The Hamilton Literary Society
The Hamilton Literary Society is the oldest continuing literary society in Australia. It was established in 1889 by Lady Hamilton, wife of the Governor of Tasmania, Sir Robert Hamilton. She invited 25 women to tea at Government House to form a society with the aim of fostering an interest in literature. Originally called the Nil Desperandum Society, it became, on her departure, and with her approval, the Hamilton Literary Society as it is today.
Members invited were serious young women who were challenged by Lady Hamilton herself to serious endeavour. She aimed to encourage writing as well as reading. Members had to present at least one original paper each year, and were required to study the subject so they could discuss the topic as well as read their paper. In Lady Hamilton’s time, papers generally dealt with authors and historical figures, but current issues and ideas were also discussed – such as, in 1890, ‘Strikes’, which was extremely topical as a major strike had begun the month before.
Although there have been some minor constitutional and rule changes in the ensuing years, the Society has remained true to its origins, and also promotes friendship between people who share a love of reading and writing. It meets monthly in Hobart, Tasmania. The President of the Society is by tradition the wife of the current Governor of Tasmania. Membership is limited to thirty. A new member must be introduced by a current member and be accepted at a general meeting.
Further reading: Mavis Fagan and Irene Isles (eds), The Hamilton Literary Society: 1889–1989, Hobart, 1989; Elizabeth Webby, ‘Not reading the nation: Australian readers of the 1890s’, Australian Literary Studies, April 2006.