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From the archives; Young person’s pocketbook, 1856.

If you were a young Australian person in 1856 you could balance your finances, and your soul, all thanks to this pocket-sized notebook.

Viewed in March 2022, at the NLA, this notebook is a fascinating demonstration of the information that was considered to be suitable for young adults in the nineteenth century.

National Library of Australia. Religious Tract Society (Great Britain).  (1855).  The Young people’s pocketbook for … : containing an almanack, daily texts, a mirror of the months, and a variety of useful information

In the NLA, there is The Young people’s pocketbook for 1856. Published in London, by the Religious Tract Society, it belonged to Emmeline Gilbert, of Parramatta, New South Wales. Perhaps it was an effort to become more informed and organised in that year. If so, it took Emmeline a while to get started in 1856, as they dated the book ’13 May 1856’.  Perhaps, it was a shipping issue. Regardless, the notebook fitted snuggly in the palm of my hand, at 11 cm high. A small slit in the interior pocket suggested a pencil was to be carried by the owner, so they could make annotations in the book as they went about their daily life. There was even a pocket for notes, coins, or other small artefacts of fascination. Users were informed of the zodiac, science, art, poetry, Christian beliefs, manners, new publications and regional geography. I look at the broad scope of information in this little book, able to be held in my hand, and cannot help but think of my teenage children, holding their smartphones, looking up recipes, art, poetry, exhibitions and learning about the world around them. I wonder if I was a parent of the past, or if my children were of that time, what we would have thought of these pocketbooks? Would we have been amazed at the amount of knowledge we held in the palm of our hands?

The idea of free and civilised recreation was promoted to young people of Australia in 1856. Interesting to see that the cultural institutions of London were promoted to Australian audiences. Such a substantial trip to undertake, to stay out of mischief.

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