal. It was in the late 1890s that he began his mariner apprenticeship, eventually sailing to Australia in 1902 to undertake posts on inter-state steamers [2]. The letters from his sister, who addresses him as “Dear old Sam”, are after 1902, so it’s a curious mix of material that ended up together and made its way to the museum library.

A new dish…

Working with old books, especially ones that were heavily utilised as reference books, means you’ll come across handwritten annotations in margins and blank pages. The published narrative is ever evolving. The funniest example so far is within the 1898 Townsville publication Mrs. Maclurcan’s cookery book : a collection of practical recipes specially suitable for Australia[3]. Hannah Maclurcan’s book extended to household tips, including how to manage insects in the cupboard. This page, coincidentally (or not?), has a squished fly, left in the book with the annotation “A new dish, Squashed Fly”

Mrs. Maclurcan’s cookery book “Squashed fly”. Source: Queensland Museum Library

All images courtesy of the Queensland Museum Library.

[1] Turpin, H. Turpin’s London cries : calculated to entertain both old and young ; embellish’d with variety of cults neatly engraved with a description of each subject. Printed for H.Turpin, London.

[2] Clayton, M. “The Ancient Mariner”, The Great Circle, vol. 38(2), pp.26-37.

[3] Maclurcan, Hannah. Mrs. Maclurcan’s cookery book : a collection of practical recipes specially suitable for Australia (2nd ed.). J.Willmett & Sons, Townsville, 1898.