Veness Letter Book

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The Veness Letter Book is unique. It is the only known surviving record of official correspondence relating to the establishment of Australia’s first municipal electric lighting plant and system – in Tamworth, New South Wales. It contains founding documents in the development and installation of electricity in Australia. These letters tell a local story which is of national significance.

From 1877 to 1891 Daniel Frederick William Veness worked as Council clerk for Tamworth Borough Council. Veness was responsible for executing the Council’s decisions. This book covers the period from the first letter dated 3 August 1881 to the last letter dated 11 March 1890. Exact copies were made by press on dampened paper, and kept in this book for the Council’s record. This technology was used for a limited period only, making this item rare on this account.

The Veness Letter Book provides an insight into the interactions of Tamworth Borough Council with businesses and individuals in the 1880s. Drunken workers, unpaid rates, or tenders for businesses are just a few examples of the subject matter of the letters. In twenty-first century Australia, the outgoing correspondence of local councils addresses similar issues. However, the medium and language of the correspondence have changed considerably, reflecting changes in Australian life, culture and technology. The Veness Letter Book encapsulates aspects of a way of life at a different time.

However, it is the story of electric street lighting in Tamworth – a first in the Southern Hemisphere and 16 years before Sydney ‒ which makes this book priceless. The letters detail how, when and why electric street lighting was installed in Tamworth. They confirm details of the event on 9 November 1888 when Mayoress Elizabeth Piper used a golden key to switch on the street lighting. They give information about the life of Orlando William Brain, a leading personality in Australia’s electrical engineering history, who was appointed engineer in charge of the Tamworth Power Station. They contain replies to enquiries from other councils about electric lighting. The Veness Letter Book is a very significant object for Tamworth and Australia because it records the development of a critical innovation and reveals the story of Tamworth as the first City of Light.