This advertising cover has a boxed FITCHETT BROTHERS Propriety Limited PUBLISHERS, Managing Director: T. Shaw Fitchett, 167-9 Queen Street, Melbourne, Telephone 1206. It has a lilac 2d ‘Postage’ stamp of Victoria cancelled with a roller MELBOURNE/ JUL 7/ 5 45 PM/ 1908 with a ‘waving flag’ VICTORIA postmark. It is addressed to Messrs Whittaker & Co., 2 White Hart St, Paternoster Sq., London E.C. The reverse was not seen (Figure1).
There is less information about the London company of Whittaker & Co. which at this time was at a prestigious London book selling address of Paternoster Square, with a previous address at Ave Maria Lane in London, and the earliest date found for this company was 1834. Although it published and sold numerous books over many decades, it was not one of the giant sellers, publishers, printers, binders and stationers. It had an eclectic mix of books on religion, foreign languages, mathematics and science and also a set of books known as the “Specialist Series”. The one that caught my eye was authored by A.B. Griffiths Ph.D., F.R.S.E. A Treatise on Manures; or, The Philosophy of Manuring: A Practical Handbook for the Agriculturist, Manufacturer, and Student. There was an a company advert in The Publishers’ Circular dated Dec. 1, 1859 for Rev. James Harris’s Questions on the Old and New Testaments for the use of schools and biblical students, and this is shown in Figure 2.
At the outset I have to admit that there is something mildly odd about both firms: There was (?)never a person by the name of Whittaker at the London firm, and the Melbourne firm involved a father and son, not brothers. William Henry Fitchett, clergyman, writer and educator was born in 1841 at Grantham, Lincolnshire, a son of William and his wife Hannah Hubbard. The father, mother and five children settled in Geelong in 1849. William Henry’s formal schooling was brief at a Wesleyan denominational school and he was mainly self-educated by his voracious reading. Multiple laboring jobs were replaced by his becoming an accredited local preacher in 1865 and the following year he entered the Wesleyan ministry with positions at numerous Victorian towns from 1866 until 1881. In 1870 he married Jemima Shaw and in 1875 he graduated from the University of Melbourne with a B.A.
He was founding president of the Methodist Ladies’ College Kew, Victoria in 1882 and was elected president of the Wesleyan Methodist Conference of Victoria and Tasmania in 1886. His career as a journalist and writer began with a weekly column, ‘Easy Chair Chat’ in the Methodist Spectator and Wesleyan Chronicle under the pen name ‘XYZ’ (1875-79). In 1882 he became the editor of the Southern Cross, a weekly religious paper, and in April 1900 his son, Thomas Shaw Fitchett (?ca.1871-1949), a printer and publisher (named on the advert cover), became manager. In 1902, Thomas Shaw Fitchett published the New Idea, a women’s magazine which became Everylady’s Journal in 1911. William Henry wrote occasional articles for this as well as becoming editor in 1904 of his son’s companion publication, Life. A run of T. Shaw Fitchett’s WWI Military Life Magazine 1916-17 is seen in Figure 3.
The last 2 paras are a severely pruned account of W.H. Fitchett’s biography in the Australian Dictionary of Biography (A.D.B.). The continuation of T.S. Fitchett’s editorial career is derived from a website devoted to Australian comics! It certainly suggests that the firm on the advert cover should have been named Fitchett and Son, not Fitchett Brothers. “The popularity of new adventure comic strips was not lost on Fitchett Bros. Pty Ltd. of West Melbourne, the proprietors of the New Idea, Australia’s oldest women’s magazine. The company’s founder, Thomas Shaw Fitchett, couldn’t have failed to notice the growing success that its main rival The Australian Women’s Weekly, was enjoying with its new comic strip, Mandrake the Magician, which made its Australian debut on 1 December 1934……Part of the New Ideas editorial response to this new competitor was to introduce new features…. the New Idea unveiled Buck Rogers as its new comic strip serial on 17 April 1936.” The comic cover is seen in Figure 4.
The Rev. W.H. Fitchett had, in the meantime, died in 1928, and was probably turning over in his grave! Thomas Shaw Fitchett died in 1949. Returning to the A.D.B.’s biography of W. H. Fitchett: He became a household name throughout the British Empire with the publication of a series issued as an Argus Saturday feature from 1897 to 1913, as well as many books from 1904 till1922. In 1899 he was awarded an honorary LL.D by Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada. He died on 26 May 1928 from a bleeding duodenal ulcer. His estate included a large library. A signed picture of W.H. Fitchett is seen in Figure 5