One of the most interesting stories about Tasmania's early history is the publication of a pirated edition of Charles Dickens' ThePosthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club in 1838-9.
The publisher was Henry Dowling (1810-1885), son of the prominent Baptist minister of the same name, and older brother of artist Robert Dowling. He was born in Gloucester and apprenticed to a printer before coming to Van Diemen's Land in 1830.
In his lifetime he was a printer, publisher, bank manager and philanthropist. In 1831, at the age of 21, he became the editor and publisher of the Advertiser, previously the paper of John Pascoe Fawkner.
Dowling was later Mayor of Launceston from 1857-61 and for two years a member of the Tasmanian House of Assembly. He was also one of the founders of the Launceston Bank for Savings.
The original Pickwick Papers, Dickens' first novel, followed his previous success with Sketches by Boz. Pickwick Papers was published (with illustrations) in London in 20 instalments between March 1836 and October 1837.
The illustrator (from number 4 onwards) was 'Phiz'. The publication quickly became very popular and must have found its way to Van Diemen's Land very promptly.
Dowling's version of the text was published in 25 instalments from August to October 1838 and was available from his stationery warehouse in Brisbane Street.
Illustrations (lithographs) for this publication were made available to subscribers towards the end of this time.
The illustrations, copies or adaptations of those in the English publication, were said to be by 'Tiz'. The story was later published in book form with 20 lithographic illustrations.
The identity of the illustrator 'Tiz' has always been a mystery.
Jack Briggs, said to be a servant of Dowling's, is usually credited with the illustrations, although he is not known to have had any artistic training.
However, an obituary for Henry Dowling in 1885, more than 45 years after his publication of the pirated version, claims the illustrations were done by a draughtsman in the Hobart Survey Office.
Very few copies of Dowling's version of the Pickwick Papers remain in libraries in Australia. Libraries Tasmania has a copy of the book form, as does the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery.
The National Library in Canberra has two copies and one of those is noted as having the stamp of the Launceston Mechanics' Institute.
A version of this article appeared previously on the Launceston Mechanics' Institute blog.