Archive Surprise

Mostly when I order files and documents at the SRO they are government records, which means they are in a particular format: an old eyelet fastener in the top left corner and cardboard on the front and back. Invariably they have ‘Finished’, ‘Cancelled’, ‘Archive’ or some such word written in red pencil on the front. I don’t often get surprises when I request to look at these documents, although it is nice to see an old pin holding two pages together, or intricately folded maps, or lovely pencil graphs of water levels within the files.

On Saturday I was at the Battye Library, however, not the SRO. When you order items in stack there, you can end up with anything. I ordered what was described as ‘a ledger and a bag of documents’.  A very large, very heavy box came on a trolley.

It was probably just over A3 size and easily 20cms high. I’ve never seen such a huge book before in real life. Certainly not one I was allowed to touch (with gloves, of course).

This is the financial ledger for the Manning family, colonial elite during the 1850s-1900s. The project I’m working on is related to their land holdings and while this ledger had nothing to tell me about that, it was fascinating and exciting to see it.

Inside was every pound, shilling and pence the family spent, lent and earned, written neatly and perfectly into the columns. A long time ago I did a secretarial course and learnt about double entry bookkeeping using a general ledger and this is the same, only on a much bigger, more serious and richer scale. It is basically the MYOB of the 1800s. I was thinking, as I scanned the names and amounts, how terrifying it would have been to have been entered into that book, particularly if you owed them money. I imagined it sitting open on a desk somewhere with a clerk whose sole job it was to enter and balance the books.

The best pages were the government ones (excuse my photos, but I only had my phone with me). I’m sure if an economic study was done on this ledger the closeness of these very rich families and the colonial and later State government would be very apparent (has anything changed?).

By the way, while I was writing this post and checking some facts I came across the Early Office Museum. Absolutely fascinating.


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