Historical Societies

Historical Societies formed slowly, mainly because Tasmanians wanted to forget the dark deeds of the past such as the destruction of the Aborigines and the brutality of the convict system. In 1884 local historian James Backhouse Walker toyed with the idea of forming a branch of the Historical Association of Australasia. From 1899 to about 1904, and 1921 to 1927, the Royal Society of Tasmania's historical section showed interest in preserving and erecting monuments, celebrating key events in Tasmanian history, collecting historical documents, encouraging historical placenames and giving lectures and publishing papers on Tasmanian history. In 1934 the Historical Society of Tasmania surfaced briefly in Launceston, but was soon subsumed by a statewide body, the Hobart-based Tasmanian Society. Formed in 1935, it flourished until the war, concentrating on preserving historic buildings, erecting monuments and memorials to the leading men of the past, and celebrating anniversaries. After the war it campaigned for the preservation of historic buildings and renamed itself the Historical Society of Tasmania in 1947, but faded after the Tasmanian Historical Research Association (THRA) was established in Hobart in 1951.

THRA held lectures, arranged historical excursions, and encouraged wide-ranging research in primary sources. It published the results in its Papers and Proceedings, also publishing a number of books. In Launceston the Royal Society became the northern branch of THRA in 1952, but local history really took hold in 1988 when the Launceston Historical Society was formed with its own publications and lectures. From the 1980s, historical societies were formed in many regions, ranging from Burnie to Dover, Bothwell to the Tasman Peninsula. Other historical groups included the Professional Historians Association (Tasmania), the Oral History Association, and the local branch of the Australian Railway Historical Society.

In 1991 THRA hosted the first biennial local historical societies' conference. These have continued, membership of societies has remained steady and much activity was evident in the bicentennial period 200304, indicating that interest in Tasmanian history had not waned.

Further reading: S Petrow, 'The antiquarian mind', PPRST 137, 2003; and 'Conservative and reverent souls', Public History Review, forthcoming; B Sharman, 'The Tasmanian Historical Research Association', THRAPP 42/4, 1995.

Stefan Petrow