The Veness Letter Book

The Veness Letter Book from the Tamworth PowerStation Museum is soon to be inscribed on the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register.

The UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Program is one of the sixty Memory of the World Programs globally. The aims of this program are to:

  1. Preserve documentary heritage.
  2. Improve accessibility to documentary heritage
  3. Increase awareness of the significance and existence of documentary heritage worldwide.

In the 1800s, Letter books were a standard clerical practice to ensure that a copy of all business correspondence was preserved. The ‘Veness Letter Book’ was used by Daniel D.F.W. Veness, a Tamworth Borough Council clerk.

On 9th November 1888, Tamworth became the first town in Australian and the Southern Hemisphere to install and use electric street lighting. The Veness Letter Book is a record of the letters sent by Tamworth Borough Council in relation to the establishment of Australia’s first electric street lighting plant. The copies in this book include letters to the tenderers for the electric lighting plant; the successful tenderer; the appointment of the Council’s first electrical engineer, Orlando William Brain; and the clerk’s replies to enquiries from other councils about electric lighting. The Veness Letter Book is the only known record of this correspondence.

The ‘Veness Letter Book’ is an example of a ‘pressed letter book’. The process for using the letter book is as follows:

  1. Write the letter using a water-soluble,
  2. Moisten a page in the letter book with water,
  3. Place the letter underneath the dampened, flimsy page of the letter book,
  4. Press with a screw or cantilever press.

The letter would be transferred directly into the letter book and the text could be read from left to right. There are no errors, cross-outs or repeats in the Veness Letter Book. This level of precision is testimony to the skill of Veness.

The Veness Letter Book is a very significant object of documentary heritage because it explores the development of a critical innovation and it reveals the story behind Tamworth’s electric street lighting system. The Australian Memory of the World register will improve accessibility to, and awareness of the Veness Letter Book; the Tamworth PowerStation Museum; and the nationally significant story of Tamworth as the First City of Light.

Find out more about the UNESCO Australian Memory of The World Register on their website.

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