Saturday, 28 February 2015

Alexander Duthie, Launceston bookseller

In a response to our recent series on Launceston booksellers attention was drawn to Henry Button's comments on Alexander Duthie,  briefly (1852-58) the owner of the bookstore which became Birchalls;

In January, 1852, Mr. Alexander Duthie commenced business in Launceston as a bookseller and stationer. For some little time previously he had managed for Messrs. Huxtable & Co., whom he succeeded (Huxtable & Co. had previously bought out Mr. Tegg), and occupied the shop in Brisbane-street now in the possession of Messrs. Birchall & Sons. A little Scotchman, he was full of energy and affability, and I believe he was a Christian. He quickly ingratiated himself with the public, and was specially a friend and companion of young men. If not at his suggestion, it certainly was with his warm approval and co-operation, a Young Men's Mutual Improvement Society was formed. It numbered a dozen or fifteen members of whom I was one, and we used to meet, I think fortnightly, in a room behind the shop kindly placed at our disposal by Mr. Duthie. Sometimes these meetings were simply conversational, but usually a paper was read by a member, a general discussion following. A paper prepared by myself for one of these gatherings, "Vestiges of Antiquity," I have by me now. Great interest was taken in these meetings, and it can hardly be doubted that they were productive of good. Politics were not excluded from our deliberations. Every one of us was an uncompromising anti-transportationist. A conference of delegates from various branches of the Australasian Anti-transportation League in the adjoining colonies was held at Hobart at the latter end of April, 1852. Mr. Charles Cowper, of Sydney, was elected first President, and before the delegates left Hobart they were entertained at a public dinner on 7th May, and at a public breakfast at Launceston on 11th. Mr. Cowper remained in Launceston longer than his colleagues, and on the evening of 31st May our Young Men's Society invited him to a social entertainment in the Cornwall Assembly Rooms. The building was densely crowded, a large number of ladies being present. The Union Jack and League banner formed part of the decorations. Sir Richard Dry was to have presided, but he was detained in Hobart by important political business, and in his absence Joseph Archer, Esq., M.L.C., occupied the chair. It fell to my lot to read Sir Richard's letter of apology, and then an address was presented to Mr. Cowper, to which he replied. A number of excellent speeches followed, interspersed with music by a band, and towards the close cousin Charles made a neat little speech in which, on behalf of the Committee, he thanked the guests for attending, and all who had assisted in carrying out the programme. On Mr. Cowper's return to Sydney a meeting of the League was held (June 29) to receive a report of his mission to Tasmania. After detailing the proceedings of the conference, he referred to the invitation he had received from the young men of Launceston, and said that nothing had given him greater gratification. Probably it was in some measure the outcome of this unpretentious association that in subsequent years cousin Charles, Fred Wales, and myself lectured several times at the Mechanics' Institute.
 Button, Henry, Flotsam and Jetsam, (Launceston, 1909), p.313

Henry Button served the Launceston Mechanics' Institute as a member of the Board of Management (1871-81), Vice-President (1882-84, 1888-1913), and President (1885-86). This portrait dates from 1891 and may be found in the Launceston Family Album collection of Tasmanian International Exhibition passport photographs.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Launceston Booksellers in the 19th Century. Part Two

On Saturday November 23rd, 1844, Samuel Tegg purchased one and a half double columns on the front page of the Launceston Examiner to announce his imminent arrival in the town.

To the Inhabitants of Launceston and its Vicinity.
S. A. TEGG respectfully intimates to his friends and the public generally that he has taken those eligible and spacious premises, lately in the occupation of Mr. Cameron, situated in Brisbane-street, which he will OPEN ON MONDAY NEXT, the 26th instant, with a SPLENDID ASSORTMENT of BOOKS, STATIONERY, FANCY GOODS, &c., which it is his intention to offer at such prices that he hopes will insure him a share of their kind patronage. S. A. T. will always be enabled to afford novelty from the advantage he has over the rest of the trade by receiving NEW GOODS direct from the LONDON MARKET by every vessel.

To which was appended a detailed inventory of books, stationery, playing cards, perfumery, fancy goods, drawing materials and music.

Tegg's incursion may have surprised some residents in light of a protracted law suit brought against him by prominent local newspaper owner, publisher and bookseller Henry Dowling, and settled in Dowling's favour in 1841.

Samuel Tegg was a son of one of London's most successful booksellers Thomas Tegg (1), who pioneered the "remainder trade" and sent three of his sons to the colonies with a view to establishing a global business empire. Samuel first assisted his brother James in Sydney before returning to London for stock to establish himself in Hobart in 1838. He sold this business to James Walch in 1845.

Tegg's plate from a book inscribed 'Tegg's Circulating Library Launceston'
In a short period in the colonies Samuel Tegg publications included James Knox's Poetic Trifles (1838), David Burn's Plays and Fugitive Pieces (1842), James Bonwick's Geography for the Use of Australian Youth (1845), and Nathaniel Kentish's Essay on Capital Punishment (1842) and Work in the Bush (1846).

His residence in VDL was interrupted by several voyages back to Britain, and most significantly by the deaths of his brothers Henry, in South Africa in 1844, James (1845), and his father Thomas (1846) whose passing was followed by the sudden death of younger brother Alfred Byron the following day.

Samuel was required to assist his brother William in Britain, and he left the Launceston business in the hands of Robert Blake with a promise that he would continue to supply the establishment from London. He returned to sell the Launceston store to Mr Blake in 1847, but by 1849 the business was insolvent and Mr Blake's stock was sold at auction on April 25th of that year.

The enterprise was then re-established on the same site by John Alfred Huxtable, who also operated a bookshop in Hobart's Murray Street. Huxtable and Co. opened for business at the beginning of 1851 and a year later was taken over by its manager Mr A Duthie.

Four owners in five years may not have been a promising start, but this bookshop was about to enter a long period of stability and commercial success. Duthie sold the business to Hobart bookseller James Walch at the beginning of 1858, and it traded under the name J Walch and Sons until 1867. James Walch had employed Andrew Birchall as his Launceston manager, and between 1867 and 1893 the business operated as a partnership, Walch Bros. and Birchall.

An advertisement from Wise's Tasmanian Post Office Directory, 1891
Andrew Birchall purchased the business outright in 1893, and from that date traded as A. W. Birchall and Sons. His name is perpetually associated with the business which still operates from the same premises, offers a very similar product range, and since 1921 has traded as Birchalls Pty Ltd.

Examples of blindstamps found in LMI books
In addition to close commercial ties with the Launceston Mechanics' Institute, Andrew Birchall served on the Board of Management – as a member (1868-1874), as a vice-president (1875-76, 1883-93), and as President (1878-1882). He was also a member of the Launceston Hospital Board, vice-president of the Benevolent Society, a member of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a Justice of the Peace, superintendent of Christ Church Sunday school and secretary to the Church building committee.

On his retirement as President the Board passed a motion thankfully acknowledging his "earnest and unwearied service ... [and] their thanks for the valuable gifts of various kinds bestowed upon the Institute, and congratulate him on its present prosperity."

In a further appointment which closely linked Birchalls with the Mechanics' Institute, Joseph Reginald Forward held the position of librarian at the Institute for over forty years. His first job in Tasmania was with A W Birchall and Sons, following which he served as assistant librarian for five years, before being appointed librarian in 1906.

(1) The LMI collection includes a copy of Henry Curwen's A History of Booksellers [1873]which contains an excellent chapter on the life and career of Thomas Tegg.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Launceston Booksellers in the 19th Century. Part One.

At first glance, 1842 in Launceston would not seem to be an auspicious time or place to open a publicly funded, subscription based, Mechanics' Institute and library. It was a period of economic uncertainty in the colony, with falling prices and reduced trade; the town's population was around 10,000 and not more than half of those were literate. Yet this small community was served by three newspapers; several private subscription libraries; and an active trade in bookselling.

What made Launceston special at this time was the combination of entrepreneurial spirit, business acumen, foresight and energy among its community leaders. 

One of these was Henry Dowling, Jnr. By the age of 21 he was editor and publisher of the Launceston Advertiser. At 24 he commenced business as a printer, publisher, stationer and binder, in Brisbane Street. His leadership extended well beyond business to include immigration schemes, railways, a savings bank, and a long career in local and colonial politics.

Binder's Ticket from an LMI item circa 1848
In 1837, he established a bookshop and circulating library. He made arrangements with Samuel Tegg of Hobart Town for the supply of books from London, arrangements which led to a court action which was resolved in Dowling's favour in 1842. He published a "pirate" edition of Dickens' Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, in twenty-five parts and in July 1839 a bound volume of that novel with locally engraved illustrations, which was promoted as "the largest publication which has issued from either the New South Wales or Tasmanian Press".

Launceston Advertiser 25 January 1838, p4
Henry, his father the Rev. Henry, and his brother John, were all active members of the Board of Management of the Mechanics' Institute. He is recorded as an early donor of books to the Institute's collection, and he served two terms as Vice-president.

In 1852, the same year that he published John West's landmark History of Tasmania, Dowling sold his bookselling and stationery business to a new arrival in the colony, James John Hudson.

Hudson operated the business until 1868 when he entered into a partnership with Stephen Hopwood, a partnership which continued until 1885. The close business ties between the bookseller and the Institute is evidenced by the large number of books in the surviving collection which bear their blind stamps. Institute members frequently expressed a wish that more books be purchased from local suppliers. In addition, Hudson and Hopwood supplied stationery to the Institute, including ledgers and accession books. As well as his business activities James Hudson was involved in the Launceston Benevolent Society, founded the Northern Tasmanian Permanent Building Society and was instrumental in the establishment of the Launceston Working Men's Club which operated its own library (and competed with the Institute for members).

Blindstamps from books in the LMI Collection

Stephen Hopwood had started in the book trade as an apprentice to Alexander Duthie, and later in the employment of Walch Bros. and Birchall. Following the partnership with Hudson he continued the business, in partnership with John James until 1891, and then as Hopwood and Co. until his death in 1901. At this time arrangements were made for the continuance of the business for the benefit of his widow and family. The bookselling side of the business appears to have been transferred to T Hood and Co. (they also operated bookshops in Hobart and Zeehan) in the mid-1890s. They operated a circulating library from the long-established Brisbane Street premises, as had Henry Dowling back in 1837. This arrangement appears to have been shortlived as T Hood and Co. were no longer trading in Launceston in 1900, whereas Hopwood and Co. operated well into the twentieth century.

Daily Telegraph, 3 Sep 1895, p1.

Hopwood label from a book published in 1922

 In the second post in this series we will look at another bookselling business in Launceston, established in 1844, which continues to the present day.