The Library closures due to the lockdowns have led to some of the onsite volunteers becoming virtual volunteers and staying engaged from home by correcting the text of digitized Victorian Newspapers on Trove.

The volunteers have been correcting the Port Phillip Gazette (1838-1845)

Trove is a database which holds thousands of digitized historical newspapers, i.e., those mostly published before 1955, including over 350 Victorian newspapers. The volunteers’ task is to correct the newspaper text which is not picked up in a keyword search. There are many reasons for this- the print may be faded, blurred, or in the gutter of the page, as seen below. The volunteers’ work ensures more accurate search results whilst making more of Victoria’s early history discoverable online.

In the above example, the volunteers have been ensuring the OCR’d text on the left matches the text printed in the newspaper on the right. Where the words do not match, the volunteers edit them in Trove. Once this is done, the words in the article will now be found in a keyword search.

The project requires volunteers to read each sentence carefully, which can be challenging as some articles can be particularly verbose. Norman, one of the volunteers, has kept a list of some archaic words he has come across. ‘The contemporary reader can easily digest these early Melbourne papers but some of the vocabulary and vernacular of the day will have them reaching for the dictionary and giving a wry smile’, says Norman. ‘They will also quickly realise that having a good grounding in Latin would be handy.’

Some of the words (and definitions) that Norman has come across are listed below:

arrogate             to claim unwarrantably or presumptuously;
batties                mad
badinage            light, playful banter
coxcombry         conceited arrogance or foppishness
currier                a person who dresses and colours leather after it is tanned
disembogue        to discharge contents by pouring forth
gibbeted             execute by hanging/ridicule someone
pellucid              allowing the maximum passage of light,
philippic             a bitter attack or denunciation, especially a verbal one.
replevied            to recover possession of
surtouts              a man’s close-fitting overcoat, a frock coat
thraldom             bondage; slavery; servitude.
vaticination        prediction

Historical newspapers also remind us that some things have changed. For example, names starting with ‘Mc’ were often written in newspapers as M’; there wasn’t always a birth and death notices section- personal notices could appear anywhere in the paper and some place names could be spelt differently or have a different name entirely. Knowing about these variances can improve your search results. Below is a list of some different place names the volunteers came across in their correcting:

Williamstown = William’s Town or Williams Town or William Town
Collingwood and Fitzroy = New Town or Newtown 
Maribyrnong River = Salt Water River / Saltwater River
Gippsland = Gipps Land
Sandhurst = Bendigo
Ballaarat = Ballarat
Baroobul Hills = Barrabool Hills (near Geelong)

The Maribyrnong River was originally named the Salt Water River as seen above in The Age, 1895, December 19, p.6.

Some olde measurements:
tierces = volume unit of measure of goods
lettle = little
rood = one quarter of an acre
hogshead = a large cask

A hogshead was a large cask primarily for storing alcohol; article from Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 – 1919).

Bottomry (underlined in the below example) refers to a maritime contract where the owner of a ship borrows money for equipping or repairing the vessel and pledges the ship as security.

Detail from 1841, September 15, Port Phillip Gazette

Quidam Latin
otium cum dignitateleisure with dignity
ad valoremin proportion to the value
corruptio optimi fit pessimathe corruption of the best is the worst
forma pauperispoor form/ in the character or manner of a pauper

To date the volunteers have corrected over 350,000 lines of text. A big thank you to all their work on this project- and especially to Liz and Norman who provided much of the content for this blog.

This article has 8 comments

  1. Are there vacancies into the future for virtual volunteers to continue correcting Trove text?

    • Hi Marie,
      Thanks for your interest. Yes there is vacancies- plenty of papers to correct.
      A librarian will be in contact shortly to detail.

  2. With the continuing Covid Lockdowns in Melbourne over the last two years, my usual volunteering roles were put on hold. Undertaking some online research led me to virtual volunteering for Trove. The wonderful thing is you can spend as long or as little time as you wish correcting the text and if you don’t complete the article, you can return to it another time. The bonus is you learn some interesting information and tid bits. A rural news report meant that I read and text corrected information that my grandfather broke his wrist cranking his T Model Ford in the 1920s.

  3. This is so interesting. Thank you

  4. Very interesting. When spellings have changed, e.g. William’s Town is now Williamstown, which version should be used in the edited text?

    • Hi,
      Thanks for the question; you should keep it as it appears in the original text. Some spellings for personal or place names may reflect a historical spelling at the time that the article was written. So if it’s Williams Town- your corrected text should read Williams Town. 


  5. Anyone can correct any OCR text in any of the newspapers in Trove. It’s a fascinating and worthwhile way to help yourself and other researchers.

  6. Thank you Paul for this fascinating article.
    Trove is the most amazing source of history – one I have been using for many years.
    It is very rare for me when searching the newspapers to not get entirely engrossed in articles which needs editing.
    It is very satisfying (and fun) to interpret an often very daunting paragraph.

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