Harry Hastings Pearce (1897–1984) was born in Creswick, Victoria, and educated at Hollinwood State School. After trying gold prospecting, assisting a veterinary surgeon and working in various agricultural jobs, he came to Melbourne in 1919. He found a position with the Hume Brothers Cement Iron Company (later the Hume Pipe Company) at Maribyrnong and managed its factories in Tasmania, Queensland and New Zealand. In 1938 he returned to Melbourne and remained with the company until his retirement in 1965.
Pearce published his first poem in the Ballarat Evening Echo in 1916. He had a lifelong interest in Australian literature, particularly poetry, and was a member and office-holder in the Australian Poetry Lovers Society, the Australian Literature Society and the Henry Lawson Memorial and Literary Society. He was the author of The Song of Nature and Other Poems (1948) and On the Origins of Waltzing Matilda (1971). An ardent advocate of free thought and rationalism, he wrote numerous letters to newspapers, essays, addresses and pamphlets. He was a member of the Humanist Society of Victoria and the Free Thought Society of Australia and towards the end of his life helped found the Secular Society of Victoria.
Pearce’s father owned a collection of socialist pamphlets and publications of the Rationalist Press Association and Pearce inherited his passion for books and pamphlets. He built up a collection of about 15 000 titles, particularly strong in Australian literature and radical and rationalist writings. As a member of the Bread and Cheese Club, he was acquainted with many Melbourne writers and at different times he acquired some important groups of manuscripts and letters of writers such as Bernard O’Dowd, Marie Pitt, John Shaw Neilson, Ted Turner and Edward Harrington.
Pearce began to donate groups of manuscripts to the Library in 1963. The paintings by Ted Turner and Florence Brady were bought in 1968 and a major group of literary papers was purchased in 1970. Pearce’s library, various objects and artworks and the remainder of his manuscripts and personal papers were purchased in 1981 and were transferred to the Library in 1983–85.
The Pearce Collection comprises over 14 000 volumes, including books, pamphlets, catalogues and issues of journals. Australian imprints make up about half of the collection. The title of the collection is somewhat misleading, as the largest component is literature, mainly poetry, rather than radical or humanist writings. The subject range is broad and among the strengths are Australian poetry, Australian literary criticism, English and Scottish poetry, ballads and songs, Greek and Roman literature, Australian history, labour history, Australian Aborigines, politics, communism, secularism, Christianity, Catholicism and philosophy.
Among the authors who are especially well represented in the collection are Robert Burns, W.W. Collins, C.J. Dennis, Adam Lindsay Gordon, Richard Jefferies, J.S. Langley, Henry Lawson, Walter Murdoch, Walter Scott, P.B. Shelley and A.G. Stephens.
The Pearce Collection contains manuscripts, letters, documents, notebooks, addresses, newspaper cuttings and other papers of many Australian writers. In particular, there are important groups of papers of Bernard O’Dowd, E.J. (Ted) Turner, Henry Lawson, Ethel and G.W. Fielding, John Shaw Neilson, Alfred Jarvis, Edward Harrington, Marie Pitt, E.J. Brady. J.K. McDougall and Joseph Neild. There are also six letterbooks (1883–88) of F.C. Rowan, a shipping and manufacturers’ agent
Paintings and Other Artworks
The collection contains two oil paintings by Ted Turner of the writers John Shaw Neilson and Edward Harrington, and two oil paintings by Florence Brady of the Brady home at Mallacoota. There are also plaster plaques with profile portraits of Adam Lindsay Gordon, Marie Pitt, Phil May and Charles Bradlaugh, and a wooden bust of Henry Lawson by Otto Bettmann.
The papers of Pearce are very extensive, covering his entire life and including correspondence, family papers, autobiographical writings, diaries, notebooks, scrapbooks, drafts of his published writings, speeches and addresses, biographical and subject files, photographs and drawings. Of particular interest is a large volume compiled by Pearce entitled ‘The story of the Pearce and Williams families of Creswick’, which includes original letters, speeches, poetry, cuttings and photographs. There is material on the Hume Pipe Company, the New Zealand Rationalist Association, the Henry Lawson Memorial and Literary Society, the Bread and Cheese Club, the Folk Lore Society of Victoria and many other organisations. They are held in the Manuscripts Collection at MS 2765.
The books, pamphlets and issues of journals in the Pearce Collection are kept together as a formed collection. About 4500 of them have been individually catalogued; the call numbers have the prefix HHP. The title pages of all the books in the collection have been microfilmed and the microfilm (6 reels) is held in the Newspapers and Microform Collection at mfm N194.
The manuscripts and papers are held in the Manuscripts Collection at MS 2765. A 38 page finding-aid is available online at http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-343084760/findingaid. The four paintings are held in the Pictures Collection (R4003-6) and have been individually catalogued and digitised. The plaster plaques and the bust of Lawson are also held in the Pictures Collection.
Dahlitz, Ray, Secular Who’s Who, [Melbourne, 1994].
Holroyd, John, Obituary of Harry Hastings Pearce, Biblionews and Australian Notes & Queries, vol. 10 (1), March 1985, pp. 27–8.
Obituary of Harry Hastings Pearce, The Mail (Footscray, Vic.), 9 January 1985, pp. 1, 4.
Sinnott, Nigel, Harry Hastings Pearce “Profanum Vulgus” (1897–1984), unpublished typescript, MS 2765/3/12
Sinnott, Nigel H., Pearce, Harry Hastings (1897-1984), Australian Dictionary of Biography Online
First posted 2008 (revised 2019)