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John Miller Tregenza (1931-1999)

MSS 0049

Biographical Note

John Tregenza was born in Port Lincoln of Cornish ancestry, his father Sydney Tregenza being the founding headmaster of Port Lincoln High and his mother Flora a trained art teacher. He attended secondary school at Nuriootpa before completing his Leaving Honours as a weekly boarder at Prince Alfred College.

In 1946 he enrolled at the University of Adelaide, graduating with and Arts degree with Honours in English and a major in History. After a year teaching at Prince Alfred College in 1954, Tregenza returned to Adelaide and was awarded a Master of Arts thesis on “Australian Little Magazines: a survey and checklist” which was published by The Libraries Board of SA in 1964.

In 1956 he received a PhD scholarship from the Australian National University where he completed his thesis on Charles Henry Pearson under the supervision of Keith Hancock in 1959. In the same year he was appointed as a lecturer on Tudor and Stuart history at Newcastle University College, and he continued to expand his interest in local and Australian history. In 1962 he accepted a postgraduate fellowship at Oxford University, resulting in his book “Professor of Democracy: the life of Charles Henry Pearson, 1830-1894: Oxford don and radical” being published by Melbourne University Press.

In 1963 he was appointed Lecturer at The University of Adelaide, rising to Senior Lecturer and eventually Reader in History. He had a heavy teaching load and supervised many theses on South Australian and local history. In 1963 he was also appointed a founding member of the state working party for the Australian Dictionary of Biography. During this time, his firm conscience and convictions led to his active involvement with the campaign against the war in Vietnam, being appointed a founding member of the Campaign for Peace in Vietnam. His involvement with other public issues included his campaign for cycling paths and amenities for bicycles and environmental issues.

Tregenza’s growing interest in South Australian history led in 1974 to his formally proposing the establishment of the Historical Society of South Australia and serving as founding editor of its journal. In 1975 he spent two months study leave in Cornwall searching for and copying letters from 19th century emigrants to further research into Australian social history.

In 1976 he resigned from the Adelaide University to become Curator of the Historical Collections at the Art Gallery of SA, where he researched and established the Historical Pictures Index, a record of all known paintings and drawings of South Australian interest in national and private collections. Tregenza also curated 14 exhibitions in the Gallery’s Historical Treasures Room. His research on Angas resulted in the publication of his authoritative “George French Angas: artist, traveller and naturalist 1822-1886.” His detailed research included following the paths of the artists and photographing nearly every identifiable site. While at the Art Gallery, Tregenza’s interest in the presentation of South Australian history saw his involvement in the redevelopment of the North Terrace cultural precinct and the Old Legislative Council building.

In 1981 Tregenza’s position at the Art Gallery was transferred to the History Trust of SA on its establishment, where he was appointed as State Historian. His many involvements included involvement with the Jubilee 150 Board and the Publications Committee, resulting in the Atlas of South Australia edited by Trevor Griffin and Murray McCaskill. He also curated a major exhibition on Eugene Von Guerard, accompanied by the publication “Eugene von Guerard’s South Australia” with Alison Caroll.

Tregenza retired as State Historian in 1987 to work as a consultant historian, publishing two commissioned works “The Le Messuriers of Port Adelaide: five generations of enterprise in transport and timber” and “The Collegiate School of St Peter Adelaide: the founding years 1847-1878.”

Tregenza’s publications display the detailed research that came to typify all his work, assisted by his wife, Jean. He suffered ill health for much of his career and several projected publications remained unwritten, however he maintained detailed files of his research and his interests.

Wilfrid Prest commented in his biographical entry “No one has done more than this quietly spoken yet passionate man to show South Australians how important and interesting their own history can be.”

Sources: R. M. Gibbs. ‘John Miller Tregenza, 1931-1999.’ Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia, No. 35, 2007: 18-27.

Wilfrid Prest. ‘John Miller Tregenza.’ History Trust of South Australia. ‘Adelaidia’

Contents Listing

Series 1: University of Adelaide student  29 cm

Series 2: Australian National University 1956-58; Travelling scholarship 1963  136 cm

Series 3: Newcastle University College 1958-61  17 cm

Series 4: University of Adelaide 1963-1976  2.4 m

Series 5: Australian Dictionary of Biography  34 cm

Series 6: Materials collected for a projected publication on Cornish settlers in South Australia and Victoria  40 cm

Series 7: Art Gallery of SA (Curator of Historical Collections) 1976-81  1.4 m

Series 8: Art Gallery of SA (Historical Pictures Index)  34 cm

Series 9: History Trust 1981-1987  1.8 m

Series 10: Consultant historian 1987-  1.2 m.

Series 11: South Australian Research notes compiled by John Tregenza  80 cm

Series 12: Public issues  80 cm

Series 13: Other / Biographical / Correspondence  60 cm

Revised list
Cheryl Hoskin
April 2020

University Library

Barr Smith Library
South Australia 5005


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