Blast from the past

Geejay and I spent our Saturday afternoon at the State Library of Victoria. Yup, that’s right, 2 geeks spending a bright, sunny day inside a library poring over books. Why, you ask? Well, hubby had to do research for a story he was planning for an anthology. He wanted to set the story in Melbourne circa 1881 and luckily for us, there were some books with photos of Melbourne during the Victorian era. Browsing through the Victorian-era books, I was fascinated to see familiar streets and buildings around the city during the old times. In one of the captions of a photo I was looking at, there was mention of a newspaper called The Argus, which was supposed to be the most popular paper during those times.

Three hours passed and hubby wanted to find out where all the newspapers are kept. He wanted to know how much it was to rent a room during the 1881 and thought that the classifieds would provide this information. He asked a lady at the counter where he could find this information and was shown the steel drawers where the microfilms are kept. He retrieved The Age and Sun and loaded it into a microfilm reader, which took a while since it was the first time for both of us to use a microfilm reader. Except for the familiar masthead logos, everything looked different. For one, the price was printed as 3d (3 pennies), it wasn’t until 1966 when Australia would change its currency to decimal. Next thing we noticed was that there are no headlines on the front page. Instead, the classified ads were in front followed by the announcements then the news articles, which doesn’t even have proper titles. It was while we were poring over some of the ads that an announcement was made that the library would be closing soon. We tried some of the newer microfilm scanners connected to a computer, hoping to scan the page and save it to my mobile. Unfortunately, although my phone was able to connect via the computer’s USB port, it wasn’t treated as a removable card.

Armed with a dongle type USB key today, we went back to the library during lunch hour and headed straight for the drawer containing The Argus. We then tried our luck saving an electronic copy of the micofilmed page. While hubby was busily scanning an issue from 1891, I thought it’ll be fun to see what was happening on July 17, 1873 – exactly 100 years to the day of my birth. Well, as it turned out, nothing much was reported that day as the first few articles of news involved a debate about the Ministerial Budget and the financial failure of the National Agriculture Society of Victoria. Hmmm… nothing exciting there. What really caught my eye was a report about a young woman charged with deserting her child, not because of the supposed facts surrounding the case, but because it reminded me of the Sherlock Holmes stories I’m so fond of. Here’s an excerpt:

This young woman was charged a week ago with deserting her child, and remanded. When the case came on for hearing last Tuesday, the girl’s mother made her appearance, and with great volubility proceeded to put the Court in possession of what she stated to be the facts of the matter. It appears from her statement that the putative father’s mother had agreed to take charge of the infant, and the fond parent seems to have dropped into the arrangement with an alacrity which speaks volumes for the strength of her maternal instincts. But apparently the “father’s mother” repented her of her rash act, and, being tired of her bargain, exposed the child in the street, where it was found by the police. This is the “mother’s mother’s” story, and we must confess that to us it appears “very like a “whale.”

Some advertisements for the same issue include the following:

EVENING CLASSES (separate), ladies, gentlemen, English, mathematics, bookkeeping, French, 21s quarterly. King’s College, Apsley-place, Victoria-par.

WANTED, GIRL, about 14, to make herself generally useful. Apply Claremont house, Greystreet, East Melbourne.

AT 3 Young street, Fitzroy, Parade end, comfortable BOARD and RESIDENCE, 16s per week. Single rooms.

Since we only had a limited time today and because hubby realised that he scanned an issue in the wrong year (1891 instead of 1881), we plan to go back tomorrow. It may be boring to some but reading those old newspapers felt a little like time travel to us, giving us a glimpse of how life used to be in those days.

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Published in: on August 14, 2006 at 11:03 pm  Comments (1)