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Visitors to the BMI March – Dr Annie Thomas

In recent months, the Ballarat Mechanics Institute has been assisting Psychologist and budding historian Dr Annie Thomas.  Annie is currently completing a Master of History degree with the University of New England.

Annie’s research is focusing on the satirical Ballarat Punch magazine, which had a very short-lived run in 1857 and a longer three year run between February 1867 and January 1870.

Annie is working under the supervision of Associate Professor Richard Scully,  an historian of the early modern era with a passion for and expertise in nineteenth century periodicals.

Punch magazine originated in London in 1841 and sprang up around various parts of the British Empire during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Both the Ballarat Mechanics Institute and Eureka Centre’s research hub have produced information about Ballarat’s very own member of the global Punch family.

Annie aims to explore stories about the people behind the Ballarat Punch and the contents of the 1860s publications in depth to ascertain what the various articles, cartoons, poems and jokes can tell us about life in a truly unique time and place. Writing about his travels around Australia and New Zealand in the early 1870s, the English novelist Anthony Trollope remarked that of all the towns he visited in Australia, Ballarat was the most remarkable to him.

Within the space of twenty years, Ballarat developed from a rough and ready gold diggings to a sophisticated and ordered city. Annie notes that while the format of the Ballarat Punch was modelled on the London Punch, its contents were very much about life in our colonial city during a formative period. Annie also explained that despite being rich sources of historical information, magazines are often overlooked as an important scholarly source for understanding more about a specific time and place. London’s Punch magazine has attracted a fair degree of scholarly interest in recent decades and other countries are beginning to recognise the value of Punch and other periodicals in shedding light on their own histories during periods of colonisation, including Egypt and India.

Comparatively little work has been undertaken on Punch magazines produced in Australia or New Zealand. While there has been some academic work undertaken on the Melbourne Punch, British research has demonstrated that focusing on metropolitan publications can often miss very important historical information contained within regional or rural publications. Annie hopes that her examination of the Ballarat Punch will offer a contribution to our city’s rich and fascinating history, as well as the growing historical literature on various Punch magazines worldwide.

Annie has offered up a big thank you to the staff at our very own Mechanics Institute as well as the Eureka Centre’s research hub for their assistance so far. Annie has been able to access the 1860s copies of Ballarat Punch at both the Mechanics Institute and the Eureka Centre. Unfortunately, it appears that copies of the five weekly runs in late 1857 did not survive with the exception of one week, believed to be held in a private collection. Annie has asked that we forward an appeal for anyone who may know the whereabouts of this material, or any other material related to either the 1857 or 1860s publications of Ballarat Punch.
Annie can be contacted at athoma57@myune.edu.au

Dr Annie Thomas

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