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Phyllis Mander Jones (1896–1984)

by Baiba Berzins

This article was published:

Phyllis Mander-Jones, by Axel Poignant, 1950s

Phyllis Mander-Jones, by Axel Poignant, 1950s

National Library of Australia, 10671841

Phyllis Mander Jones (1896-1984), librarian and archivist, was born on 2 January 1896 at Homebush, Sydney, eldest of five children of Queensland-born George Mander Jones, physician, and his wife Margaret Fleming, née Arnott, born in New South Wales. George was a grandson of the merchant David Jones; Margaret was a daughter of the biscuit manufacturer William Arnott. Phyllis was educated at Abbotsleigh and at the University of Sydney (BA, 1917), where she resided at Women’s College and graduated with first-class honours in German and second-class honours in French. Following a brief stint of teaching at Abbotsleigh, she tutored privately.

In May 1925 Miss Jones joined the staff of the Public Library of New South Wales as a library assistant. By 1933 she was a fully qualified librarian. She became particularly well informed about the history of the book, its manufacture and decoration and in 1941 was appointed to the position of bibliographer. During World War II her knowledge of languages proved useful to the Department of the Army, which employed her on its censorship staff; she also assisted in the bibliographic work carried out by the Mitchell Library, under the direction of Ida Leeson, for the Allied Geographical Section.

In November 1946 Jones was appointed Mitchell librarian. She had responsibility for a library (which also functioned as the State archives) that had experienced difficulties during the war years, the practices of which needed modernisation, and the staff of which was generally not equipped to deal with the problems confronting them. She trained the staff and established new standards in the care and recording of the collections, giving particular attention to the conservation and processing of manuscripts, maps and pictorial material and to the creation of finding aids to help researchers. She acquired important original documents, including the second collection of Macarthur papers and the records of the early Supreme Court of New South Wales. She addressed groups and conferences in Australia and overseas and prepared publications promoting the library’s valuable resources. In 1956 George Mackaness wrote to her: ‘The Mitchell owes to you far more than the Trustees will ever be able to repay’.

Miss Mander Jones (as she was commonly known) also helped to establish the archival profession in Australia. During 1948 she investigated archival practices and conservation techniques and explored holdings of records relating to Australia in Britain, the United States of America and South America, and attended the inaugural conference of the International Council on Archives. In 1949 she prepared a report about archives in New South Wales for a conference of Commonwealth and State authorities. For many years she was an examiner in bibliography and archives for registration examinations of the Library Association of Australia. She helped to establish its archives section (which in 1975 became the Australian Society of Archivists) and was co-editor of the first issue of the journal Archives and Manuscripts, in 1955.

In 1956 Mander Jones went to London to work on the records of the London Missionary Society and other papers. Next year she resigned as Mitchell librarian and became the State Public Library’s liaison officer in London. In 1960 she took over the work of the Australian Joint Copying Project, a program initiated in 1945 for the copying of records of Australian, and later Pacific, interest in the United Kingdom. In 1964 she was appointed to direct the project, jointly administered by the Australian National University and the National Library of Australia, which led to the publication Manuscripts in the British Isles Relating to Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific (1972), popularly known as the ‘Mander-Jones guide’. After returning to Australia, she contributed to the bibliography of J. C. Beaglehole’s The Life of Captain James Cook (1974) and researched the history of the Arnott family. Moving to Medindie, Adelaide, she published (1981) a guide to the manuscript holdings of the South Australian branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia.

Phyllis Mander-Jones (she hyphenated her surname in later life) was appointed MBE in 1971. She was made a fellow of the Library Association of Australia in 1963 and received its 1981 Henry Charles Lennox Anderson award. The Australian Society of Archivists made her an honorary member (1976) and in 1996 inaugurated the Mander Jones awards. She was a skilled artist and photographer, an adventurous traveller and a meticulous scholar. According to Professor George Gibb Nicholson, she had ‘a grace of character and rare distinction of manner’. Never married, she died on 19 February 1984 at Prospect, Adelaide, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Archives and Manuscripts, vol 14, no 1, 1986, pp 7-45
  • B. Berzins, interview with P. Mander-Jones (typescript, 1983, State Library of New South Wales
  • Phyllis Mander-Jones papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Baiba Berzins, 'Jones, Phyllis Mander (1896–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 18 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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