Will Peart Selected for the Philip Brown Award

Will Peart is a HDR candidate in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and a member of the Contemporary Histories Research Group. Recently, Will was selected for the Philip Brown Award, a prize awarded annually to an HDR student within the Faculty of Arts & Education, for research into Australian History entailing the use of primary sources. This award is named in memory of Dr Philip Brown, an eminent historian whose work is characterised by meticulous research and the extensive use of primary sources. Will reflects on this achievement, and details his current research:

I am happy to pass on the news that my PhD research project has been selected for the Philip Brown Award by the Faculty of Arts and Education. It’s a privilege to receive this award and I am grateful to the Faculty for selecting me and to the Contemporary Histories Research Group that has provided me the opportunity to do this research.

I came across the work of P. L. Brown as an undergraduate studying Tasmanian history when I briefly dipped into a volume of the Clyde Company Papers. Only later did I realise this volume was one of seven that Brown edited and which constitutes a mass of documents tracing the course of the company and its employees, bridging Australian colonies and the metropole of the British Empire and spanning years 1821 to 1873. The small, relatively short lived but successful Clyde Company was formed in 1836 in Glasgow and linked Scottish capital with two Van Diemen’s Land colonists who wanted to expand their sheep flocks there and in the new frontier of Port Philip.

As a historian, Brown wrote articles for reference collections, particularly The Australian Dictionary of Biography, and edited several other books of historical documents, but the Clyde Company papers were his life’s work, published over thirty years. The editorial skill of Brown was recognised by peers such as E. A. Beever. The papers, a private collection held by a descendant of George Russell, company manager, are presented with meticulous details about their provenance (the colour of post-marks are given for example), they are arranged chronologically with each volume covering about 5 years and including a large index. Brown gives an introduction every year that gives background information on the people producing the documents and historical context such as political developments.

A quality of the collection is that Brown mixed together accounting records and business correspondence with private correspondence and diaries of family members and employees. A letter from Captain Wood to manager George Russell in 1837 hints at the international links in colonial financing: he urged strict economy in Russell’s management of the ‘Port Philip speculation’ because the company partners in Scotland, involved in cotton importation, were at that point in time ‘almost ruined’. [Volume 2, p.92] On another occasion Sophia Russell, George’s sister-in-law, wrote to George from Van Diemen’s Land and requested ‘when you ransack the Native Dens could you not secure for us some of their spears, baskets &c.? – They are rarities here’. [Volume 2, p.239] The Clyde Company papers offer a perspective over roughly forty years of change, but also potentially provide connections between economic, social and colonial perspectives of history.

My own research is about the production of ideas about land settlement, particularly its social consequences, in Victoria in the 1860s and 70s. The last volume of the Clyde Company papers give insight into the attitude of the squatting pastoral interest toward Land Acts of the 1860s that opened previously leased land to selection and common pasturage. Fortunately, this provides some source material for my work which has been used in only one instance elsewhere. George Russell was the son of Scottish farmer with no permanent interest in land and was forced by rising rents to take up an unproductive farm. It will be interesting to see whether these circumstances affected Russell’s attitude towards the yeoman freeholder ideal that guided Victorian land reformers.

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