Unusual love letters in the archives


There are unusual love letters in the archives at Australian libraries. These aren’t the stereotypical notes of adoration. There are no hearts drawn in the margins. Clear declarations of love are absent. What I have seen preserved within the confines of these collections, physical and virtual, are relationships and emotions that are somewhat gentler. This does not make the content any less powerful to behold, but it does make them harder to locate. It takes patience, planning and, at times, a historian’s imagination.

The letters I share with you here demonstrate a historian’s adoration for a librarian. Some letters are public, some were once private, and all come back to a relationship that formed between the Pacific historian, Harry Maude and Australian librarian and archivist, Phyllis Mander-Jones, during the 1960s and 1970s, the time of their involvement with the Australian Joint Copying Project.

Do you know Miss Mander-Jones? She was born just prior to Australia’s Federation in 1896. A white woman, the descendant of British settlers, she started her career as a librarian, archivist, bibliographer and occasionally produced Australian history in the 1920s. She grew into maturity at the same time as Australia. Because of her social and temporal position, Mander-Jones was very conscious of the geopolitical concept of Australasia. This political ideal was the foundation on which her understanding of local history was built. She learned of Australasia from the research by Australian historian Arthur Wilberforce Jose. As a historian and former journalist, Jose’s book History of Australasia- from the earliest times to the present day, with a chapter on Australian literature, proved to be especially popular in schools amongst researchers ( it eventually ran into seven editions). Jose’s chapter ‘Australasia’ especially spoke to European exploration of the Pacific Islands, annexation, and Federation. It provided Mander-Jones with the foundation to understand how the world in which she lived came to be. It gave her the means to assist the researchers of Oceania.

Mander-Jones took this love of Australian history and Australasia and threaded that knowledge throughout her career. She worked at the Mitchell Library in New South Wales (1920s-1950s) and the National Library of Australia (1950-1960s) and independently (1950s-1970s). Mander-Jones argued, during the 1960s, that Australian cultural institutions needed to make copies of colonial archives, especially those in Europe, so that Australians could ‘be adequately equipped to know our own history.’ Over time, under the mentorship of the great Australian librarian, Ida Leeson, she developed an awareness of what it took for historians to produce the narratives that captivated her- primary documents, unfettered access, space and time to process this material, financial support from the institutions with the budgets that would allow it. Mander-Jones became a champion. Without the traditional white horse of course, but she knew how to wield a budget sheet and a grant application, and she used the latter to great effect during her time as the AJCP London Officer.

It was through her AJCP London Officer role Mander-Jones had the most interaction with Harry Maude. The AJCP was intended to copy archival materials from European archives concerning Australasia, the South Pacific Ocean, Eastern Indian Ocean, Antarctica, Indonesia, Borneo, Philippines and Malaya ‘from the earliest times’. The remit would later be adapted to limit acquisitions from the United Kingdom. The letters Maude wrote to Mander-Jones, and received from her, during 1962-1972 are digitised and hosted by the University of Adelaide library. A former civil servant in Fiji, an anthropologist, and a Pacific historian, Harry was a man determined to displace European narratives and present island-centric histories. At some point, he started fighting to preserve the archives of the Pacific, both oral and written. He was an immense geek with a love for archives or, to write this in a more academic manner, Harry was a Pacific bibliophile and documentation expert, heavily invested in the process of gaining documentary evidence for Pacific scholars to access. It is no wonder he and Mander-Jones bonded.

The letters held in the Maude archive are from a crucial period in the AJCP and ANU histories. Research officers, like Mander-Jones, were responsible for surveying archives overseas. They did this to locate material from public and private hosts, which then led to the copying of artefacts (for they ranged from manuscripts to paintings, maps, sketches and photographs), and the distribution of the resulting microfilms to libraries and other research institutions across Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. Maude, was at this time founding Australian-Pacific History at the Australian National University with Jim Davidson, Dorothy Shineberg, and Greg Denning, to name a few people there at this time.

Maude wrote often to Mander Jones, to provide her with lists of items deemed of value to Pacific historians. On 13 July 1962 Mander-Jones’s letter was effusive with thanks as Maude had provided her with a list of papers from the East India Company. In return, she provided details of items that may be of future research interest (see the image below). As you can see Harry appreciated such information as it was included in his records.

Mander-Jones’ letter to Maude, 13 July 1962. The information about resources flowed two ways across the Pacific, a reflection of how the items came to be in Europe in the first instance. Held by the University of Adelaide library.

This letter also indicated they had a well-established relationship. They were friends to the point Mander-Jones questioned why Maude, who had a tendency of being unconventional in academic circles, for not attending a buffet luncheon scheduled at the Anglo-American Conference of Historians. ‘[P]erhaps you dodged it’ she asked, after stating she missed seeing him there. While I appreciated the clear print of the typewriter on this letter, I longed to see this statement written in Mander-Jones’ handwriting, which had a tenancy to clearly demonstrate her emotions on the page.

Maude wrote to Mander-Jones and requested materials be copied from British archives. On 27 May 1962, after a long discussion about archives linked to the Marchant Adventurers in Bristol, N.S.W trade, and the Southern Whale Fishery, Maude wrote a PS that indicated the power Mander-Jones had and her ability to assist Australian researchers with resources. Maude requested Mander-Jones have material copied ‘as I have no typist, and you have all the resources of the Federal Government of Australia and the State Government of New South Wales at your command.’ It seems Maude’s demands were met with kindness. When Maude and his wife departed London in November 1862 Mander-Jones’ farewell was generous ‘[I]t was a great pleasure to see even a little of you while you were in this side of the world.’

On 14 February 1963, Mander-Jones wrote a very important letter to Maude informing him about copies of lists concerning the records of the Methodist and Church Missionary Societies. Maude reacted with enthusiasm and wrote back quickly. He told Mander-Jones that this material, rich with people, places and events, were found to be ‘a great joy’. Other Pacific historians were also appreciative of Mander-Jones’ efforts. News of these records being microfilmed moved the Tongan student Sione Lātūkefu, who was writing a thesis on The Influence of the Methodist Mission on the Political Development of Tonga, 1839-1875, so much that they ‘seized on it [the list] with tears of relief’. After their usual discussion of lists and locations of materials concerning Australia and the Pacific, Maude signed off his response recognising the efforts of Mander-Jones, stating ‘again many thanks indeed for all your invaluable help to me in London.’

Due to Mander-Jones diligence and determination to provide Australian-Pacific historians with access to imperial archival records Pacific historians were well-positioned to diversify their sub-field of History. Lātūkefu did complete his research concerning Methodist Missionaries in Tonga. Dorothy Shineberg researched trade in the New Hebrides leading to They Came for Sandalwood: A Study of the Sandalwood Trade in the South-West Pacific 1830-1865. Murray Groves’ book, The Motu of Papua: Tradition in a Time of Change benefited from access to the AJCP, as did Patricia Clarke’s Lifelines project. While Jane Samson utilised LMS records on-site at SOAS for Imperial Benevolence: Making British Authority in the Pacific Islands, she utilised the relationships and networks of the AJCP to access additional historical documents. This is just a sample of the important island centric works that were produced at this time.

When back at the Department of Pacific History at ANU in 1964 Maude wrote to Mander-Jones, who was at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London about the hardships of research life. He lamented his wife, Honor, and her poor health, his intention to deal with a ‘pile of arrears’ after caring for her, the lack of response from the NLA about research findings, and his remoteness which he felt Mander-Jones would understand. He wrote ‘I quite envy you getting back to England and how you much enjoy your cottage again. If they could only tow the country a bit farther south it would be lovely to live there.’

Mander-Jones work with the AJCP, listening to and acting on Australian National University researchers’ requests for materials during the 1960s, also meant she researched trends in Australian history. This led her to examine Oceania in some detail.

Like all relationships, there were tensions between Maude and Mander-Jones. Perhaps, not surprising to the historians reading this piece, it was a definition that caused the longest-running debate between them. Despite Mander-Jones having a solid research base from her historical research and reading academic journals and books, she did, according to Maude, make classification errors regarding the Pacific. Mander-Jones had commissioned new letterheads for her work with the bibliographic Guide that stated, ‘Guide to Manuscripts Relating to Australia and the South West Pacific’. Writing from Australia to Mander-Jones in London, on the 10 December 1964, Maude questioned the use of ‘that the phrase “South West Pacific”’ as, Maude continued, ‘does [it] not mean that in fact your survey will only include the islands in this particular section of the Pacific; this would be rather tragic for the Department of Pacific History (And indeed for the rest of the Research School of Pacific Studies).’ Mander-Jones worked to reassure Maude in her next letter that ‘[t]he term “South West Pacific” above is very elastic—I was not aware I am afraid that it had a defined geographic area containing some of the area we cover is centred and well above the equator–The Marianas to the Antarctic and Australia and New Guinea to Hawaii Tuamotus and Pitcairn Other places too if connected closely with Australia and the Pacific. Part of the Indian Ocean especially the south. We want to cover what SOAS has omitted- am not clear on Borneo yet.’ This definition excluded New Caledonia and New Zealand from the project.  The conversation continued into 1965 when Maude suggested the title for the book be “MSS Relating to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.” This particular construction was suggested as ‘this would be in conformity with the usage of the Australian National University, South Pacific Commission, and indeed all organizations [sic] I know of. These invariably include New Guinea as a Pacific Island but not so New Zealand (illogical though it may seem).’ In a demonstration of their inclination for honest communication, Mander-Jones explained to Maude she did not know South-West Pacific was a defined area and ‘ I am afraid we always used it very vaguely in the Mitchell Library. We are definitely including from the Marianas and Hawaiian Islands to the Antarctic and from New Guinea and Australia to Easter Island. We must think about a title too. Perhaps we could make it…MSS Relating to Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. I look on New Guinea and New Zealand as Pacific Islands but perhaps we should mention them.’ This was a minor point of contention between Maude and Mander-Jones. I believe they enjoyed such intellectual challenges immensely.

Maude felt strongly that, on her retirement, Mander-Jones should experience a festschrift, a celebratory demonstration of her role and impact as an Australian scholar. Maude wrote to Mander-Jones that this event should happen as a debt owed was owed to her ‘by Pacific historians in particular.’ On 16 December 1968 Maude gifted Mander-Jones a copy of his book Of Islands and Men. With a self-deprecating comment about his writing, Maude then praised Mander-Jones’ involvement in its production. This gift, Maude stated, was but a ‘token of all the help we have consistently received from you- I doubt if any other single person has done more for the Journal of Pacific History than you have.’ There is no evidence that a festschrift occurred, but there are, scattered through Australian State archives and libraries, university archives and British Archives and libraries, and personal research files, evidence of the adoration historians had for Mander-Jones.

Today, on Library Lover’s Day, I follow in the footsteps of Mander-Jones, Maude, Shineberg and others mentioned in this piece. I step through the doors of the National Library of Australia as a Summer Scholar to study the Australian Joint Copying Project. While I’m at the NLA I will create my own records. I have no doubt these documents will echo Maude and show my love for librarians and libraries of the past and present. Because subsequent generations need to be able to talk about Mander-Jones, Graeme Powell, Sara Joynes, and numerous other librarians I have yet to meet in the archives, with the awe that they deserve.

Deborah Lee-Talbot

Further reading-

The first library lovers day?

Sylvia Martin’s Ida Leeson

Digital archive of Harry Maude, as held by University of Adelaide Library

Pacific Manuscripts Bureau