State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 59 Autumn 1997


From boom to bust in the “Chicago of the south”
the 19th-century Melbourne book trade

Someone who knows Boston much better than I do and who is mindful of the late 20th-century twinning of that city with Melbourne wonders why I have chosen to make Chicago my point of reference.1 Cities have their illusions — and delusions — in all ages and like to characterize themselves through flattering comparisons. How many exemplars are there of, say, Athens and Venice at all points of the compass? Present-day appeals to a supposed shared cultural seriousness, or democratic ideology, or perhaps simply Irish heritage, tell their own story, but my concern is with the “Marvellous Melbourne” of the 19th century and with what is less a self-definition than a not altogether admiring outside perception. For contemporaries Melbourne the brash, the boastful — think of Anthony Trollope's impressions in the early 1870s — and the booming was quite appropriately compared with Chicago.2 Urban historians and demographers could cite other cities — Lodz or Odessa — that grew from almost nothing in the course of the 19th century, but for us in the English-speaking world those other examples — sources, nonetheless, of numerous immigrants and of contributions to cultural traditions — are a little remote. It was creation ex nihilo, phenomenal expansion that caught the imagination of observers. If we disregard — as we should not — many millennia of Aboriginal or Koori habitation and the intimate relationship with the land that that supposed and focus on European-settled Australia, we are faced with the prodigy of an arrival — an invasion — in 1835 and of well over 400,000 people living suburban lives in that same location by the beginning of the 1890s.
Having now spent more than half my life in Melbourne, the somewhat derided “other place” as it was represented in my Sydney childhood, I have fallen victim to the fascination of the urban miracle that Asa Briggs appropriately treated in a chapter of his Victorian Cities.3 Since my coming to terms with Melbourne coincided with a growing interest in the history of books, it was more or less inevitable that I should take as an assignment the depiction of printing, publishing, bookselling and reading in my adopted city's heyday before Australian Federation in 1901. What I have to say now has to be seen as part of ongoing research and reflection not just on the trade, but also on the world of books — on the print culture, if you will — of 19th-century Melbourne. The ultimate fruits of that work lie several years ahead. In the meantime I publish documents and do a certain amount of thinking aloud, as on the present occasion. Since I believe very strongly that the Australian experience must be understood in its international context and in particular by comparison with other countries of relatively recent European settlement, I welcome the opportunity to address a North American audience on this subject.
Although Harvard provided itself almost two decades ago with a special window onto the Australian world, it is probably sensible to begin with a brief summary of my view of the evolution of the trade in Britain's South Pacific colonies generally in the course of the 19th century. From there I can move to consideration of the economic environment in which the new city started, flourished and ultimately crashed. No doubt there is much in this that will be trite and self-evident, but historians of books occasionally need to be reminded that the object of their study was traded first and foremost. The extremes visible in Melbourne's case are a strong invitation to concentrate on this dimension of book production, distribution and consumption. Finally I want to suggest
something of the diversity and complexity of the cultural models imported by or imposed on Melburnians throughout the decades between 1835 and 1901. It hardly needs to be admitted that in this process I am seeking answers to Australians' perennial questions about who they are, where they have come from and what goals they should be setting for themselves. In this company it is surely unnecessary to stress what print means for this wider understanding of a national ethos.
At various times in the last decade or so I have presented a view of the 19th-century Australian book trade that divides it into four phases. Since this periodization has not yet been challenged by others, I take the liberty of recapitulating it now.4 It will serve in any case to explain where Melbourne and the colony of Victoria — separate from New South Wales after 1850 — fit into the scheme of things.
In the later 19th century the British trade tended to use the blanket term Australia to include what we now recognize as Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. However, we have to remember that then there was a group of colonies established — or detached from the initial New South Wales — at different times between 1788 and the middle of the following century. Names changed too, as the original Dutch designations — New Holland and Van Diemen's Land — gave way to expressions that were neutral or topographical — Australia, Western Australia, South Australia — or frankly imperialistic — Victoria, Queensland. New South Wales remained the oddity it is, and Tasmania struck a blow for doers — the navigator and “discoverer” Abel Tasman — against administrators and patrons — the governor Antony Van Diemen in Batavia, as well as distancing itself from the days of the penal colony of sinister repute. The full extent of the area covered by these colonies could be described with no more than a hint of 19th-century hyperbole as equivalent to that of the United States of America including Hawaii and Alaska. This makes the concentration of urban settlement in the South East of the continent even more striking and counsels some caution in deploring the problem of the distance — and time — to be overcome by distributors of books.
The earliest phase, which barely affected the later colonies, was one of reliance on personal initiative — books brought out in luggage or solicited from relatives, friends and suppliers in the United Kingdom — consequently one of dearth and deprivation overall. Sales in local auction marts were few and concerned small collections whose owners had died, gone bankrupt or simply decided to leave Australia permanently. The trade infrastructure depended on the official presses set up in Sydney in 1795, at Sorrento near Melbourne in a first abortive Victorian penal colony in 1803 and finally in Hobart. Printing was soon to be indispensable for the dissemination of government notices and instructions as well as for the jobbing that accompanies the rudimentary amenities of civilized living. By 1820 — the notional end of the first stage in New South Wales and Tasmania — the government printers were beginning to perform some of the functions normally associated with the private sector and to move into the supply of books and stationery on a very modest scale. At least one remarkable non-official work — Lewin's Birds of New South Wales — was partly produced in Sydney before the end of the Napoleonic Wars. In that age of global conflict the long supply lines of the colonies made them vulnerable. Serious development and even commitment were not possible till after 1815 and the opening out of the pastoral regions beyond the Blue Mountains behind Sydney. In years of subsistence crises and of pioneering — of quasi-frontier existence if you prefer — the creation of cultural institutions and the encouragement of bookselling were very much secondary considerations for the naval and military men sent to administer the colonies. Bligh, for example, showed no interest in the German scientific library of that
unusual early settler — as opposed to convict and official — Robert Townson.5
Things were to change after 1820 when it was clear that Australia could be much more than a gigantic penitentiary. Alongside strategic motives that argued for an effective presence around the continent, and especially in Western Australia, there were already serious reasons to support the emerging pastoral industries. Their hunger for land explains the movement into present-day Victoria, then the Port Phillip District of New South Wales, or “Australia Felix” in the phrase of Surveyor-General Thomas Mitchell, translator of Camoens' Lusiad.6 Around Portland and the maritime outlets of the so-called Western District and in Melbourne itself one could find from 1834–1835 the vanguard of an invasion fitted out for spurious respectability with a written document — the Batman Deed — that has had, and in truth deserves, less attention from bibliographers than the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand that Don McKenzie analysed so brilliantly a few years ago.7 With the advent of the Wakefieldian experiment in free settlement in South Australia in 1836 and the effective annexation of New Zealand in 1840, the future was to a large extent mapped out.

Notice of Brodie and Cruikshank's sale of books. Port Phillip patriot April 1844. (Newspaper Collection, State Library of Victoria).

It goes almost without saying that the changes that accompanied this expansion were crucial for the book trade. Free settlers and, later, assisted immigrants arrived in much greater numbers to swell the population and to reduce the overwhelming preponderance of convicts and emancipists. They were to become a powerful and ultimately successful lobby group opposed to the continuation of transportation, an issue that began to appear in locally produced pamphlet literature. They provided, of course, an audience that expected to find and was forced to create the basis for a civilized way of life. Thus between 1820 and the mid-1850s when this second phase ended we see a great number of initiatives that came to fruition. The first booksellers independent of the government press made their appearance. Some had denominational affiliations — chiefly Methodist and Presbyterian — in England and Scotland. Others, notably the Tegg brothers, sons of Thomas Tegg of Cheapside, brought to Sydney, Hobart and Launceston the skills of trained tradesmen and the advantages of a transnational connection. The press itself ceased to be muzzled by Government House. Indeed, unencumbered by the libel laws that restrain the Australians of the 1990s, colonial journalists of the 1840s could indulge a penchant for Eatanswill vituperation directed at their confrères and at all the officers of the Crown. Local publications increased in number and sophistication down to Henry Dowling's celebrated Launceston reprint/ piracy — before the 1842 British Copyright Act — of Dickens' Pickwick papers, in parts as well as in a complete volume that compares more than favourably with the Philadelphia version. Scientific societies, mechanics' institutes and subscription libraries helped to provide intellectual stimulus and
reading matter for artisans as well as officials, doctors, lawyers and landed gentlemen. Schools and, by mid-century, universities — in Sydney, then Melbourne — catered for the educational needs of the population at large and, in the latter case, of a small elite. In short there were opportunities for improvement and cultivation on a respectable scale.
On the other hand the distribution of books remained a somewhat haphazard business despite the professionalism of the Teggs and some of their competitors. Sailing times from Britain in the early 1850s were still of the order of three months, and a telegraphic link with the outside world was not completed till 1872. Local auctions fed the market much more strongly, but even the substantial scientific collection of Alexander McLeay, ex-Colonial Secretary and former Secretary of the Linnean Society in London, could hardly take the place of a regular supply of cheap books both entertaining and instructive.8 The auctioneers, who played their role as wholesalers and retailers, most frequently dealt with consignments of books from London and other Northern Hemisphere centres. This still neglected aspect of the British trade consisted essentially in making up invoices of cheap books, often remainders, and of dumping them in colonial or ex-colonial markets for sale by auction. Some of the practitioners were more interesting. Edward Lumley of London consigned not only to various ports in Australasia, but also — and over a longer period, from the early 1840s to the 1870s — to North America: Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Montreal, Chicago and San Francisco. Close examination of his relatively well prepared and printed catalogues, as opposed to the rough lists got together in Sydney, Launceston and other places at the behest of auctioneers, shows that among the dross he was sending more valuable antiquarian items than Bernard Quaritch in his even more ambitious exploration of markets all round the world in the 1880s and 1890s. None the less this was and is an unsatisfactory and unpredictable way of distributing books. By the 1850s it had outlived its usefulness.9
The Gold Rushes mark the start of a third phase that witnessed not only the reinforcement of earlier tendencies, but also a fundamental change in the way books reached Australian retailers and their customers. The background is the spectacular increase in population. As the literacy statistics that Australian officials began to collect at this time show, the newcomers scored consistently better than those who had been in the colonies for some time, and even than Londoners. The revolutions of 1848 no doubt helped — Püttmann, a friend of Marx, became a Melbourne printer — but the gold-seeking adventurers were far from uncultured. Many of them quickly turned to their old professions, which — for some — included book-selling and publishing. Far from being birds of passage, many of them were determined to make a go of their new careers and opportunities and to contribute unstintingly to their new home. The Dublin-trained George Robertson soon recognized that the way of organizing the expanding book market of Gold Rush Australia — where as much was arriving from the United Kingdom as that country was exporting to the United States of America — was to bypass speculative consignments and slow dealings from afar with London houses and to open his own buying office in the imperial metropolis. Samuel Augustus Tegg's successors in Hobart, the Walches, had had the same idea. Both firms embarked on a bold venture that did not finally peter out till a century later. Because Robertson started in Melbourne, which soon left Hobart far behind, his part in the wholesale and importing trade became paramount till his retirement from active involvement in his business in 1890, as convenient a date as any for the end of the third period.10
What was the basis of the Robertson-Walch approach? It was simple enough. The London buyers or managers, armed with knowledge of the real nature and requirements of the Australian market, could select titles

A. J. Smith. Catalogue of books new and old [1857?] (La Trobe Rare Books, State Library of Victoria LT 010·4 BB47 v. 96).

H. T. Dwight's Catalogue of books [1864?] (La Trobe Rare Books, State Library of Victoria LT 017 M61C v.1).

that suited them and, by paying cash down, obtain them at discounts large enough to cover all their costs — freight, wharfage and so forth — to the point that retailers could be granted reductions sufficient to enable them to sell at London retail prices. Those familiar with recent pricing in the Anglo-Australian trade greet this with astonishment, but there is no doubt that for much of his career Robertson achieved this result. The system is clearly laid out in a letter E. A. Petherick, the most notable of Robertson's managers, sent to the Bookseller in 1874. By this decade the Melbourne firm, which was by far the largest in Australia, was importing goods to the value of £100,000 and distributing them throughout the colonies. Over 50,000 titles were in stock in G. R.'s warehouse in Melbourne, and regular trade sales and trade catalogues offered retailers the opportunity to replenish their supplies.11 In the 1880s, as an internal schedule of Bentley's shows, the most remote Australian port — Townsville — was just over six weeks from London by regular mail steamer, while books needed little more than a month to reach Melbourne, the central point of the local trade.
Alongside these improvements in making books from outside available in the colonies at reasonable prices, the decades after the mid-1850s brought much else: a spurt in local publishing (often still, one suspects, at the authors' expense), a diversification of the sources of supply to include North America, France and Germany, the emergence of antiquarian book-selling supported by an even stronger auction market, reinforcement of the cultural and educational institutions established before 1850. In a society where emancipists and assisted immigrants could aspire to wealth and privilege altogether out of their reach in Britain books furnished not only information and entertainment, but also the sometimes flashy evidence of material success and conspicuous consumption. The squatter who — rumour has it — ordered in from Melbourne a library of handsomely bound books in order to impress Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh on his Australian tour in 1867 was certainly not alone. This man was unlucky — the itinerary was changed, and his house was never graced by the prince's presence. The unread and unadmired volumes made their way back to the Melbourne trade a century later.
It will not have escaped you that the high-point of the entrepreneurial activity of merchant importer-wholesalers like Robertson, the Walches and others coincided with the period of free trade in books in Britain itself between 1852 and the end of the century. I have suggested 1890 for the end of my third phase, but in reality things were not nearly so clear-cut. As Graeme Davison has pointed out in The rise and fall of marvellous Melbourne, the boom years after the Exhibition of 1880 saw more and more European and North American manufacturers bypassing local merchant importers and establishing agencies or branches.12 The book trade was no exception to this, and firms like Cassell and Collins had already appeared on the Melbourne and Sydney scene. In the 1880s we witness the rebirth of the “colonial edition” to which John Murray had given brief life in the 1840s. In the hands of Macmillan and many other firms it was to flourish till 1914.13 The Net Book Agreement of 1899, in other words the return to protection in the United Kingdom, and the enshrinement in the new Australian Copyright Act of 1912 of the right of publishers to prescribe the sources of supply were important steps towards the closed market that is the essence of the fourth phase. It is true that serious local publishing flourished as never before in the 1890s, thanks chiefly to the Bulletin magazine and to the new firm of Angus & Robertson (no family connection with G. R.) in Sydney. However, it is useful to remember that until quite recently Australians were importing 80 per cent of their book-reading requirements. Just as the excesses of the closed market —
artificially high prices and profits, delays in making books available, failure to take up the British and Commonwealth options for American publications — have led to a reaction in favour of freer trade in the 1990s, so too the achievements of George Robertson and his contemporaries attracted the attention of those who stood to gain most from the fact that Australia had become the largest external market for London and Glasgow publishers. That a situation decidedly in favour of Australian consumers was eventually turned around is due in no small measure, I surmise, to the fact that the crash of the early 1890s — most severe in Melbourne — brought difficulties and in the end receivership to the dominant importer and wholesaler. This is my cue to look at the economic constraints that affected the Melbourne trade through the latter two thirds of the 19th century.
The publication of The Port Phillip almanac and directory for 1847, compiled by John Joseph Mouritz, “Pastor of Particular Baptist Church, Little Brunswick st., Col.”, i.e. Collingwood, an inner suburb of Melbourne, gives the researcher intent on reconstructing Victorian society before Separation and before the Gold Rush a useful insight into this essentially pastoral and traditional world.14 It was, of course, not very different from the other colonies. Wool was the main export and a growing source of prosperity. Melbourne, with a population approaching that of Hobart, i.e. something under 20,000, dominated the country districts. Only Geelong on Corio Bay and Portland to the West were able to support newspapers in competition with those in Melbourne: apart from the official Gazette serving the Superintendent of Port Phillip, Charles Joseph La Trobe, the Patriot, the Herald and the Argus. Geelong had its Advertiser and Portland its Gazette and Mercury. Elsewhere settlements were very small indeed, and there was no printing done. Only in Melbourne can one identify people pursuing occupations in the print world apart from newspapers.
Mouritz conveniently tells us what people did, so it is possible to range alongside the proprietors of newspapers their compositors and pressmen. It is also clear that the city — officially a “Corporation” given its charter in 1842 — could support musicians — in one case a “plasterer and musician” — artists and comedians. The existence of a “Mechanics' Institution” — now the Melbourne Athenaeum — with a “Reading and News Room, open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.” and “Lectures according to circumstances” ensured that there was some access to intellectual culture under the surveillance of leading citizens. Printing was largely, but not exclusively, in the hands of the newspaper proprietors — a situation common on frontiers and in provincial towns everywhere in the 19th century. The production of books was commensurately modest.
The quality of “stationer and bookseller” was claimed by John Maclehose alone. Samuel Good was a “printer and stationer”, while two others described themselves as “stationers”. If there could be little doubt about the nature of the business of the “law stationer” George Goubert, the general term was decidedly ambiguous. An advertisement in Mouritz's work by one of the stationers, Joseph Pittman, makes it clear that he dealt in a wide variety of goods: stationery, of course, but also books, watches, jewellery, cutlery, mathematical and musical instruments, sheet music, writing desks, artists' colours, spectacles, account books and so forth. Being “nearly opposite the Club House” in Collins Street, he was well able to take advantage of the carriage trade represented by the gentlemen members of an institution — the Melbourne Club — that has retained to this day a not altogether deserved reputation as a bastion of landed privilege. Anyone familiar with John Feather's work on provincial bookselling in England will know that books appeared in shops alongside many other articles and lines.
The going concern in Hobart that passed from Samuel Augustus Tegg to the Walches at
the beginning of 1846 was quite similar. Interestingly it was to the “bookbinder” George Cooper in Elizabeth Street that the Walches sent an invoice on 8 February 1847 to the value of £43/11/2d. Alongside scores of book titles, many in single copies, there were “10 Large Dissected Puzzles”, “6 lbs Patent India Rubber”, “24 lbs Bottling Wax”, “36 Bundles Slate Pencils” and “14 lbs Brown Windsor Soap” amongst other miscellaneous items. In 1847 Melbourne was at the end of a line that passed through other colonies with a stronger and better organized trade presence. This was, if you like, the consignment system at a remove.
We now know that Edward Lumley showed an interest in the Port Phillip District before his consignment to Port Fairy, near Portland, in 1848 and before the rather splendid offering, including even a 1489 Ovid, that reached Melbourne in 1856. The merchant James Graham wrote to Lumley on 30 March 1844 to acknowledge receipt of a consignment that had arrived “not at all in good order” and without “invoice or catalogue” and to report that he was arranging an auction sale from a catalogue he was having printed in Melbourne. A later letter recounts the overall success of the sale, with a realization of £93/7/10d, which could have been exceeded if the global offer from a “Shop-Keeper” had been accepted. Melbourne in 1844 was hungry for books, and the trade was desperate for satisfactory sources of supply.15
As we have been reminded on both sides of the Pacific in recent years, pastoral and agricultural economies are vulnerable. The early 1840s in Australia had seen a substantial downturn, but Graham's report to Lumley contains more than one irony:
[…] I sincerely trust that the result of this adventure of yours to this quarter of the world may prove highly satisfactory to you, altho a more unfavorable time than this could scarcely be fixed upon, when money is so very scarce and peoples spirits so disheartened by the long & severe crisis we have gone thro'. Port Phillip has certainly had her share of the disastrous times but I am happy to say that the aspect of affairs is fast improving and I trust that brighter days are not now far distant. The wild spirit of Speculation which so wellnigh caused its ruin is now quite at an end & mercantile affairs are now carried on in a quiet & Businesslike manner.16
Thus enters the leitmotiv of Melbourne's economic history.
Recovery and expansion were to come, in fact quite spectacularly during the first Gold Rush decade. By 1860 Melbourne was more populous than Sydney, and its scores of printers and booksellers were putting it ahead of its older rival. In all sorts of measurable ways — numbers of trade personnel, publication figures, quantity of significant book auctions — Melbourne moved ahead. We have already seen the pivotal role that George Robertson played in the whole of the Australian trade. If the archives of his firm had not disappeared we would have had a much better grasp of the mechanics of publishing before 1901, for in this activity G. R. was without peer. Despite another smaller downturn in the early 1860s the Victorian trade seemed to move from strength to strength. Some features of this deserve a passing comment.
Although no one anywhere in the 19th century in Australia took the plunge and separated publishing from retail and wholesale bookselling, the changes after 1852–1853 were not just matters of quantity. The trade developed specializations. Henry Tolman Dwight, a member of the English branch of a great North American family, concentrated between 188 and his death in 1871 on antiquarian material as well as running a sort of literary salon through his shop. Scientific and medical bookselling arrived in 1861 with F. F. Baillière, a member of another transnational dynasty. A whole parallel network of German
newspapers, bookshops and printers kept alive the most important of Australia's immigrant cultures other than English. New technologies of printing were embraced with enthusiasm. An American connection emerged first with Benjamin Mortimer in the 1850s, then at the end of the 1860s with the Terrys and their spiritualist bookshop in Russell Street. However, the trade's leaders like Robertson kept a watchful eye on breaches of copyright and on the importation of American piracies. E. W. Cole, the incomparable showman of the Book Arcade, revived the omnium gatherum style of shop on another plane. In premises extending for two city blocks — from Bourke to Collins Streets — he claimed to hold over a million volumes and certainly had a cage of monkeys and a band playing. Such bookselling with zest is characteristic above all of the 1880s, the time when Melbourne's population expanded even more rapidly than before and when speculative investments in property reached a frenetic pitch.
It is tempting to dwell on this great but sometimes tawdry epoch. None the less the abandonment of “a quiet & Businesslike manner” was preparing exceedingly unpleasant shocks for Melburnians. When the crash came in 1892 and then reached its lowest point in 1893 — uncomfortable centenaries for the Victorians of the present day — bankruptcies were legion, banks failed and an unemployed population began to melt away, attracted inter alia by a new Gold Rush in Western Australia. By the end of the century Sydney, which had been less badly affected, had resumed its primacy, and Melbourne, temporary location till 1927 of the new Federal Parliament, slipped back into a subordinate position. All of this was reflected in the book trade itself. In 1892 a large consignment from Bernard Quaritch, was offered for auction by Gemmell, Tuckett & Co., Melbourne's book specialists. In explaining to Quaritch why the realization was less than a quarter of his valuation, they drew attention to the general state of the economy. Quaritch did not try the Australian market again.17 Charles Henry Pearson, former Minister for Education, compelled to return to England by his health and by the discontents of his wife, was faced in August 1892 with selling a house and a library at the worst possible moment. The Public Library of Victoria, which, since its creation in 1856, had become one of Melbourne's glories, had its grant slashed and entered into a decline from which some of us are still trying to rescue it. It is enough to put its pre- and post-crash accessions registers side by side to see the extent of the cutbacks. Petherick, who had left George Robertson and Company in 1887 to set up his own Anglo-Australian bookselling and publishing firm, went bankrupt in 1894 and was forced to work as a cataloguer for Francis Edwards in London. The deaths or retirements of trade leaders like Robertson and his rival Samuel Mullen, proprietor of the Melbourne equivalent of Mudie's Library, contributed to the disarray. Thus the trade suddenly came to echo some of society's problems — not only the criminality that was already endemic in the expanding city of the 1880s but also the poverty that flowed from the crash.18
Despite these serious setbacks it is important to understand how far the book world of protectionist and manufacturing Victoria had come in the half a century since the purely pastoral age. Sands and McDougall's Directory for 1897 shows 11 wholesale booksellers (including Cassell & Co. and Ward Lock & Co.), 247 retail booksellers, 30 bookbinders and paper rulers, 9 commercial circulating libraries (alongside the Mechanics' Institutes and public libraries scattered through Melbourne's suburbs) and even greater numbers of printers and publishers, the latter term referring essentially to newspapers and magazines, even the Australian edition of the Illustrated London news. By no means all had been lost. A century later Melbourne is still the headquarters of many of the old-established branches of overseas publishers. So, while one
can endorse Richard Bentley's 1880s memorandum to his staff on the importance of pastoral exports for the health of Australian bookbuying, it is indispensable to understand the cultural, even sentimental dimension of print culture.
I have inveighed more than once in the last decade or so against the location fallacy that underlies most discussions of cultural developments in the so-called “New World”. The fact that stones and bricks are hard to move — even if Melbourne transported Captain Cook's Cottage to its Fitzroy Gardens in 1938 — is largely irrelevant. The core of cultural identity is language, something it is easier to comprehend as the New World Order unfolds around us. I cannot resist quoting once again the dictum of the Australian musicologist Thèrèse Radic: “What was theirs is ours because we were once them.”19 This simple sentence has to be a guiding principle for the exploration of colonial and transplanted cultures.
The traditional world of Melbourne in 1847 had not forgotten older forms of communication, both oral and manuscript. Mouritz's Directory includes “George Horsford Jago, bellman”, “Thomas M'Niece, crier of Supreme Court” and “James Parker, writer” alongside all the people involved in activities to do with printing, engraving and lithography. Perhaps our planners need to be reminded that old media never die and that they simply cohabit discreetly with all the new ones.
Mouritz, like other compilers of almanacs, offers us a paradox. He describes the present, for example in detailing the holders of official posts and in setting out the rules and regulations of the bureaucracy; he predicts the future, soberly with such details as the hours of the rising and setting of the sun; he evokes the past in his notes on “remarkable days” with their record of births and deaths of historical personages. I do not know what source or model he was using, but the collector that I am felt a little tremor on reading for 4 October: “Richard Heber died, 1833”. The inhabitants of Port Phillip were clearly not cut off from the eternal verities.20
In assessing cultural influences in the Australian colonies it is essential to take account of the origins of the European population. Despite rather short-sighted post-1945 assumptions about fundamental Britishness in the first century and a half — as opposed to the “melting pot” since –, there was a good deal of diversity from the very earliest period. I have already mentioned the German presence that began in South Australia before the middle of the 19th century and spread strongly to several other colonies. To read the reminiscences of the colporteur of Oskar Müller, German bookseller in Hochkirch (now Tarrington) in Victoria's Western District, and to be reminded that he was selling amongst other things Gossner's Herzbüchlein — that extraordinary, and still living Lutheran transformation of a Counter-Reformation text recently studied by Anne Sauvy — is to grasp the fact that cultural life can be a series of parallel tunnels separated by language, religion and heritage.21
Once one recalls the preponderance of the Celtic fringe in 19th-century Australia — it is clear enough in Mouritz's Directory — the role of Irish, Scots Gaelic, Welsh and even Cornish cannot be missed. Melbourne is reflected in the memoirs of the bard and swagman Joseph Jenkins, who spent decades in 19th-century Victoria competing in eisteddfods and making rather acerbic comments on the society around him. His experience demonstrates the ease with which one can frequent compatriots and remain imprisoned in a native language. Worship was naturally a strong cement for such associations.22
Other immigrants from Continental Europe did not necessarily belong to organized groups, but, through Cèleste Mogador and Antoine Fauchery, Parisian Bohemia and the demimonde brought Melbourne a taste of metropolitan literary and photographic culture.

View of the main arcade, Cole's Book Arcade c. 1900 (MS 10111, MSB 506. La Trobe Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library of Victoria).

The prevalence of French works in Dwight's catalogues and in the major private libraries dispersed in Melbourne from the 1860s to the 1890s underscores the ready cosmopolitanism of those generations, which had, in some cases at least, lived through and participated in the Peninsular War and other Napoleonic campaigns. Modern monolinguals of the English-speaking world all too easily forget that their ancestors were more interested in and familiar with Europe at large than they are ever likely to be. Certainly this lively curiosity is reflected in the pages of the great conservative Melbourne newspaper the Argus and its associated weekly the Australasian. Pearson, who, in his youth, had taught himself Russian and written a book about that country that was praised by Alexander Herzen, was not therefore entirely out of place in Melbourne.
Not that Pearson and his contemporaries spared their criticisms of what they found in Australia. Not long after he arrived in Melbourne, Pearson wrote, as reported by his biographer John Tregenza, to his friend Charles Eliot Norton on 10 August 1874: “Then the public libraries are very bad & so managed, that a student derives the smallest possible use from them.”23 Coming from a medieval historian, albeit one who lacked the technical rigour that appeared in Maitland's generation, the remark is understandable. The Melbourne Public Library and the University of Melbourne, both of them effectively creations of the lawyer and judge Redmond Barry, himself a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, were not conceived as havens of meticulous scholarship. The representatives of the Irish Protestant Ascendancy who played such an important part in Victorian public and intellectual life were more concerned with broad issues and debates than they were with the minutiae of textual criticism, which were left to the University of Sydney and its Professor of Classics, Charles Badham. German scholarly traditions, too, were largely absent from the Melbourne scene.
Those who complained did not passively endure what they thought unsatisfactory. In the 1880s as a Trustee of the Public Library of Victoria Pearson had the opportunity to remedy defects. The impulse to improve cultural facilities was old and strong in this community. Reporting on Lumley's first sale, James Graham wrote on 30 April 1844:
The Sale was uncommonly well attended and the Auction Rooms, which are extensive, crowded during the whole time it lasted which was two days and a half, and had the Books been of a better quality and description, I have no doubt that a very handsome profit would have been netted. You would perceive by a Newspaper I sent to you (the P. P. Gazette) that notice was taken of them, and calling a Meeting to form a Subscription Library and purchase such Books as might be required at the Sale, but the matter could not be carried out satisfactorily and it was dropped it has been again revived within these few days past in case another opportunity of purchasing Books might offer, so that perhaps at some future period another consignment of yours may arrive in time to meet their wants.24
This particular enterprise does not seem to have borne fruit, but many others did after the Gold Rush. The recreation of the civilized amenities of Europe — or of North America — was a firm aim for those who have been called Melbourne's “cultural evangelists”.
It was not always obvious which model should be imitated, and diversity of background not infrequently led to a certain eclecticism. The University was caught between Oxford and Cambridge on the one hand and the Scottish institutions and the Queen's University of Ireland on the other. The Public Library was resolutely in the new spirit and open to all from its inception. Mullen followed in Mudie's footsteps, as, at a considerable distance, did other commercial libraries. Special libraries, from the Parliament and Supreme Court down, were exercises in mimetism. At all levels and in all ways choices had to be made. Despite the British legal framework
other examples were not excluded, and certainly not the United States of America. What textbooks should be used in schools and in universities? What were the canonical texts for anthologies and classroom use? A society that welcomed the Confederate warship Shenandoah, applauded Garibaldi and gave asylum to communard escapees from New Caledonia was proceeding along its own path. Above all it felt it belonged to that wider sphere on the other side of the Equator. With the help of Anthony Trollope the proud province celebrated Caxton in style in 1871.25 Nonetheless I prefer to see the mosaic of influences to which it was exposed symbolized by a name in Mouritz's Directory, that of Kosciusko Macdonald, wheelwright and engineer of Flinders Lane.
On the one hand cultural aspirations, on the other economic constraints: this was and is the Australian dilemma. The crash of 1892, which has just been replicated a hundred years later, set limits to Melbourne's ambitions and to those of what was soon to become the Australian Federation. Now that mass publication is dominated by transnational corporations it is easy to think that local independence is a mirage. However, even if Melbourne's horizons are no longer those of Chicago, there are lessons to be learnt from the structure of modern publishing. If one is sure what one wants to do and able to resist the temptation of growth — and indebtedness — quality and achievement are possible. Small is powerful, and in that direction lies an authentic future for Melbourne book people.
Wallace Kirsop


The text printed here was delivered as a George Parker Winship Lecture at the Houghton Library of Harvard University on 21 April 1993. I am grateful to Roger Stoddard and Hugh Amory for having given me the opportunity to speak about my Australian research to a group of distinguished bibliographers. The rather lurid title was advised in lieu of “The book world of nineteenth-century Melbourne” in order to be “vivid and attractive”. The crash of 1892 was on my mind because I had recently completed “The returning exile's dispersal: C. H. Pearson sells his books”. La Trobe Library journal, vol.13, no.49, Autumn 1992, pp. 1–24. It is hardly necessary to add that this is a partial view of pre-Gold Rush Melbourne owing nothing to such very different recent books as Robyn Annear, Bearbrass: imagining early Melbourne. Melbourne, Mandarin, 1995 and A. G. L. Shaw, A history of the Port Phillip district: Victoria before separation. Melbourne, The Miegunyah Press, 1996.


See Anthony Trollope, Australia, P. D. Edwards and R. B. Joyce eds. St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1967, p. 376.


“Melbourne, a Victorian community overseas”. Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1968, chapter 7, pp.277–310.


Rumblings of discontent have started to emerge in some of the reviews late in 1996 and early in 1997 of my Books for colonial readers: the nineteenth-century Australian experience. Melbourne, The Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand, 1995. I welcome the beginning of a debate that will have to be pursued elsewhere. My view is also put in the chapter “Bookselling and publishing in the nineteenth century”. The book in Australia: essays towards a cultural & social history, D. H. Borchardt and W. Kirsop, eds. Melbourne, Australian Reference Publications, 1988, pp.16–42, 174–81.


See T. G. Vallance, “Origins of Australian geology”. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales, vol.100, part 1, 1 August 1975, pp.13–43, esp. pp.20–21.


T. L. Mitchell, trans., The Lusiad of Luis de Camoens […]. London, T. & W. Boone, 1854.


See D. F. McKenzie, “The sociology of a text: orality, literacy and print in early New Zealand”. The library, 6th series, vol.6, 1984, pp.333–365, and Oral culture, literacy & print in early New Zealand: the Treaty of Waitangi. Wellington, Victoria University Press with the Alexander Turnbull Library Endowment Trust, 1985.


A catalogue of an extensive and valuable library of nearly 4000 volumes […] which will be sold by auction by Mr Blackman […]. Sydney, Welch, printer, [1845 — correction by Elizabeth Webby of the date 1846 given by Ferguson no. 4232].


On Lumley see chapter 3 “Edward Lumley and the consignment trade” in Books for colonial readers, pp.39–58, 88–92. See also Wallace Kirsop, “Bernard Quaritch's Wellington consignment sale, 1893”. The Turnbull Library record, vol.XIV, 1981, pp. 13–22.


On the Walches see chapter 4 “Bookselling in Hobart Town in the 1840s” in Books for colonial readers, pp.4–76, 93–96.


E. A. Petherick, “Bookselling in Australia”. Bookseller, 1874, pp.465–66.


Graeme Davison, “From men to money-grubbers” in The rise and fall of marvellous Melbourne. Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1978, pp.19–40.


On this phenomenon see Graeme Johanson's Monash Ph.D thesis “A study of colonial editions in Australia, 1843–1972” (forthcoming as a monograph with Elibank Press).


Printed at the Herald Office, by W. Clarke, Melbourne, 1847. A facsimile reprint was produced by the Library of Australian History, North Sydney, in 1979.


The Port Fairy catalogue is described in Elizabeth Webby, “A checklist of early Australian booksellers' and auctioneers' catalogues and advertisements: 1800–1849 Part III: 1845–1849”. Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand bulletin, vol.4, no.2, November 1979, pp.95–150, esp. p. 144, (copy in Mitchell Library). 1856. Melbourne. Catalogue of books, prints, &c. (Lumley's consignment.) For sale by auction, by [blank], 19 pages, is held by the State Library of Victoria. For the Graham letters see University of Melbourne Archives, Graham Brothers L.S.2/30, Letter-book no.1, pp.499–500, 512–13. I thank Frank Strahan, the then University Archivist, for permission to consult and quote from the letters. I am grateful to John Holroyd for drawing my attention to Sally Graham, Pioneer merchant: the letters of James Graham 1839–54. South Yarra, Hyland House, 1985. This volume quotes from Graham's correspondence with Lumley, especially the 30 April 1844 letter reporting on the sale (p.96).


30 March 1844, Letter-book no.1, p. 500.


I acknowledge the kindness of P. N. Poole-Wilson and the late E. M. Dring in opening to me in 1974 the consignment sale records of Bernard Quaritch Ltd.


See, in particular, G. Davison, D. Dunstan & C. McConville, eds, The outcasts of Melbourne: essays in social history. Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 1985.


Remark made during an ABC broadcast on musical traditions.


See now Maureen Perkins, “Australian Almanacs: an argument for their inclusion in a history of the book in Australia”. Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand bulletin, vol.19, 1995, pp.219–230 and her Visions of the future: almanacs, time, and cultural change 1775–1870. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1996.


See Joyce Graetz, An open book: the story of the distribution and production of Christian literature by Lutherans in Australia. Adelaide, Lutheran Publishing House, 1988, esp. chapter 4: “Victoria beginnings”, pp.53–74. See also Anne Sauvy, Le miroir du cæur: quatre siècles d'images savantes et populaires. Paris, Les Editions du Cerf, 1989.


See Diary of a Welsh swagman 1869–1894, abridged and notated by William Evans. Melbourne, The Macmillan Company of Australia, 1975.


John Tregenza, Professor of democracy: the life of Charles Henry Pearson, 1830–1894, Oxford don and Australian radical. Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1968, p. 73.


Letter-book no.1, p. 513.


See John Ferres, comp., William Caxton: a contribution in commemoration of the festival held in Melbourne, 1871, to celebrate the fourth centenary of the first printing in the English language. Melbourne, John Ferres, Government Printer, 1871.