Recent visitors to Fryer Library ... relatives and researchers from afar

In recent months Fryer Library has been honoured with visits from some distinguished guests, including UQ's own Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Peter Høj, family members with connections to our collections (Colin Clark's granddaughter Philippa d'Halluin, FW Robinson's granddaughter Belinda Robinson, members of Paul Sherman's family), history professor Alistair Sponsel from the USA, a group of UQ Alumni, and winner of the 2016 ASA/CAUL and Hazel Rowley fellowships, Matthew Lamb.

Here are some highlights...

Belinda Robinson, granddaughter of FW Robinson ('Doc Robbie')

Late in July, Fryer Library staff were delighted to receive a surprise visit to the FW Robinson Reading Room from Belinda Robinson, who was accompanied by UQ’s Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Peter Høj.

Belinda Robinson and Professor Peter Høj with Fryer Library’s bronze relief of
Associate Professor FW Robinson.

Belinda, who is Chief Executive of Universities Australia and a granddaughter of FW Robinson, took a moment from her busy schedule to acquaint herself with Fryer Library's bronze relief of ‘Doc Robbie’. This likeness of our Reading Room's namesake was cast in 2010 by University Sculptor, Dr Rhyl Hinwood, from a fibreglass portrait by Daphne Mayo, donated to Fryer Library by the Robinson family in 1990. Belinda was also joined by University Librarian, Mr Robert Gerrity, to discover some of the varied items in her grandfather’s papers held in our special collections.

Belinda Robinson and Robert Gerrity with a hand-drawn diagram by FW Robinson relating to WWI.

Acknowledged as the founder and custodian of the Fryer Library and, later, chairman of the John Oxley Memorial Committee, Associate Professor Frederick Walter Robinson (‘Doc Robbie’) was, in the words of 2013 Fryer Fellow Dr William Hatherell, “a veritable renaissance man”.[1] Educated in Sydney and Germany, Robinson was a brilliant scholar who was awarded a PhD, magna cum laude, from the German University of Jena for a thesis written in German on Roman history. Fluent in German, he also served on the Western Front as an intelligence officer and in the AIF Education Service during World
War I. In early 1923, after working as Assistant Professor of Modern Languages at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, and as an examiner in senior English for the NSW Department of Public Instruction, he took up a lecturing position in English and German at The University of Queensland.

Coincidentally, Robinson met Professor JJ Stable (the first professor appointed to the McCaughey Chair of English Language and Literature) on the day after student John Denis (‘Jack’) Fryer died from the effects of poison gas in World War I. Stable had tasked Robinson with teaching Australian literature as part of the first year course in English at UQ, “the first University in Australia to include Australian Literature in its set courses”,[2] according to Robinson.

The acquisition of Australian books for the new course was a priority. In early 1927 the Fryer Memorial Library was established, beginning in a bookcase of Queensland cedar, through a gift of £10 from the University Dramatic Society to honour its former Vice-President Jack Fryer. In 1952 FW Robinson reflected,

[Fryer Library] was to be attached to the Department of English, to be a reading and reference library only … and to contain not only all books which might be called works of Australian Literature, but also "background" books of Australia which might inspire or give material for creative writing.[3]

FW Robinson at the University of Jena, Germany, when he was studying there in 1911-12
(image courtesy UQ Archives)

A news item in the October 1928 issue of UQ’s student magazine Galmahra noted that “the first selection of Australian books for the Fryer Memorial Library has been made by Doctor F. W. Robinson, M.A., during his recent Sydney Visit”.[4] Doc Robbie continued to pursue benefactions and he oversaw the establishment and operations of the new library for many years as part of his tireless advocacy for the study of Australian literature.

Through his university teaching and vigorous participation in many cultural and educational groups within and outside the university, Robinson was a highly influential figure — particularly in his pioneering work in teaching, documenting and researching Australian literature, developing the Queensland school curriculum in English and championing the importance of Aboriginal anthropology.[5]                 

Doc Robbie’s contribution to the University was recognized in the award of an Honorary Doctorate of Letters in 1968. In 1967, following a submission made by University Librarian Derek Fielding, the University Senate approved UQ's Commemoration Committee's recommendation, that Fryer Library's Reading Room be named the "FW Robinson Room".

Carved in 1977 by sculptor Dr Rhyl Hinwood, a grotesque with his likeness overlooks the exterior entrance to the St Lucia campus Great Court, Robinson holding an Aboriginal shield “in memory of the work he did to protect Aboriginal sites.”[6] In addition, 'Doc Robbie' memorial benches overlooking the University's natural amphitheatre (which he imagined becoming part of UQ's Greek Theatre), were dedicated in 1993 by his former students and colleagues.[7]

Left: FW Robinson carved grotesque at the entrance to the Great Court
(image courtesy Dr Rhyl Hinwood).
Right: Bronze relief, cast in 2010 by Dr Rhyl Hinwood, from a fibreglass portrait by
Daphne Mayo, donated to Fryer Library by the Robinson family in 1990.

Any visitor to Fryer Library who wishes to learn more about this important figure in the history of Australian literature study and The University of Queensland can access the papers of Doc Robbie in Fryer Library's FW Robinson collection.This includes personal papers, correspondence, manuscripts, diaries, notes, photos, maps and miscellaneous publications, in more than 33 boxes of unpublished and published material.

Paul Sherman's family


L-R, Paul Sherman's sister-in-law Sue Sherman, sister Lyn Mitchell, nephew Andrew Sherman,
Fryer Library Manager Simon Farley.
A display of items from the Paul Sherman collection UQFL428 is in the background. 

Members of Paul Sherman's family made a special visit to Fryer Library at the end of July to view pictures and memorabilia honouring Paul's Shakespearean acting career. These items formed part of the Library's  “My Library Was Dukedom Large Enough” exhibition of rare books and manuscript material to celebrate the 400 year history of the works of William Shakespeare (1564-1616).

Poet, playwright, actor, journalist, teacher and raconteur: Paul Anthony Sherman was revered in many circles, and yet was the humblest of men.[8]          

Scene from Coriolanus by William Shakespeare on the steps of Forgan Smith Building,
presented by the University of Queensland Dramatic Society
during Commemoration Week, St Lucia, Brisbane, 23 to 24 Apr 1956.

Alistair Sponsel, Assistant Professor of History, Vanderbilt University

In August, Alistair Sponsel, Assistant Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, USA, and 2013 Ritter Memorial Fellow, travelled to Australia to visit the University of Sydney, UQ's Heron Island Research Station and Fryer Library as part of his research on the topic “Coral Reefs: From Threatening to Threatened.”

Alistair Sponsel, Assistant Professor of History, Vanderbilt University,
with Fryer Library Manager Simon Farley in the FW Robinson Reading Room

Alistair is an historian of modern science, receiving his PhD in history of science from Princeton University in 2009. He combines teaching courses on the history of science, the history of exploration, and environmental history at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, with his various research interests. Professor Sponsel's current research focuses on the history of coral reef science and on Charles Darwin's early career, with his first book ("Darwin's First Theory") to be published by University of Chicago Press. In Fryer Library, Alistair examined the papers of Dorothy Hill, Australia's first female professor and first female president of the Australian Academy of Science, and he proved to be an extremely hardworking but most undemanding researcher!

Professor Dorothy Hill (1907-1997)

Professor Dorothy Hill, geologist and palaeontologist, became an acknowledged expert on corals, and her own coral research was aided by her ability to use core samples obtained from the Great Barrier Reef (principally Heron Island). Her study of reef geology was complimented by that of Professor John Wells from Cornell University. During the 1950’s Wells was a Fulbright scholar who visited UQ for almost a year, including Heron Island, and his own past research included studies of the Marshall Islands and Bikini Atoll.

We hope that Professor Sponsel will maintain his Australian connection and revisit Fryer Library in the not too distant future.


[1] Dr William Hatherell (2014) Two pioneers of 'English' in Queensland: JJ Stable and FW Robinson. Fryer Folios9 1: 3-6.

[2] Robinson, FW, 'The Fryer Memorial Library of Australian Literature', Galmahra, November 1952, pp. 8-9.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Galmahra : the magazine of the University of Queensland (1928) Volume 4 Issue 3, p39.

[5] Hatherell, W. (2015). Queensland man of letters: The many worlds of F.W. Robinson. Queensland Review, 22(2), 143-156.   

[6] A guide to the Great Court Rev. & updated ed. ed. Edited by Pascoe, Brian D. and University of Queensland. Media and Information Services. St. Lucia, Qld.: University of Queensland Press, 1992. p72.

[7] Edwards, P. (1990). Documents and Correspondence Relating to the 'Doc Robbie Memorial Benches', 1990-1994. Fryer Library, F3317.

[8] Sheahan-Bright, Robyn (2016) Obituaries : Paul Sherman OAM. Fryer Folios10 1: 39-39. 

Last updated:
3 March 2017