In a collection such as the Library of the Launceston Mechanics' Institute, formed by and for its community, there will invariably be found many books with interesting and significant connections.
An early edition (1) of Fingal, an ancient and epic poem. In six books: together with several other poems, composed by Ossian the son of Fingal. Translated from the Gallic language, by James Macpherson is just such an example.
A handwritten note on the title page indicates that the book was originally gifted by Hector McNeil to Robert Ross in 1762.
However our attention was drawn to a later inscription on the front free endpapers of this volume, in the form of a letter;
Ossian's PoemsThese volumes are presented to Mr. John De Little, as a token of respect and admiration of that truly powerful parental affection for the welfare of his children, which separates him from those friends and relations with whom he has lived and had amiable relations for nearly a quarter of a century. The best criterion of their estimation being in their tears, and assertions of there goes "A truly honest man".Should he enjoy a momentary pleasure, in perusing them It will more than compensate his (shall he name himself friend? And admirer ---Bryan O'Reilly139 Mecklinburgh StreetDublinIrelandJune 23rd, 1830
For many months we were unable to decipher the surname of the presentee, and it was only through the inspired work of FOLMI member Sue McClarron, that the name De Little was recognised and the question of how the book found its way into our collection could be resolved.
The date of Mr O'Reilly's letter is the key, because it was on June 26, 1830, that John De Little and his family left Ireland on the Cleopatra, bound for Van Diemen's Land, where Mr De Little was to take up the position of Superintendent of the Government Farm at New Town.
John De Little died just four years after his arrival in Hobart. Two of his sons, Robert and Joseph, had relocated to Launceston and were later joined there by John's widow. Robert and Joseph were important figures in the development of Launceston, and were connected with the design and construction of many of the City's buildings.
Both men served on the Board of Management of the Launceston Mechanics' Institute. Robert was Vice-President of the Institute from 1859-60, and donated one hundred pounds towards to cost of the Institute's new building. In 1861 he donated twenty volumes to the Institute's library collection, although the Ossian poems do not appear to have been among these.
It is more likely that this 12vo volume, rebound in brown calf with the binder's title Erse Poems, Vol I in gold on a red ground, was preserved among the De Little family for many more years, and found its way into the Institute in the twentieth century.
In publishing this first Irish edition of Ossian's poems, Richard Fitzsimons, a Dublin bookseller, participated in a literary sensation which lasted for more than a century, was an important marker in the genesis of the Romantic movement, and provoked a controversy which has exercised the minds of scholars to this day.
For the De Little family no doubt it was a treasured memento of the land John De Little had left, as Brian O'Reilly wrote "for the welfare of his children".
(1) Dublin: Printed for Richard Fitzsimmons in High Street, 1762. See the National Library of Scotland's Ossian Collection, Item 53 for this edition.