Monday musings on Australian Literature: Lansdowne Press’s Heritage Books

Just as some contemporary publishers, like Text, have decided to publish Australian Classics, so did publishers in the past attempt such projects. One such publisher was Lansdowne Press which, according to N.B. in the Canberra Times in 1963, began “a series of reprints from Australiana” which they called Heritage Books.

N.B. discusses two books in the series, Anthony Trollope’s Harry Heathcote of Gangoil* and Mrs. Charles Clacy’s A lady’s visit to the gold diggings of Australia in 1852-53*. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that Lansdowne used “Heritage Books” in their imprint because I can’t find this series in library catalogues. I therefore have no idea what other books were published in the series, or how long it lasted. I did find other Lansdowne books that might have been in the series, such as The felonry of New South Wales: being a faithful picture of the real romance of life in Botany Bay: with anecdotes of Botany Bay society and a plan of Sydney by James Mudie (first pub. 1837), and Reflections on the colony of New South Wales by George Caley (first pub. 1829).

The Canberra Times article is headlined “Contemporary accounts of the good old days”, and you can see from the titles that “accounts” is the operative word. They are not all novels. In fact, of the four I’ve listed, only Trollope’s is a novel.

Trollope’s “Slight Plot”

Trollope, 1873, in Vanity Fair (Public Domain, via Wikipedia)

Trollope, 1873, by Sir Leslie Ward, in Vanity Fair (Public Domain, via Wikipedia)

N.B. starts by discussing Trollope who visited Australia in 1871 and stayed with his son who apparently ran a sheep-station in the Queensland outback. Trollope ended up writing a travel book, Australia and New Zealand (1873), and two novels, Harry Heathcote of Gangoil (1874) and John Caldigate (1879). NB clearly knows Trollope well. I laughed at his/her statement that Trollope, “even at his best, which is very good indeed, tends to be careless and to use three words where one would do.”

So to Harry Heathcote. It has, s/he, says a slight plot about rivalry between free selectors and sheep farmers in Queensland. N.B.’s assessment is that Trollope’s portrayal is authentic and that the book

is still well-worth reading for its entertainment value for anyone who can dispense with the slicker techniques and concise prose of modern popular novelists.

And then, having a bet both ways, s/he also says, it

is short and dramatic, virtues which will commend it to modern readers who shrink from the traditional Victorian three-decker.

It’s for assessments like these that I so enjoy delving into old newspapers. They provide such insight into the thinking of another time (if 50 years ago is another time!). Anyhow, N.B. continues that Trollope, not a sentimentalist, presents in Heathcote “a real person with faults of personality as well as the representative virtues of an English gentleman …”.

In case you are interested, here* are paragraphs 2-4 from Chapter 1:

“I’m about whole melted,” he said, as he kissed her. “In the name of charity give me a nobbler.** I did get a bit of damper and a pannikin of tea up at the German’s hut; but I never was so hot or so thirsty in my life. We’re going to have it in earnest this time. Old Bates says that when the gum leaves crackle, as they do now, before Christmas, there won’t be a blade of grass by the end of February.”

“I hate Old Bates,” said the wife. “He always prophesies evil, and complains about his rations.”

“He knows more about sheep than any man this side of the Mary,” said her husband. From all this I trust the reader will understand that the Christmas to which he is introduced is not the Christmas with which he is intimate on this side of the equator–a Christmas of blazing fires in-doors, and of sleet arid snow and frost outside–but the Christmas of Australia, in which happy land the Christmas fires are apt to be lighted–or to light themselves–when they are by no means needed.

Trollope clearly cottoned on to Australia’s hot summers and the serious risks of bushfire. If this is a good example, N.B. is right about its authenticity.

Lansdowne’s “Real Service”

However, it seems that Lansdowne’s real service in N.B.’s eyes, was republishing A lady’s visit. Once again the issue of length is raised, this time by Patricia Thompson in her introduction to Clacy’s book. She says it’s not “too long, too dull, too pompous for the taste of the 20th century” like many early books of Australia. Thompson describes Clacy’s book as both interesting historically and a good read.

Clacy came to the Australian goldfields, “those auriferous regions” as she calls them, with her brother. N.B. says that Clacy’s book

should not be missed by anyone who appreciates a racy record which catches the flavour of what it was like to be there in Australia’s most rumbustious era.

Again, to give us a taste, here* is the second paragraph of Chapter 3, which describes their arrival in Australia:

The first sounds that greet our ears are the noisy tones of some watermen, who are loitering on the building of wooden logs and boards, which we, as do the good people of Victoria, dignify with the undeserved title of PIER. There they stand in their waterproof caps and skins–tolerably idle and exceedingly independent–with one eye on the look out for a fare, and the other cast longingly towards the open doors of Liardet’s public-house, which is built a few yards from the landing-place, and alongside the main road to Melbourne.

You can see what N.B. means, can’t you, about her style?

But what of Lansdowne now?

According to their website, Lansdowne is:

a leading independent book publisher and packager. We produce high-quality books and book-related products for publishers, retailers and distributors around the world.

We specialize in the subject areas of cooking, new age, interior design, gardening, health, history and spirituality for the international market.

Hmmm … a “packager”? They say they won the American Independent Publisher’s Award in 2000. An American independent publisher’s award? Intriguing. However, I can’t see any evidence of activity since 2006.

* Both books can be read at Project Gutenburg Australia: Harry Heathcote and A lady’s visit to the gold diggings of Australia in 1852-53.
** Nobbler is a small shot glass of hard liquor.

24 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian Literature: Lansdowne Press’s Heritage Books

  1. I’ve been having a great time in 2014 with Text, and have read a number of wonderful Aussie titles. Not sure who’ll make the best Aussie book of the year at this point.
    Thanks for the tip on the Clacy book. Just downloaded a copy.

  2. What fun! I had no idea Trollope went to Australia and wrote two books set there. Everyone always talks about his Barchester and Palliser books. I’ve read his first Barchester book. Maybe next time I will read Harry Heathcote 🙂

  3. Nice timing on Trollope with that new book just out, The First Celebrity: Anthony Trollope’s Australian Odyssey. I heard an interesting interview with the author, Nigel Starck, on RN last week – Strangely, the publisher is ‘Lansdown’ without the ‘e’. Probably a coincidence.
    As a librarian and a booklover, I do wish publishers would leave better trails of what they do – ie, consistent series titles.

    • Ha ha Nathan … as a retired librarian-archivist, I totally concur. You know, I hadn’t heard about that book. I do have Susannah Fullerton’s Brief encounters about literary travellers to Australia in 19th century, which has a chapter on him.

      Lansdown without an “e”. How intriguing. Must be different, but still curious, eh?

  4. “The felonry of New South Wales: being a faithful picture of the real romance of life in Botany Bay: with anecdotes of Botany Bay society and a plan of Sydney” is an INCREDIBLE title, and utterly delightful !
    “the building of wooden logs and boards, which we, as do the good people of Victoria, dignify with the undeserved title of PIER” is, to me, a very strange bit of writing. Who are we being asked to identify with ? – a pommy writer currently in Oz ?

  5. This post reminds me of a book I was given to read by an old English gentleman when I lived in Ghana. This man had worked on the construction of the Volta River Dam and had some stories! The book he gave me – and insisted I give it back which of course I did and therefore it’s a mystery to me now – was about a Victorian woman who travelled along the West African coast carried on a palanquin around 1910. I think she went from Ivory Coast to perhaps Benin, but I was especially interested in the Ghana parts as I used to travel widely. I wish I had that book now! The voyages people used to make!

    • Oh yes, Catherine, I agree, there were some amazing women in the 19th century. Another was Isabella Bird. I have an e-version of her Japan travels – Unbeaten tracks I think – which I dip into. Her trip was in the 1870s. I don’t she she’s your African one though. Lady Franklin was pretty adventurous too though didn’t do such long trips on her own I think. Oh to have the time to read all these!

  6. I also enjoyed the RN program re Trollope’s Australian Odyssey. Yes… Lady Jane Franklin carried through Egypt and for that matter across Tasmania on her palanquin by her (sometimes convict) servants, Trollope’s ‘retinue’ bringing him his cup of coffee promptly at 5am for him to churn out his 2,000 words per day before the office. This is a different life to mine! Thanks again for the excellent blog, can’t keep up with all the posts but am gleaning some wonderful information; love your clear writing style and good and varied referencing.

    • Why thank you Moira … that’s made my day. I can certainly understand you’re not being able to keep up. So many blogs out there, but I’m very glad that you find some value here everyone now and then, and that you find it easy to read. I don’t always reference, as I don’t want to be academic, but think that it’s useful sometimes!

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