Alfred Brown’s library – Te Papa, Tauranga

I recently spent a couple of days in the library of this important Church Missionary Society missionary in New Zealand.

What I was struck by:

  • the striking aesthetic of this nineteenth century missionary’s book collection;
  • the way in which prayer books, hymnals, and bibles – including Maori language versions of these – were given as gifts between close friends and colleagues; to the extent where these particular types of books seem invested with significant Christian sentiment;
  • the obvious importance of history and historical knowledge – especially of England and Britain itself – to Brown and his contemporaries. A selection of history titles from the library includes histories of England by Oliver Goldsmith (1823), F. Guizot (1846), J. L. De Lolme (1822), S. Turner (1828, 1835), along with memoirs and biographies of stars in the Evangelical firmament, including Sir T. F. Buxton (leader of the House of Commons Select Committee on Aborigines 1836-37), William Wilberforce and Rev H. Venn (Clapham group);
  • there are also quite a few ‘political’ works, including a volume of the Protestant Magazine (1841), Henry Lytton Bulwer’s France, Social, Literary, Political (1834), and two volumes of Charles Dickens’ Household Words;
  • some curious items, including an 1803 edition of Francis Bacon’s works with an inscription ‘The Gift of Miss Georgiana Harriett Bridge’; and an 1807 edition of Hugo Grotius’ De Veritate Religionis Christianae, which is entirely in Latin and is extensively marked-up. In fact, this is about the only book that I came across that was marked-up. Unfortunately, Alfred Brown was not an annotator, however, this does not diminish the value of this collection in painting a picture of late Georgian and Victorian print culture – of course, with a strong Evangelical emphasis.