Peter Eldershaw

Eldershaw, Peter Ross (1927-1967). Obituary Australian Library Journal December 1967, pp. 253-254.

The sudden death of Peter Ross Eldershaw, Principal Archivist of the Archives Office of Tasmania, at the age of 40, has saddened his colleagues and friends in the archives and library professions, and his many acquaintances and friends throughout Australia. Peter died on 23rd July 1967 at his home at Kingston, near Hobart.

There can be very few people who have achieved so much in such a short life time, especially in view of the very severe physical handicaps under which Peter laboured for so long. He was crippled in both legs and both arms as a result of the poliomyelitis epidemic of 1937/38, and he underwent most of his education at Wingfield House, the polio after-care hospital in Hobart; and subsequently at the University of Tasmania, which he attended in a wheeled chair. He also suffered from rheumatic fever, and this weakened his heart and, in the ultimate, was responsible for his death. Despite these disadvantages, he taught himself to walk, with the aid of calipers and a frame which he designed himself.

Peter obtained a good degree at the University of Tasmania, and was awarded honours status in history. He was a tutor in English for a while under the Commonwealth Office of Education, and in 1951 he was appointed to the staff of the Tasmanian State Archives. He soon became Assistant Archivist, and contributed a great deal towards the mammoth task of applying order, and a system of classification and description, to the documents held in the State Archives. His scholarly mind, and tremendous capacity for hard work, were applied to a task which would have daunted many people in good health. The sections of the Guide to the Public Records of Tasmania which were produced from 1957 through to 1965 were essentially his work, and represented a significant contribution to the application of archives techniques to Australian records. The Introductions to these Guides demanded painstaking work, including the thorough analysis of the records themselves, and the study of a great many other original documents and publications. No more significant compositions exist in the study of Tasmanian administrative history.

Peter was invited to accept a foundation Fellowship of the Library Association of Australia when the Association received its Royal Charter of Incorporation. He accepted this offer, which was made as a mark of the esteem in which he was held for his outstanding work as an archivist. He acted as an associate examiner in the Registration Examination, and made many important contributions to the work of the Archives Section of the Association.

In 1959 the position of Archives Officer in the Tasmanian State Archives became vacant, and early in the following year Peter was appointed to this vacancy. In the following years one of his greatest achievements was the drafting of a new Archives Act, to replace the Public Records Act of 1943, which had been found wanting. When the new Act came into force (1965) Peter became Principal Archivist of the Archives Office of Tasmania.

He shared his knowledge and experience generously. He prepared papers for delivery at three of the Association's Conferences, though he was present to read the paper at only one of these gatherings - that in Hobart in 1963. His last writing was a paper on 'Archives and the winds of change' prepared for delivery at the 14th Biennial Conference in Brisbane. It was a matter of great regret that death intervened, so that he was not able to read the paper he had written. It was read, however, by the writer of this appreciation, and it will be published in the proceedings of the Conference. Peter was active in the affairs of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association. In 1951 he was one of those who pioneered the Association, and he served as Honorary Editor from that date until his death. The Papers and Proceedings of that Association (its quarterly publication) owe more to him than to any other person, and the high standard both as to content and format is the result of his work.  He was honoured with an Honorary Life Membership in the T.H.R.A.  He was largely responsible for many of the Association's other publications, and the amount of detailed editorial work that he did in an honorary capacity will never be known. His ready assistance to historical research workers became a by-word throughout the history departments and schools with allied interests in the universities of Australia. It has been stated that 'scarcely a piece of historical research concerning this State [i.e. Tasmania] was undertaken or accomplished in recent years which did not owe much to Mr. Eldershaw'.

In 1966, when the decision was taken to invite an archivist to become a member of the Australian Advisory Council on Bibliographical Services, the Standing Committee of A.A.C.0 .B.S. invited Peter Eldershaw to be that archivist, and he accepted the invitation. His death occurred, however, almost exactly a month before he would have taken his place at an A.A.C.O.B.S. meeting for the first time.

Peter leaves a widow and three young children (Jane, Susan and Tristram). His widow, Shirley (nee Shirley Franks) is herself an M.A., and first met Peter when she was a research student doing post­graduate work for the University of Tasmania in the field of history.

The Tasmanian Historical Research Association has established a memorial fund, which it proposes to use so that some form of memorial can be instituted for Peter Eldershaw.  lt is possible that some significant document in Tasmania's history will be published to constitute the memorial; another possibility is the institution of a commemorative lecture. Donations to the fund can be forwarded to Dr. O. M. Roe, History Department, University of Tasmania, Box 252C, G.P.O., Hobart, 7001.

RC Sharman.


Also see entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography