The Primrose Press in Melbourne is a small hobby press which brings out interesting and unusual books. A recent production (2022) is Laura’s Animal Stories: The Lion which is a rather charming story for a child. The manuscript has been held in the Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne since 1954. The author of the story was Eliza Brown (1785 – 1831), a parson’s wife and mother of 12 children. She published various books for children, but this one was never published. The Lion is the first of thirteen stories by Eliza which will be published by the Primrose Press. The tale has been illustrated by Elias Gondwana, and the introduction has been written by Merete Colding Smith. The book has been printed in an edition of only 100 copies, by permission of the Rare Books Collection.
There is a frame narrative to the series about six-year old Laura being given a sketch book by her brother. The series is not of any special literary merit, but it gives a lovely idea of children’s reading in a middle-class family of the Victorian era. The story instructs, points to morals, and reacts to young Laura’s comments and questions, and it reflects the religious and societal values of the time.
Laura, while learning about lions, will feel safe and secure in England, knowing that God will protect her from danger. Today some of the comments could be seen as racist and inappropriate, but the little book gives us a fascinating glimpse into history.