MOURNING COVER to ANGUS & ROBERTSON from N.S.W. GOVERNOR, 1899
Well not quite, for there is some doubt about the Governor as well as the actual date, but there is no doubt about the important company of Sydney booksellers. The front of the stampless mourning cover is addressed to Angus & Robertson, 89 Castlereagh St, Sydney. There is a very fine blue GOVERNOR/ [CREST]/ FRANK STAMP/ NEW SOUTH WALES (Figure 1).
The cause for the date confusion is on the reverse of the cover’s KOGARAH/ MR 28/ 1866/ N.S.W originating datestamp, at a suburb of Sydney is obviously very different to the SYDNEY/ MR 28/ – PM/ 99/ 17(?), and it is obvious that one of the year datestamps had been inverted. There also was a great example of the black insignia on the flap of Government House, Sydney over the Lion & Unicorn crest. The vendor states that the Governor of New South Wales frank stamp was first used in 1898, a fact that I have not been able to confirm or deny. His research sounds most likely, for incorrect placement of date slugs was not uncommon at smaller post offices; and, Angus & Robertson was founded 18 years after the 1866 date and even later at the Castlereagh Street address (Figure 2).
I wondered about the use of the Kogarah post office for sending the Governor’s mail and my concern was compounded by the fact that no N.S.W. Governor was in Australia on 28 March 1899, and this was confirmed by reliable websites. Viscount Hamden (Henry Robert Brand) GCMG was the nineteenth N.S.W. Governor and his term of office (21 November 1895 until 5 March 1899) ended when he left for England.
His successor Earl Beauchamp (William Lygon) KCMG was the twentieth N.S.W. Governor and his term of office (18 May 1899-30 April 1901) began at least six weeks after the above letter was posted. Thus the stampless cover may have been the result of an unofficial use of the Governor’s frankstamp, or an official in the Governor’s office was allowed its use in the interim, between Governors. Either way, no information was found concerning the death at Angus & Robertson which prompted the mourning cover.
The foundation of the organisation which was to become Angus & Robertson (A & R Ltd) was laid in June 1884 by David Mackenzie Angus (born in Scotland in 1865, who arrived in Australia in 1882) and he opened a small shop in Market Street Sydney, selling second hand books. He was joined by an English man of Scottish parents, a George Robertson, not to be confused with the Melbourne book seller of the same name. The former Robertson in 1886, with savings of fifteen pounds bought a half share in Angus’ Market Street bookshop, and in January of that year the partnership, Angus & Robertson was formed.
Initially the firm was involved in bookselling only, but in 1888 A & R’s publishing activities began, with the publication of 3 books. Whereas publishing remained small scale, the bookselling business expanded with a move to larger premises at 89 Castlereagh Street in 1890 (see cover). In 1895 publishing increased and resulted in the publication of the Sydney solicitor, Andrew Barton (Banjo) Patterson’s first work of verse, The man from Snowy River and other verses, which sold 5000 copies in the first four months after publication. This was followed by publication of a book of verse in early 1896 by Henry Lawson, In the days when the world was wide and other verses. A book of prose by Lawson, While the billy boils followed in August.
About this time, A & R’s circulating library, The Sydney Book Club was also established and did not close until 1958. During this period in the 1890's, the company was appointed official bookseller to the University of Sydney, the Free Public Library (later the State Library of N.S.W.) and the Parliamentary Library, as well as publishers to the University of Sydney.
The success of these books established that Australian subjects and background had the power to attract many readers. Publishing on a large scale became an integral and important part of the firm’s business with new opportunities opening up for Australian authors. David Mackenzie Angus suffered from ill health, forcing hm to retire, he sold his share to two other people, and returned to Scotland where he died in 1901. A public company was formed and incorporated in 1907, succeeding the former partnership, and the company continued to expand both locally and overseas, particularly to an agency in London.
In 1915 in spite of the shortages of paper and other restrictions of World War 1, A & R published C.J. Dennis’ enormously successful first work The songs of a sentimental bloke followed the next year by The moods of Ginger Mick, both in standard editions as well as special editions for the soldiers in trenches. Other additions were a Military Department selling requirements for the soldier, not only service booklets, but also boots, hats, camp stretchers, badges for all Services etc! In 1925 the first edition of the Australian Encyclopaedia was published in 2 volumes.
On 27 August 1933 George Robertson died at the age of 73 and he was succeeded by Richard Thomson as Chairman of the Board of Directors. It was my intent to finish this paper at the time of death of both original partners, and I can see no reason to expand on the firm further. I can recommend the entries for both in the on-line Australian Dictionary of Biography for readers wanting to know more about the partners. A picture of George Robertson (1860-1933) is taken from that source (Figure 3).