Preserving the faces and history of the Dublin University Boat Club Collection

Last year, the Preservation & Conservation department in conjunction with DRIS (Digital Resources & Imaging Service) of Trinity College Library was asked to survey a collection of the Dublin University Boat Club’s photographs and other documents that hung in the club’s boathouse in Islandbridge on the river Liffey.  The collection – which spans the period 1841 to the present – includes 255 framed photographs of winning crews and notable club members, a racing programme, and 70 winnings sheets.

The collection represents a unique record of rowing in College since the middle of the nineteenth century, providing inspiration to countless Trinity rowers over the years.  The Boat Club has been aware of the priceless nature of the collection and there has long been a desire to maintain and preserve it for future generations.

The winning history of the club goes back to about 150 years ago when Trinity competed for the first time at the Henley Royal Regatta, and won the Visitors’ Challenge Cup with Charles Burton Barrington (on the left in the fig. 1), who contributed to the distinguished reputation that the club has held since.

Fig. 1 Dublin University Boat Club crew, 1870.

Interestingly, for most of its history the Trinity Boat Club – like the rest of the university – was a purely male enterprise.  The collection is a testimony to that fact, and records only one female rower, K.E. Rooney (1998).

Moreover, this collection represents a fascinating history of photographic portraiture.  For instance, you will rarely find a protagonist looking at the lens of the camera in the earliest photographs (fig. 1).  This would change over time and eventually subjects even began to smile.  The age of selfies was still very far away however!

The background and the way people would pose in front of the camera also evolved.  In the earliest photographs, the influence of art is apparent, with subjects posing in front of a beautiful plant wall, or next to elegant furniture in a luxurious interior (fig. 2).  Nowadays, crews are photographed in a simple and more straight-forward way (fig. 3).

Fig. 2 Two Boat Club members, c. 1870

 

Fig. 3 Crew photographs, 2008

Just as the subject changes his pose through the ages, so too do the photographic techniques – from positives on paper to digital photography.  The crews were photographed almost every year since 1863, so these photographs offer a unique record of the evolution of photographic techniques.

Fig. 4 Hand-coloured photograph, 1872

Before Photoshop or any other retouching computer programs, people were using collage or adding colour by hand on the photographs themselves.  Going through the collection, we found that some heads were replaced by others, or that blue and black colours were added on the photograph itself to give further details to the rowers’ outfits (fig. 4).

These images and documents hung on the walls of the Boat House at Islandbridge for several decades.  Unfortunately, years of display and fluctuating environmental conditions have had a detrimental effect on the photographs, making the need for conservation more urgent with each passing year.

Fig. 5 The condition of the whole collection when it came at the Conservation Department

The documents were housed in frames that had become quite acidic and did not effectively protect the document from the dust (fig. 5).  The glass in some of the frames was broken, making consultation dangerous.  Documents suffered from tears, losses, scratches, mould stains and cockling. Silver mirroring (when a silver metallic haze appears over the dark areas of some gelatine silver photographs) and fading was also apparent in the photographic material.  Finally, most of the mountings were held together with a great deal of adhesive tape, which is notorious for causing damage.

The project started in July 2016 thanks to the financial support given by the TCD Association & Trust.  The priority was to house the photographs and winning lists in suitable storage units.  It was decided that the whole collection would stay in the College Archives and the Boat Club would receive surrogates framed in the original frames to be replaced on the walls of the Boat House at Islandbridge.

The original photographs and other documents were catalogued and each was assigned a unique archival reference.

Before digitisation, a long process of un-framing and mount removal, where necessary, began. Following that, dry-cleaning of the documents commenced.  Dry-cleaning is essential in conservation not only for aesthetic reasons but also because dust and dirt can be damaging to paper and photographs in different ways.  It can be abrasive, acidic, hygroscopic or degradative.  Soft Japanese brushes were used to remove dust, and Smoke Sponges were used to remove the more ingrained dirt on the verso.  A crepe rubber was used as well to remove synthetic glue from modern tapes.

Fig. 6 Photographs housed in mylar sleeves in acid-free box

Fig. 7 Original photographs boxes and ready to be moved to storage

Space and time were two main concerns. Because storage is an issue with regard to archives, we wanted the collection to take up as little space as possible.  We removed damaged and detached mountings that did not show any information.  Also, since there were more than 300 documents to house, we undertook repairs on the documents only when it was absolutely necessary for the preservation of the items.  Each item was housed in Mylar® sleeves and archival boxes (figs. 6 & 7).  The final stage of the process was the transfer of the original collection to the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library. There is takes its place among the many other student society and sports club records which may be consulted in the reading room there.

All the documents were digitally imaged and will be soon accessible on DRIS catalogue for all those wishing to dive in the history of the Boat Club, or indeed those interested in the history of photography.

We wish to gratefully acknowledge the financial support that has been given by the TCD Association and Trust.

Many thanks to Mark Pattison from the Boat Club for his knowledge and availability and to Lucilla Ronai, former conservation intern who had the courage and motivation to start the project.

Erica D’Alessandro

Heritage Council Intern, Glucksman Conservation Department, the Library of Trinity College Dublin

What lies behind ‘the Ot’: Treasures of the Otway-Ruthven Collection, MS 11093

Blog post by Shauna Donnelly, Summer Intern in the Manuscripts and Archives Department, Trinity College Library Dublin

Professor Jocelyn Annette Otway-Ruthven, fondly referred to as ‘the Ot’ by those who knew her, was a pioneering female academic during the mid-twentieth century in Trinity College Dublin. Her achievements during her time at Trinity marked milestones not just in her own career, but also in the progress and history of women in Trinity, and the increasing possibilities for them in College. The first women students were admitted to College in 1904, with Constantia Maxwell becoming the first woman academic appointed to staff in 1909. Maxwell became the first female Lecky Professor of History in 1945, with the Ot succeeding her in the same role in 1951. Although Maxwell’s role in College’s acceptance of women academics was pivotal, she was not as groundbreaking as ‘the Ot’, as she was known to be shy, quiet, and conservative, accepting the discrimination and limitations placed upon her by her male counterparts.

‘The Ot’, however, was more strategic and ambitious in seeking gender equality in College. She began her teaching career in 1938, holding down year to year appointments until 1951 when she became Lecky Professor of History. 1968 became the high point of her career when she was elected the first female Fellow of Trinity College Dublin, which was a high honour. She also published her so-called magnum opus, A History of Medieval Ireland, the same year. Through means of institutional loyalty, proving her credibility as a top class academic, and gaining the favour of Provost A.J. McConnell, the Ot succeeded further in becoming the Dean of Arts and Humanities in 1969, breaking more ground in being the first woman appointed to that position. Her prolific career at Trinity continued until her retirement in 1981, spanning an impressively dedicated 43 years, during which she contributed to the life of College in far more than just the academic realm. She nurtured the talents of many of her female students, and through establishing connections and gaining the favour of influential male colleagues, she succeeded in changing existing attitudes towards women in Trinity. As a result, women became far more than second class citizens, instead being seen as fully integrated members of the College community and engaging in all aspects of life at Trinity. ‘The Ot’ truly played her part in the “quiet revolution” executed by women in Trinity excellently to yield a lasting impact and legacy.

 

 

 

IMG_5571 (1)

The harp of Castle Otway: a family treasure

 

MS 11093 is a collection of papers relating to the Otway-Ruthven family, from which ‘the Ot’ descended. It offers researchers a unique glimpse into the lineage of one of Trinity’s most pivotal female figures, containing a variety of materials spanning over three centuries from c1642–1974. A preliminary list of the collection’s contents was completed in 1999, but since then the materials have been largely untouched. I have had the pleasure of surveying and cataloguing the full extent of its rich contents 8 years later, unearthing many insights into the rich heritage of the Otway-Ruthven clan. The volume of materials, and their meticulous comprehensiveness, illustrates the Ot’s interest in the preservation of her own family’s history. It is clear that her abilities as a historian were lent to her beginning the collection, as she kept a log book of family documents (which is included within the catalogue’s personal section).

The collection comprises largely of miscellaneous estate papers, giving us insight into the large scale of the Castle Otway estate and its operations. Legal, rental, and financial documentation appears alongside maps and correspondence, while the collection also contains many personal items and memorabilia from different members of the extended family. Through these materials we gain insight into the life, times, and relations of the influential clan, and can decipher how life was at Castle Otway before it was burned in 1922. The Castle Otway harp is a particularly beautiful component of College’s acquisitions from the Otway clan. It is probably the largest and most ornate piece of memorabilia, with a rich and much debated history. Personal items relating to the Casement family also appear in the collection, illustrating the Ot’s connections to and relationship with a famously rebellious cousin, 1916 revolutionary Roger Casement. The diversity and comprehensiveness of MS 11093 provides a full picture of the Ot’s ancestry, and allow us to appreciate not just who she was, but where she came from.

The Ot

‘The Ot’: Professor Antonette Jocelyn Otway-Ruthven

 

MS 11093 will soon be available for viewing by Readers of the Manuscripts and Archives Department.

Biographical notes for this post were taken from Salters Sterling’s ‘Memoirs of the Ot’ (2002), published in A Danger to the Men? A History of Women in Trinity College Dublin 1904–2004, Susan M. Parkes, FTCD (ed.), (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 2004) pp. 263–267.

 

Commemorating Jonathan Swift

Marble bust of Swift by L-F Roubiliac in the Long Room (TCD Art Collection)

To celebrate the sesquarcentennial – that’s 350th – anniversary of Jonathan Swift’s birth Trinity College has organised something completely different: a collaborative online exhibition reuniting original Swift artifacts from all over Dublin.

Trinity College Dublin has a very important place in the history of satirist Jonathan Swift (1667-1745). Not only was he a student here but the first record of his existence known to scholarship is his name inscribed in the student admissions book and the record of one of his examinations in the College. Swift’s time as a student in Trinity was not his finest moment. In his memoir he complains that he was awarded his degree by special grace (that is, he almost didn’t graduate) even though he claims to have followed all the rules. The archives don’t lie, however, and the future Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral appears to have been fined several times for misdemeanours such as insolence and ‘haunting the town’.

Trinity College in the late seventeenth century. From the National Library of Ireland (NLI MS 392)

Trinity is marking the 350th anniversary of Jonathan Swift’s birth this year with a number of activities. There is an exhibition from the Library’s world-renowned collection of Swift-related books and manuscripts in the Long room. This collection was developed partly through gift and bequest and the exhibition showcases particularly the generous bequest of American Swiftian A. C. Elias. Also planned is an international conference on 7-9 June at which experts will speak on themes such as Swift and politics, travel, family and friends.

To re-imagine Swift’s Dublin, the Library has embarked on a new departure. For the first time, a collaborative online exhibition has been curated which brings together Swift-related artifacts which still survive in places outside the College: these include St Patrick’s Cathedral, where Swift was Dean; Marsh’s Library, much frequented by Swift; and St Patrick’s Hospital which was built as a result of the bequest left by Swift for a hospital to care for individuals with mental illness. Included in the exhibition are a snuff box (from the Cathedral), a wine bottle (from the National Museum), and the writing desk upon which Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels (from St Patrick’s Mental Health Services).

An nineteenth-century illustrated edition of Gulliver’s Travels for children (Dublin City Library)

Commenting on the continued relevance of Swift in the 21st century writing, Dr Aileen Douglas of the School of English remarked that ‘for a long time eighteenth-century Protestant writers like Swift were seen as not Irish, but in works like the Drapier’s Letters Swift can be seen beginning to speak for the Irish nation.’ A great part of Swift’s legacy lies in the work Gulliver’s Travels, which has never been out of print since it was published in 1726 and which belongs, not just to Irish literature, but to world literature. Dr Douglas remarks that ‘its relevance only increases over time. Gulliver is always on a voyage, never quite belongs and is in the end totally alienated. In today’s world of movement and dispossession there is a great deal of resonance there.’

The Library thanks all its collaborators in the making of this exhibition.

Dr Jane Maxwell

 

James Goodman music manuscripts online

Dedicated Goodman homepage on the Irish Traditional Music Archive

Dedicated Goodman homepage on the Irish Traditional Music Archive

Trinity College Library has a wonderful collection of pre-Famine music, saved for posterity by the then Professor of Irish at Trinity, James Goodman. Six  volumes of tunes and texts are now freely available online thanks to a collaboration between the College and the Irish Traditional Music Archive.

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Wilde About Oscar!

On 28 September in Paris, all eyes will be on the Petit Palais Musée des Beaux-Arts, as the city opens its first major exhibition on the life and works of the flamboyant Irish writer, Oscar Wilde. Manuscripts, photographs, paintings and personal effects are among almost 200 exhibits coming from public and private collections worldwide for the exhibition, which is co-curated by Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland. Included in the  exhibits are three items borrowed from the Oscar Wilde collection held in Trinity College Library.

Tithe Street Sale Catalogue (EPB Quin Case)

Tite Street Sale Catalogue (EPB Quin Case)

Known for his biting wit, extravagant dress and glittering conversation, Oscar Wilde is one of the best known personalities of the 19th century. His love affair with France began as a child, having learned to speak French from a native governess. He considered himself an ardent Francophile and regularly visited Paris, eventually dying there in 1900, when he was hounded out of England after his conviction for homosexuality. His tomb, in Paris’s Père Lachaise cemetery, is now a place of pilgrimage.

The Oscar Wilde collection was acquired by the Library of Trinity College Dublin in 2011 from Julia Rosenthal, a rare book dealer and avid collector of Wildeana, based in London. Rosenthal purchased her first autograph Wilde letter in 1976 and built her collection from there, and it has  been of immense value to Wilde scholarship. Richard Ellmann, Thomas Wright, Horst Schroeder and Neil Mc Kenna all made extensive use of it for their biographical works on the author. This truly unique collection of both manuscript and print materials, contains autographed first editions; letters (a small number of which are unpublished); photographs and portraits; theatre programmes and music; and some rare items of memorabilia.

One subject of the Dublin-Paris loan is a letter from Wilde in 1891 to his son Cyril, who was aged five at the time. Writing from Paris, he remarks that he is going ‘to visit a poet, who has given me a wonderful book about a Raven’. The poet was Mallarmé and the book was a translation of Poe’s The Raven. Signed ‘your loving Papa, Oscar Wilde’, it is the only known surviving letter from Wilde to either of his children.

Letter from Oscar Wilde to his son Cyril, 1891 (TCD MS 11437/1/1/1)

Letter from Oscar Wilde to his son Cyril, 1891 (TCD MS 11437/1/1/1)

Another highlight of the Trinity collection, and also included in the loan, is the ‘Tite Street Sale Catalogue’ of Wilde’s books and household goods. Among the items listed for sale are inscribed editions of Wilde’s parents’ writings and the rabbit hutch and toys belonging to his two young sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. These effects were sold at the demand of Wilde’s creditors at the time of his trial in 1895, and only four copies of the auction catalogue are known to have survived.

The final item loaned to Paris is a moving letter from Wilde to his friend, the writer Eliza Stannard (who used the pseudonym John Strange Winter), written shortly after his release from Reading Gaol in May 1897. Some of Wilde’s most poignant letters were written during these few short years of exile in France, until his death in Paris in 1900. Writing from a hotel in Bernaval-sur-Mer, Normandy, Wilde remarks, ‘of course I have passed through a very terrible punishment and have suffered to the pitch of anguish and despair’ and refers to himself as ‘an unworthy son’. ‘France has been charming to me and about me during all my imprisonment’, he writes, ‘and has now – mother of all artists as she is – give me asile’.

Letter from Oscar Wilde to Eliza Stannard, 1897 (TCD MS 11437/1/1/5)

Letter from Oscar Wilde to Eliza Stannard, 1897 (TCD MS 11437/1/1/5)

The exhibition at the Petit Palais runs from 28 September 2016 – 18 January 2017.

Caoimhe Ní Ghormáin

http://www.petitpalais.paris.fr/en