Contributed by Catherine Pearce
In 1857 my great grandfather John Joyce donated a modest sum of money to the Launceston Mechanics’ Institute building fund. Much later he became a member of its Board of Management. The son of a convict, he rose from humble origins to become a prosperous butcher and prominent citizen. His support of the Mechanics’ Institute signalled that he and his family had shrugged off the stain of convictism, that they were both affluent and respectable. Likewise, the new Mechanics Institute building would demonstrate that Launceston was civilised and cultured, that it was leaving its dubious past behind.
As the great granddaughter of a man who supported the Institute at its inception, and as a librarian myself, I feel very sad that the old Institute building, the product of a community fund-raising effort described as “one of the great achievements in Australian regional history”(1), was demolished in the 1970s. The collection is all that remains, a testament to the pride and hard work of a pioneer community.
|From an exhibition organised by Catherine Pearce in 2012 to celebrate the 170th anniversary of the Institute|
I can just recall visiting the old Institute building, by then the Launceston Public Library, as a very small child in the 1960s. We lived on a farm at Winkleigh. My father was a great reader, so the family’s weekly visit to Launceston often included a trip to the library. I remember standing by a towering wooden counter above which I could just see the top of the Librarian’s head as she stamped our books. I don’t recall my father’s choices, perhaps war stories or something by Wyndham or Asimov. I was a fairy tale addict. I remain an avid reader to this day.
|An earlier (1928) view of the library counter from a photograph by Charles Burrows|
(1) Stefan Petrow, Going to the Mechanics: a history of the Launceston Mechanics’ Institute, 1842-1914, Historical Survey of Northern Tasmania, 1998, p.34