A small, ephemeral pamphlet is a superb addition to the Library’s rare books collection.
At last year’s Melbourne Rare Book Fair, the Library acquired a letterpress printed chapbook, produced in England in the late eighteenth century, titled The Life, and Surprising Adventures of Blue-eyed Patty, the Valiant Female Soldier.
John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors defines a chapbook as a ‘small pamphlet of popular, sensational, juvenile, moral or educational character, originally distributed by chapmen or hawkers’. These booklets circulated in their millions in England between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.
Long regarded as cheap street literature, poorly made and ephemeral, nowadays chapbooks have become highly desirable items in the rare book trade. The eight pages of Blue-eyed Patty narrate the fictional journey from England to Australia of a young woman named Patty who dressed as a soldier to accompany her lover to New South Wales.
The story includes some factual details of life in the colony of Port Jackson in the 1790s, including news of the spearing of Governor Phillip, the shortage of food and other provisions, and the execution of 13 convicts for mutiny.
Of the three woodcut illustrations, one depicts an English village, and two others feature sailing ships. On the final pages a ballad, ‘A New Song — Tune the Hardy Tar’, retells Patty’s tale in verse.
The Library’s copy is unique (four copies exist of another edition) — it comes from an edition unrecorded elsewhere of which no example is listed in the English Short Title Catalogue (the definitive union catalogue of works published between 1473 and 1800, mainly in Britain and North America).
The Library gratefully acknowledges Deborah J Leslie of the Folger Shakespeare Library who helped with cataloguing and adding the Library’s holdings to that database.
The Life, and Surprising Adventures of Blue-eyed Patty, the Valiant Female Soldier is a superb addition to the Library’s holdings of pre-1850 English chapbooks, most of which came from the collections of David Scott Mitchell and Sir William Dixson.
Librarian, Collection Strategy & Development