WARRNAMBOOL MECHANICS’ INSTITUTE
Warrnambool's Mechanics' Institute (or Institution as it was sometimes called) was one of the earliest in Victoria. On 17th October 1853, a meeting was held where it was resolved to request the Lieutenant Governor of the Colony to grant land for the erection of a Mechanics' Institutes building. A committee was formed at the meeting and Richard Osburne chaired the first meeting of this committee. The land on the North West corner of Banyan and Merri Streets was granted but there were no funds to erect the building. The Formal Rights of the Warrnambool Mechanics' Institute's encompassed its aims and these were officially adopted in1859;
"This Institution has for its object the diffusion of literary, scientific, and other useful knowledge amongst its members, excluding all controversial subjects, religious or political. These objects are sought to be obtained by means of a circulating library, a reading room, the establishment of classes, debates, and the occasional delivery of lectures on natural and experimental philosophy, mechanics, astronomy, chemistry, natural history, literature, and the useful and ornamental arts, particularly those which have a more immediate reference to the colony."
The Warrnambool Mechanics' Institute opened its first reading room in November 1884 in the National School building at the corner of Banyan and Timor Streets. The Institute was funded by member subscription, payable on a quarterly, half-yearly or yearly basis.
Samuel Hannaford, the Manager of the Warrnambool Bank of Australasia, was the first Honorary Secretary of the Mechanics' Institutes, and an early President and Vice-President. He also gave several of the early lectures in the Reading Room. Another early Secretary, Librarian and lecturer was Marmaduke Fisher, the teacher at the National School. Lecture topics included The Poets and Poetry of Ireland', 'The Birth and Development of the Earth', 'The Vertebrae - with Remarks on the pleasures resulting from the study of Natural History' and 'Architecture'.
In 1856 the Reading Room was moved to James Hider's shop in Timor Street, and by 1864 it was located in the bookshop of Davies and Read.
In the 1860's the Mechanics' Institute struggled as membership waned but in 1866, after a series of fundraising efforts, the committee was able to purchase land in Liebig Street, on a site then called Market Square, between the weighbridge and the fire station. A Mechanics' Institute building was opened at this site in August 1871. The following year four more rooms were added to the main Reading Room and in 1873 the Artisan School of Design was incorporated into the Institute.
The same year Joseph Archibald established a Museum; however, it deteriorated when he was transferred to Bendigo in 1877. In 1880, with Archibald's return to Warrnambool, the Museum was re-established, and in 1885 a new building was built at the back of the Institute to accommodate the re-created School of Design, the Art Gallery and the Museum.
In 1887 the Museum section was moved to the former courthouse in Timor Street (for some time the walls of the building formed part of the TAFE cafeteria but all is now demolished)).
In 1911 the Museum was transferred back to the original building and the management of the Mechanics' Institute was handed over to the Warrnambool City Council. The Museum and Art Gallery became one and housed many fine works of art, and the Library continued to grow. The building was well patronised, with records showing that at the beginning of the 20th century there were between 500 and 800 visitors. During World War One the monthly figures were in the thousands, with 3,400 people visiting in January 1915.
The Museum was a much - loved Institution in Warrnambool until the contents of the Museum and Art Gallery were removed to make room for the Warrnambool City Council Engineers' Department. The contents were stored but many of the items were scattered or lost.
When the original building was demolished the site became occupied by the Civic Centre, which included the new City Library. (The library was temporarily located in the old Palais building in Koroit Street.)
In the process of reorganisation the Collection was distributed amongst the community groups:
-The new City Library took some of the historical books and some important documents, historic photographs and newspapers.
-The Art Gallery kept the 19th Century art collection and some of the artefacts from the museum.
-The Historical Society has some items
-The State Museum has some items
-Some items were destroyed
-Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village has old newspapers, Government Gazettes, most of the Mechanics' Institute Library, ledgers and documents connected to the Mechanics' Institute Library, some framed and unframed artworks and some photographs.
The Warrnambool Mechanics' Institute Library book collection is deemed to be of great importance because it is one of the few collections in an almost intact state, and many of the books are now very rare and of great value.
WARRNAMBOOL PUBLIC LIBRARY
The Warrnambool Mechanics’ Institute (WMI) was formed by a voluntary community group in 1863, within six years of Warrnambool’s beginnings, and its Reading Room opened in 1854. The WMI operated until 1963, at which time it was one of the oldest Mechanics’ Institutes in Victoria.
Mechanics’ Institutes offered important services to the public including libraries, reading rooms and places to display and store collections of all sorts such as curiosities and local historical relics. In 1886 a Museum and Fine Arts Gallery were added to the WMI and by the beginning of the 20th century, there was also a billiards room and a School of Art. By this time all Mechanics’ Institutes in country Victoria had museums attached.
Over the years the Warrnambool Mechanics’ Institute Library was also known as the Warrnambool Public Library the Warrnambool Library and the Free Library. Early funding from the government was for the “Free Library”. The inscription in a book “Science of Man” was for the “Warrnambool Public Library”, donated by Joseph Archibald in 1899. Another inscription in the book “Catalogue of Plants Under Cultivation in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens 1 & 2, 1883” was presented to the “Warrnambool Library” and signed by the author W.R. Guilfoyle.
In 1903 the Warrnambool Public Library decided to add a Juvenile Department to library and stock it with hundreds of books suitable for youth. In 1905 the Public Library committee decided to update the collection of books and added 100 new novels plus arrangements for the latest novels to be included as soon as they were available in Victoria.
In July 1911 the Warrnambool Council took over the management of the Public Library, Art Gallery, Museum and Mechanics’ Institute and planned to double the size of the then-current building.
In 1953, when Mr R. Pattison was Public Librarian, the Warrnambool Public Library’s senior section 10,000 of the 13,000 books were fiction. The children’s section offered an additional 3,400 books. The library had the equivalent of one book per head of population and served around 33 per cent of the reading population. The collection of books was made up of around 60 per cent reference and 40 per cent fiction. The library was lending 400 books per day.
In 1963 the Warrnambool City Council allocated the site of the Mechanics’ Institute building, which included the Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery, for the new Municipal Offices and the Collections were dispersed until 1971. The Warrnambool Library took over the Mechanics’ Institute Library’s holdings on behalf of the Warrnambool City Council.
Since the closure of the Warrnambool Mechanics’ Institute the exact location and composition of the original WMI books and items have become unclear. Other materials have been added to the collection, including items from Terang MI, Warrnambool Court House and Customs House.
Many of the books have been identified as the Pattison Collection, named after the Librarian who catalogued and numbered the books during his time as Warrnambool Public Librarian in the time before the Mechanics’ Institute closed.
It seems that when Warrnambool became part of the Corangamite Regional Library some of the books and materials went to its head office in Colac and then back to Warrnambool where they were stored at the Art Gallery for quite some time. Some then went to the Warrnambool Historical Society, some stayed at the Art Gallery and some were moved to Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village. The various stamps and labels on the books held at Flagstaff Hill show the variety of the collection’s distribution and origin.
The books in the collection at Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village date from the 1850s to the late 1950s and include rare and valuable volumes. Many of the books are part of the “Pattison Collection” after the Warrnambool’s Public Librarian, Mr R. Pattison.
The Pattison Collection, along with other items at Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village, was originally part of the Warrnambool Mechanics' Institute’s collection.
The Warrnambool Mechanics’ Institute Collection is primarily significant in its totality, rather than for the individual objects it contains. Its contents are highly representative of the development of Mechanics' Institute libraries across Australia, particularly Victoria. A diversity of publications and themes has been amassed, and these provide clues to our understanding of the nature of and changes in the reading habits of Victorians from the 1850s to the middle of the 20th century. The collection also highlights the Warrnambool community’s commitment to the Mechanics’ Institute, reading, literacy and learning in the regions, and proves that access to knowledge was not impeded by distance. These items help to provide a more complete picture of our community’s ideals and aspirations.
The Warrnambool Mechanics Institute book collection has historical and social significance for its strong association with the Mechanics Institute movement and the important role it played in the intellectual, cultural and social development of people throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. The collection of books is a rare example of an early lending library and its significance is enhanced by the survival of an original collection of many volumes.
The Warrnambool Mechanics' Institute’s publication collection is of both local and state significance.
The Australian Race Vol 4
Author: Edward M Curr
Publisher: Government Printer Melbourne
Further Information: Map in pocket at the back of vol
Paste down front end paper has a sticker from Warrnambool Mechanics Institute and Free Library.
Front loose endpaper has a stamp from Warrnambool Public Museum.
Flyleaf has a stamp from Warrnambool Public Museum.
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