COLE, Edward William (1832-1918)


COLE, Edward William (1832-1918)
bookseller, founder of the book arcade, Melbourne
was born at Woodchurch Kent, England, in January 1832. He received little education, his father died young, and, after his mother had married again, the boy ran away to London. In 1850 he went to Cape Colony and in November 1852 came to Victoria. He spent some time on the diggings at various avocations, and on 30 September 1865 started a book shop at the eastern market, Melbourne, with a stock of 600 volumes. His total takings at the end of October amounted to £15 12s., most of which was spent in buying fresh stock. He gradually prospered and became lessee of the whole of the market, most of which was sub-let to small stall-holders. He engaged a band, spent a comparatively large sum on advertising, and made the market a popular resort. Though Cole had little education he read a great deal, and in 1867, under the pseudonym of "Edwic", he published The Real Place in History of Jesus and Paul, which is largely a discussion on the validity of miracles. The last paragraph of the book stated that it had been written largely to show what Jesus was not, and that he hoped to publish another book showing "what he really was and Paul also, namely that they were two honest visionaries". This volume was never published.
In 1874 Cole took a building fronting on Bourke-street near the market, and opened his first "book arcade". This business was successful and he also continued renting the market until 1881, when he was unable to secure a renewal of the lease on sufficiently favourable terms. He then began negotiations for a building lower down Bourke-street near the general post office. This was opened on 27 January 1883 and grew into one of the great book businesses of Australia. The shop was extended to Little Collins-street and afterwards buildings on the other side were bought through to the Collins-street frontage. The statement that there was once a stock of two million books is manifestly absurd, but the arcade certainly had one of the largest stocks of books in the world. Members of the public were invited to walk through the arcade, and to spend as much time as they liked turning over the books or even reading them. A large second hand department was on the first floor, where a band played every afternoon. The business continued to prosper and Cole eventually opened various new departments including one of printing. He compiled a large number of popular books, of which Cole's Funny Picture Book and Cole's Fun Doctor were most successful, their sales running into hundreds of thousands. He died at Melbourne on 16 December 1918. He married in 1875 Eliza Frances Jordan, who predeceased him. Two sons and three daughters survived him.
Cole was below medium height, of benevolent appearance and quiet manner. He started with no advantages and gradually found what he could do best. His establishment had a considerable effect on the culture of Melbourne. The business was continued for about 10 years after his death, when the executors decided to close it and sell the properties which had now become very valuable. A member of his family bought the goodwill, and the shop was continued for another 10 years in Swanston-street on a comparatively small scale.
A. Chitty and H. Williams, Incidents in the Life of E. W. Cole; H. Williams, E. W. Cole, Founder of the Book Arcade; L. Slade, Melbourne's Early Booksellers, Victorian Historical Magazine, vol. XV; personal knowledge.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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