Those Were the Days

Keeping the Personal Archive of Maitland’s Magistrate

In 1878, when her mother Margaret passed away, Phoebe Day (1855-1930) was just 23 years old. Unlike her nine older siblings, Phoebe was probably still living with her mother and caring for her since the death of her father, Edward, two years earlier. As the eldest sibling at home, Phoebe may have taken responsibility for organising her deceased parent’s possessions and found this collection of her father’s correspondence, personal notes and other documents relating to his career as a prominent Police Magistrate of Maitland and Sydney.

Dating from 1835, the collection spans Edward Denny Day’s (1801-1876) career, and connects him with important colonial individuals and events. But of all the correspondence and documents that must have crossed Day’s desk during his busy career, what made him choose these 23 documents to keep among his personal possessions?

The contents provide the clues – they represent Day’s personal reflections on his daily work and broader career, flattering community requests to act as an official and welcoming him back as Police Magistrate, official appointment letters that reflect milestone career achievements and a letter of thanks for the appreciation he received in capturing the Jewboy bushrangers. And some reflect his more personal life, including a copy of a Ruskin poem given to him by his wife Margaret, a list of household items sold at auction, and finally, his formal request to retire in 1869.

Edward’s daughter Phoebe apparently recognised their importance and kept them safe for the remainder of her life. Then the papers passed to her daughter, Madge Mitchell (née Donaldson) (1893-1987), and to her daughter Judith. In 2019 they passed from the family to Maitland City Library.