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The Bothwell Literary Society was the first to be established in an Australian country town. Its library is owned by the local municipal authority and is housed in the former Headmaster’s House with the Bothwell Historical Society as custodian.

The Society was founded by the Rev. James Garrett, and first met in June 1834 as a debating society.  The first topic for debate was 'Whether is knowledge conducive to human happiness' [sic].  Subsequently a library was formed and lectures were held during the winter months.  Members of the Society included Phineas Moss, the police clerk; Dr Edward Swarbreck Hall; and Hugh Munro Hull.  These three members are all significant in Tasmanian history.  In 1852 Irish political exile, John Mitchel, wrote, 'Bothwell has a very tolerable public library, such library as no village of similar population in Ireland had'.

By the century's end interest had waned, lectures ceased, and the books were out-dated.  In 1892 the MLC for Derwent, Walter Gellibrand, donated eighty-one books – the society's last major acquisition.

Many of the library's original records are held in the Archives Office of Tasmania.  Part of the original collection remains in Bothwell, but as a museum piece, rather than a working library.

The building known as the Literary Society building in Alexander Street is now used as municipal offices by the Central Highlands Council.  The building was opened as a school in 1856, but it appears to be an older building.  It was re-furbished in the early 1980s.  The guidelines of the Burra Charter were known to neither the architect nor the councillors and no site history was made.  Many of the original fittings were sold off or taken to the tip, undocumented.  Before 1856 the Literary Society library seems to have been moved around to whatever house had room to store the books.  In the 1856 school building a special room was set aside for the library. The books were sent to the State Library of Tasmania for some years but were returned (with some extracted) and have been houses in various places in Bothwell over the years.

 

For other accounts of the society and its library read Keith Adkins, Reading in colonial Tasmania: the early years of the Evandale Subscription Library . Melbourne, 2010.

Alternatively visit http://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/qvmag/index.php?c=235

Mary Ramsay, Historian

Bothwell Historical Society

August 2015