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Page history last edited by Lenore Frost 3 years, 7 months ago

Time Travellers in Essendon, Flemington and the Keilor Plains



Early Libraries in Essendon and Flemington. Part 3


by Lenore Frost



Sarah Windsor 

Image courtesy of Pixabay.


Flemington and Kensington Free Library and Mechanics Institute 1883


When  the separation of the Borough of Essendon and Flemington occurred in 1882, the new Flemington and Kensington Borough Council obtained rooms on the eastern side of Racecourse Road, close to the Newmarket Hotel.[65]


Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works detail plan. 845, Borough of Flemington & Kensington, 1900. The Flemington and Kensington Free Library and Mechanics' Institute was probably co-located with the Council. 

Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria Collection.


At the Council meeting held on 12 December 1882 it was moved by Barrett and seconded by Cr Walker that Councillors Debney and Jones be elected as Council Trustees for the Free Library, and that Messrs Shackery, F J Melville and Roth be the three members of the Committee.[65.1]


A meeting of a committee formed to introduce a Free Library in the Borough of Flemington and Kensington was reported in the North Melbourne Advertiser on 26 January 1883.  The President was T S Marshall,  head teacher of the Kensington State School from 1881 to 1894.


“In confirming the minutes of the last meeting reference was made to the clause touching upon the present committee, agreeing to provide 100 volumes previous to the removal of the old library. The President gave five volumes of Chamber's papers for the people, and promises to the number of about seventy additional volumes were made”.[66] 


The 'old library' was most likely the Flemington Institute which formed in 1863 and closed in 1872.   We note from this report that the foundation of the library was to be donations. 


Marshall’s donation of Chambers's Papers for the People had been published in several volumes in the 1850s by Scottish brothers Robert and William Chambers, who were influential in scientific and political circles. Each volume contained several essays on a variety of topics.  Volume 2, for instance, had an article on ‘Mechanics’ Institutes’, as well as ‘Arctic Explorations’, and ‘Recent Discoveries in Astronomy’.[67]  Let it be noted that a twenty-year-old set of essays was not considered out of date.  ‘Tried and true’ was to be the watchword.


With the library having been supported by Council, it was most likely co-located with the Council at their chambers.  Subsequent events appear to confirm this supposition.


It was reported in March 1883 that ‘The library will be open every Wednesday, from 7 till 10 p.m. and the committee will be pleased to see the public to whom the rooms are open free of charge. The shelves contain between three and four hundred well selected volumes, and the latest papers and periodicals are on the tables for the inspection of all.’  A large number of residents attended the informal opening, with the formal opening to take place at a later date.[68]


In April 1883 it was further remarked in the North Melbourne Advertiser that ‘The public can at any hour visit the rooms, and read the daily and weekly papers’.[69]  The implication of these two reports is that a Reading Room was available for the daily newspapers and magazines, but the books were accessible only on Wednesday evenings, presided over by committee members.  It is likely that the free reading room for newspapers was overseen by the Town Clerk. 


Subscriptions were to be 2s for gentlemen and 1s 6d for ladies, though the period for which this applied was not specified.  Most likely, as a later report indicates, it was quarterly.[70]


The official opening of the library took place in June 1883, with T S Marshall in the chair and special guests, Members of the Legislative Assembly, Alfred Deakin, Samuel Staughton and Dr James Rose.  Deakin made some remarks to the meeting, giving expression to a widely held contempt for ‘trashy novels’.   He was pleased to find in the library so many standard and celebrated works’ and encouraged young men to develop a taste for high class literature.


“The president (Mr Marshall) who occupied the chair, stated that the Free Library was first opened on 28th February last, since which the number of admissions had been 328, the contributions £11 17s 6d, volumes donated by committee 141, and the number of volumes at present in the Library were 528. The Library was open to the public at least one evening in each week between the hours of seven and ten, during which time they had the right to the use of papers and books, etc”.


The visitor numbers represent an average of 31 visitors a week.


‘Mr. Deakin, who was received with cheers, said that he felt proud to attend for the noble purpose of opening the library, which he felt sure would be most beneficial to the people of the district, who he hoped would use their utmost endeavors in promoting the interests of the grand institution they were now about to establish. He earnestly approved of libraries, and hoped that the present one would be a success. Free libraries were the means of making the poorest portion of a population intellectual, because they could obtain knowledge without paying for it. He, however, thought that in the colony there was too great a tendency to devour unwholesome light trashy reading. This was to be lamented, and he hoped that the young members of the new library would partly ignore light reading, and endeavor to wrestle with the more instructive and useful literature, which, although sometimes ponderous, would be in the end the most profitable and pleasing. He heartily wished prosperity to the movement, and expressed his intention of donating to the library 12 volumes of some useful English works’.[71]


Many supporters of public libraries at this time deplored the sight of feckless youths hanging about the streets, and thought they would be better employed attending a library – but regrettably the feckless youths when they did go to the library often caused a nuisance to the other patrons.


The path of the new library, however, was strewn with more serious difficulties. In August 1884 a ratepayer wrote to the North Melbourne Advertiser complaining about the fact that the library had been closed for over six months,[72] presumably since February 1884.  On 12 February the following year a meeting of the Committee was held to try and resolve the problems.  The Committee had incurred debts which were unable to be paid chiefly through the defalcations or the late town clerk (W. C. Hawkins)’.[73] The delay in sorting out the affairs of the library may have been caused by awaiting the trial of W C Hawkins, who was found guilty and sentenced to three years’ gaol.[74]


But defalcation was not the only fault of Mr Hawkins.  Marshall commented that he was sorry to say that “when Mr. Hawkins was secretary the library was principally attended by a lot of boys who seemed to take a delight in smoking, spitting about the place, jumping over the forms and generally making themselves a nuisance.” Further,  “It was unanimously decided to wait on the directors of the New Hall, to ask permission to use a portion of the building as a library and reading room”.[75] 


The directors of the New Hall, however, were reluctant to provide the space for free, and asked for a nominal rent to be paid.  A suitable rent was not agreed upon, so the library for the time being remained in the Council Chambers.   Subscriptions would cost 2 shillings and sixpence per quarter, a sixpenny rise on the previously fixed subscription. It was pointed out that someone should be in attendance at the library to see that proper order was maintained ..... and it was suggested that each member of the committee should take it in turn”.  The library was to re-open on 4 March 1885.[76]


A few months later the Flemington and Kensington Borough Council moved its offices to the New Hall in Racecourse Rd, opening for business there on 2 June 1885.[77]  Whether the library was at this time was actually open and using the Council Chambers is not established, but two years later, there was some definite news about the library on 30 August 1887 when it was announced at a Council meeting that a Free Library had opened. [77.1]


September 1887, there was still some doubt about opening a library at Newmarket:


Efforts are being made at Newmarket to establish a library and reading room……. Such institutions are of great advantage to any district blessed with them, and their influence on the morality and respectability of its inhabitants, weaned from the pernicious practice of street roaming at night, and even if they pass their time in the library, only in the perusal of sea-novels and the records of the deeds of North American Indians, it is time infinitely better spent than chewing cigar butts, rendering the footway loathsome, and remarking on the appearance of every unprotected female.  The selection of books is an important question, and one that needs careful consideration. It is no use cramming the shelves with works on theology and philosophy which no one will look at; and, on the other hand, a library full of works of fiction, is simply a vitiating of people's mental health with literary sweetmeats.[78]


Sea novels and stories about North American Indians might seem rather appealing to some Time Travellers, but library committees were determined to stamp out imaginative writing.  We have already looked at the list of books Edward Dale Puckle gave to the Essendon Public Library (see Part 2), which he also offered to give to the Flemington and Kensington library in 1888.  No sea novels or books about North American Indians were included.



The building marked by an arrow is New Hall in Racecourse Road, built in 1883.[79] The Borough Council moved its Chambers to this building in June 1885 and remained there until they built their own Town

Hall in 1901. Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria Collections, H90.160/859.




Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works Plan, 1898, showing the New Hall on the south side of

Racecourse Rd. Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria.


In 1891, ratepayers were again complaining about the hard-to-find library in Flemington:


“Some inquisitive ratepayers would like to know where they can find the Flemington and Kensington library - can anyone oblige? It is whispered all the books must long since have been demolished by that useful insect the moth - or the equally nimble village goat. The rising generation (in the "model" borough) evidently don't appreciate literature - prefer to stand and talk slang at street corners. The "Cup" winner is more in their line just now - sad, but true”.[80] 


It is hard to establish precisely when the Flemington Library operated and when it didn’t, but it was apparently still, or again, not operating in 1892 when the Wombat Club, a newly established social club in the district, wrote to the committee to offer the use of a room for the library.  The library committee responded quickly to the offer and met with the Wombat Club for discussions, but mutual disappointment followed.  The Wombat Club wanted 12 shillings and 6 pence per week in rent for one room, and the Library Committee wanted the Wombat Club to provide a caretaker for the books.  “Cr. Barrett said he thought that as the Council had a lot of books locked up for years, something should be done to utilise them. The position of the Club's rooms in Railway place was a good one, and if the rent was reasonable, the Council ought not to consider a few shillings in such a matter”. The matter was referred back to the Library Committee.[81]


What occurred in relation to the library between then and 1897 is unclear from lack of records, but by then Committee had become more active on the matter, and had hit upon a novel approach to filling their shelves – a Book Concert.


" A novel form of entertainment, entitled a 'book' concert was held in the New Hall, Newmarket, on Monday night. There was no charge for admission, but to secure entry every visitor was required to present a book (not of necessity new) of the value of not less than 1s. for use in the library. The concert was in aid of the Flemington and Kensington Free Library and Mechanics' Institute. A varied musical programme, in which the local liedertafel appeared, was gone through. During the evening Mr. A. Deakin, M.LA., addressed those present, and congratulated the promoters of the concert on its success.[82]



Leaflet advertising the Book Concert to be held on 7 June 1897.

Courtesy of the Community Heritage Collection, Sam Merrifield Library, LAP 375.


Alfred Deakin, Member of the Legislative Assembly for Essendon and Flemington, continued his support for the Flemington and Kensington Free Library by chairing the evening.  G W Debney was the President of the library and William Cattanach the Honorary Secretary.  There are no reports on the books donated on this occasion, but perhaps a few of the patrons mischievously brought along some sea-novels or romances to enliven the collection.


The fundraiser held the following year may have been a form of commentary on the Book Concert – they held a Cinderella Dance at the New Hall. No further Book Concerts have been noted.[83]


A further  concerted effort at fundraising was held in November 1897 in the form of a Grand Moonlight Concert, held in the Racecourse Reserve, featuring the Victorian Railways Military Band and the Flemington and Kensington Liedertafel.  It was promised that the grounds would be beautifully illuminated with fairy lamps, so well worth the sixpence entry price for adults, and threepence for children.


A leaflet advertising a Grand Moonlight Concert in aid of the Flemington and Kensington

Library, 1897.  The grounds were to be illuminated by fairy lamps. Courtesy of the 

Community Heritage Collection, Sam Merrifield Library


The foundation stone of the new Flemington and Kensington Town Hall having been laid in Bellair St, Kensington in March 1901,[84] the building was occupied before the end of the year.  A library was intended for inclusion in the building, and presumably the library, possibly now operating at the New Hall, moved with the Borough Council at this time.  Time was ticking away, however, for the Flemington and Kensington Borough.  In November 1905 it amalgamated with the City of Melbourne and became the new Hopetoun Ward.[85]


In  January 1918, once more the Fickle Finger of Fate pointed at the Flemington and Kensington Free Library and Mechanics Institute, and struck it down.  With a vengeance.


“Fire at Kensington. A serious fire occurred at the Kensington Town Hall early last Sunday morning, when the main hall, library, committee room and billiard room were practically destroyed. It is thought that the fire originated either through a careless smoker in the billiard room or the fusing of an electric light wire. A large crowd witnessed the fire, and 36 men, with a large equipment, fought the flames”.[86]


The library had faced setbacks before, however, and once more rose like a phoenix to re-establish itself at the end of 1918.    Again, the book stock is not described, but a fresh start could be made.  Being a Mechanics’ Institute, billiard tables were an indispensable ancillary asset.


“Flemington and Kensington Free Library, which was burnt about two years ago, has been re-established in an improved building. Two full-sized billiard tables have been installed. It is the intention of the committee to arrange social gatherings. A committee was formed at the annual meeting held on Tuesday, when Mr Joseph Girdwood was elected president, Mr W. D. Graham hon. secretary, and Mr J. H. McBean hon. Treasurer”.[87] 


The location of the new and improved building was not spelt out, and further work needs to be done to establish the exact location.  Anecdotally it was located in a wooden building on the town hall block in Bellair St in the 1930s or 1940s, and the Spanish Mission building next to the Town Hall is also suggested as a location.


On 23 August 1919 it was noted in The Herald that a former librarian at the Flemington-Kensington Town Hall, Mr W L Jones,  had died suddenly at the age of 80.  William Lloyd Jones of 18 McCracken St was shown in the 1919 Electoral Roll with the occupation  clerk. 


Personal (1919, August 23). The Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 - 1954), p. 1.



The Minutes Book for the Flemington and Kensington Free Library and Mechanics’ Institute, 1929 to 1939 is located in the Community Heritage Collection at the Sam Merrifield Library, Moonee Ponds.  It goes without saying that this never recorded the location of the library or the meetings. 


Monthly committee meetings were held to approve payment of invoices and the librarian’s salary.  In 1929 the librarian, Mr W H Sherwood [William Henry], received £7 per month.  In 1937 the librarian was named in the minutes as E M Sherwood [Elsie May].  In May 1939, the last recorded meeting in that book, the librarian received £7 per month. Presumably the position was part time, perhaps with assistance with opening from the Committee. The role of the librarian is not spelt out, nor do we know directly about the type of books they had in the library. 


This photo of the Sherwood family shows William Henry Sherwood, centre front, and Elsie

May Sherwood, back left, both of whom served as librarians.  Arthur William Sherwood, centre back,

served in the AIF. Courtesy of Heather Kennedy.


Undated  news clipping which mentions W H and E M Sherwood libraries. 

Courtesy of  Heather Kennedy.


The invoices being paid appear to be related to purchases of books, newspapers and magazines, stationary, and occasionally an advertising campaign on slides at the local picture theatre to boost membership.  Payments into the kitty included subscriptions (111 members in 1929, and 118 in 1939), and a six-monthly grant from the City of Melbourne Council. 


The Minutes entry for 15 October 1929 gave some valuable details of the operation of the library:


Members                           111

New                                       5

Loss                                       3

New books bought             32

Received by librarian           28

No of Books returned        579

No of books lent               560

Attendance                        450


Monthly subs:            £4-14-6



Mr Sherwood             £7 -0-0

Willis & Co                       3-6

Corlett & Sons             2 -5-0

J Anderson                    1-8-8

Robertson & Mullins    2-1-6

E[lectric] Light                  5-3

Total Expenditure £14-3-11


The minutes  on the same date as the above  also recorded that the purchase of new books would be restrained until 31 December 1929 when the financial position could be reviewed.  In the above list Corlett & Son were printers in Racecourse Road,  Flemington, and Robertson & Mullens were suppliers to the book trade in Melbourne.


In  November 1929 the committee recorded discussions in favour of opening a children’s library, but it was not until 1938 that the committee applied to the State government for a grant to do so- probably one had not been available until then.  The application was successful, and the children’s library was established.  A £250 grant was expended - £200 for books and £50 for bookcases – ‘necessary to keep the books under lock and key’.  It was a very different approach from children’s libraries 50 years later.


The long and complex history of this library continued, but for now the Time Travellers will take their leave, and will come back to the future at a later time.




One last mention is made of a subscription library, though it should be kept in mind that there were multiple small subscription libraries established in local organisations throughout this period to satisfy a serious want of reading matter.  The one below is typical of many others.


Kensington Methodist Church library, established 1889


The Kensington Methodist Church in McCracken St, Kensington, which opened in 1889, established a library for the use of Sunday School teachers and scholars, as required by the Methodist Church.  In 1892 the scholars were charged one penny per month to use it, and donations to purchase books were also sought.  It was thus a private subscription library.


In 1930 a special appeal for books to restock the library outlined one of the prime motivations for maintaining  a subscription library was to ‘prevent [the children] reading unsuitable literature’.  The aim was to provide ‘up to date healthy [stories] with a moral for children’, and to discourage the reading of ‘vividly illustrated paper-covered books, wherein law-breaking and other sorts of things are lionised’.  The library requested donations of books that had outlived their usefulness at home, being reluctant to ask yet again for funds in the ‘distressing period’.  Donations were scrutinised for content.  This library continued until at least 1961 when discussions began about how to dispose of the books.  Ultimately they went to the Cambridge Street school in Collingwood.[88]



The next part of the story of early libraries in Essendon and Flemington concerns the circulating libraries, but Time Travellers are advised that this might take a little time to evolve.


                                            ©     2015   Lenore Frost



[65] Melbourne Directory, Sands & McDougall, 1884.

[65.1]Louise A Clark. The Borough of Flemington and Kensington Council, 1882-1905.  Prepared March 2006 for the North Melbourne Library, p 9.

[66] KENSINGTON FREE LIBRARY. (1883, January 26). North Melbourne Advertiser (Vic. : 1873 - 1894), p. 3. Retrieved September 8, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66158715.

[67] Robert Chambers, Chambers’s Papers for the People, London, W & R Chamber, 1956.  Retrieved 25 November 2015.  http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=wu.89092497304;view=1up;seq=209

[68] THE ADVERTISER. (1883, March 2). North Melbourne Advertiser (Vic. : 1873 - 1894), p. 2. Retrieved November 20, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66158838.

[69]THE ADVERTISER. (1883, April 13). North Melbourne Advertiser (Vic. : 1873 - 1894), p. 2. Retrieved November 20, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66158980.

[70] OPENING OF THE FLEMINGTON AND KENSINGTON FREE LIBRARY. (1883, June 29). North Melbourne Advertiser (Vic. : 1873 - 1894), p. 3. Retrieved November 21, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66159249.

[71]FLEMINGTON AND KENSINGTON FREE LIBRARY. (1883, June 21). The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), p. 6. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article190595288.

[72]FLEMINGTON AND KENSINGTON FREE LIBRARY. (1884, August 29). North Melbourne Advertiser (Vic. : 1873 - 1894), p. 3. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66160514.

[73] THE ADVERTISER. (1885, February 13). North Melbourne Advertiser (Vic. : 1873 - 1894), p. 2. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66154347.

[74] TRIAL OF W. C. HAWKINS. (1884, February 8). North Melbourne Advertiser (Vic. : 1873 - 1894), p. 3. Retrieved November 20, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66159916.

[75]THE ADVERTISER. (1885, February 13). North Melbourne Advertiser (Vic. : 1873 - 1894), p. 2. Retrieved October 1, 2015, 


[76]KENSINGTON LIBRARY. (1885, February 27). North Melbourne Advertiser (Vic. : 1873 - 1894), p. 3. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66154385

[77] THE ADVERTISER. (1885, May 29). North Melbourne Advertiser (Vic. : 1873 - 1894), p. 2. Retrieved November 25, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66154705.

[77.1] Louise A Clark. The Borough of Flemington and Kensington Council, 1882-1905.  Prepared March 2006 for the North Melbourne Library, p 48.

[78]THE ADVERTISER. (1887, September 10). North Melbourne Advertiser (Vic. : 1873 - 1894), p. 2. Retrieved September 8, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66157497.

[79] FLEMINGTON AND KENSINGTON FIRE BRIGADE. (1883, September 7). North Melbourne Advertiser (Vic. : 1873 - 1894), p. 3. Retrieved November 25, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66159465.

[80] QUINTESSENCES. (1891, September 11). North Melbourne Advertiser (Vic. : 1873 - 1894), p. 2. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66162219.

[81] FLEMINGTON AND KENSINGTON COUNCIL. (1892, June 17). North Melbourne Advertiser (Vic. : 1873 - 1894), p. 3. Retrieved November 24, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66163501

[82]Church News. (1897, June 9). South Bourke and Mornington Journal (Richmond, Vic. : 1872 - 1920), p. 3 Edition: WEEKLY.. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70018574.

[83] Social. (1898, August 5). Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic. : 1885 - 1939), p. 11. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article145861938.

[84] THE STORYTELLER. (1901, March 23). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), p. 26. Retrieved November 23, 2015  from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139173005.

[85] Flemington and Kensington conservation study / prepared for the Melbourne City Council, 1985, [by] Graeme Butler & Associates, p 23.

[86] Fire at Kensington. (1918, January 4). The Essendon Gazette and Keilor, Bulla and Broadmeadows Reporter (Moonee Ponds, Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 2 Edition: Morning.. Retrieved November 23, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74604733 ; FIRE AT KENSINGTON. (1917, December 31). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 4. Retrieved November 24, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1671673.

[87]FLEMINGTON FREE LIBRARY. (1919, December 4). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 4. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4643194.

[88] Beverley Wendelken. Kensington Methodists, Christ Church Kensington History Project, 2001, pp 49-51.


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