This month we present a letter written by Father Julian Tenison Woods to the South Australian Weekly Chronicle on 7 November 1863.

Mechanics’ Institutes were a popular establishment in Britain in the 19th century, offering free lectures to ‘mechanics’ as tradesmen, or working men as they were known at that time.

In Australia, the first Mechanics Institute appeared in Hobart in 1827, followed by Sydney in 1833, Adelaide in 1838 and Melbourne in 1839. Before long, most towns had a Mechanics’ Institute comprising a hall, library and reading rooms, facilities for games and programs of educational and entertaining activities.  They were really the forerunner of public libraries and adult education in Australia and their names remain on many public buildings today.

The Institute in Murray Street, Gawler (South Australia’s first inland town, 51 km north east of Adelaide) was officially opened on 3 November, 1857. Within 3 years it had a library of 2000 volumes and 250 subscribers. By 1863 it was quite an influential organisation in town.

This is the context in which this month’s letter is set.

In 1863 Fr Julian writes to the Gawler Institute expressing his appreciation for their public recognition in of his scientific contribution. He had been resident in the Penola area since 1857 and had already published [i]


  • ‘Observations on Metamorphic Rocks in South Australia’
    November, 1857. Phil. Inst Vict., vol. ii, pp. 168-176. Melbourne, 1858


  • ‘Remarks on a Tertiary Deposit in South Australia’
    29 September, 1858. Phil. Inst Vict., vol.iii, pp. 84-94. Melbourne, 1859


  • ‘On some Tertiary Deposits at Portland Bay (Victoria)’
    Phil. Inst. Vict., vol.iv, pp. 169-172. Melbourne, 1860
  • ‘On some Tertiary Rocks in the Colony of South Australia’
    30 November, 1859. Journ. Geol. Soc., 1860, xvi, pp. 253-260; Phil. Mag., 4th series, xix, p. 77; Geologist, iii, p. 31


  • ‘Geological Observations in South Australia, principally in the district south-east of Adelaide’, pp. xc and 404 (plate). London. Longmans, 1862

One can imagine Fr Julian’s excitement when observing and collecting items of scientific interest during his long hours of travelling around his parish on pastoral duties. It was an excitement that he felt compelled to share with others who had never been to this area. Hence his numerous letters, articles, drawings, publications. His letter to the South Australian Weekly Chronicle published on 7 November, 1863 [ii] indicates his appreciation that his efforts to reveal the physical wealth of this new land were appreciated.

Carmel Jones rsj

This month, we present a second letter written by Fr Julian to the South Australian Weekly Chronicle on 7 November 1863:

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[i] From Proceedings Linnean Society N.S.W. 1887 compiled by J. E. T. Woods  List of Published Scientific Writings (In Chronological Order) of Rev. J. E. Tenison Wood
[ii] Letter: South Australian Weekly Chronicle (Adelaide, SA: 1858-1867)  Saturday 7 November 1863, page 4  obtained from the National Library of Australia (