Missing Archives

The note in the Alfred Deakin Papers indicating the missing William Denton letter

Published
Author
Benjamin Laird

I recently received from the National Library of Australia electronic versions of the letters William Denton sent to Alfred Deakin. When I initially asked about the letters I was told that item 1/11 was missing though there seems to be two lost letters. The first letter 1/11 is absent or perhaps never existed as noted by the file image but item 1/15 is also does not have a document associated with it though it has not explicitly identified as being a lost file. It is not the first time that I have come across astray archives.

Late last year when I was attempting to find more information about the Melbourne Argus expedition in New Guinea on which Denton died I was told by a librarian at the State Library of Victoria that the whereabouts of the Argus administrative archive are unknown. So while copies of the newspaper have been digitised all other documents that the newspaper might have had, like correspondence, are lost or even destroyed.

The misplaced items from the Alfred Deakin Papers and the whole vanished Argus archive surprised me. I kind of expected that once a document went into an archive it would remain, barring natural destruction—it is after all a solid object unlike volatile data. The fact that documents, or whole archives, go missing without anyone realising makes them fascinating in a materially mutable way.

What is also interesting about the letters is even without Deakin’s side of the communication it is clear how their relationship changes. Denton is fond of Deakin and appreciative of the letters he has sent him. The letters change in address from “Dear Mr Deakin” to “Dear Friend Deakin”. I am hoping that the Wellesley Historical Society has copies of Deakin’s letters. The Denton’s routinely boxed up what they had collected and sent them home.

I intend to transcribe the letters and attach them to their records on this site and so far I have been able to decipher about half of each of the letters (they are much more legible at the beginnings than the ends). They have not been stored chronologically in the archive so I initially read them out of order which in itself is a poetic experience. I want to write a work in response to Denton’s letter writing which has, I think, a relationship to biographical poetry. The letters like individual poems with the gaps between them demanding that some meaning is made.