ROBERTSON, George


ROBERTSON, George
I. (1825-1898)
bookseller
was born at Glasgow, Scotland, in 1825. When four years of age his parents took him to Dublin where subsequently he became apprenticed to a firm of publishers. He worked for a time with Currey and Company, booksellers and afterwards in Scotland. In Dublin he had become friendly with Samuel Mullen (q.v.) and the two young men decided to emigrate to Australia. They reached Melbourne on the Great Britain in 1852, bringing with them a collection of books. Robertson opened first in Russell-street but soon moved to Collins street, and about 1861 built a three storey building at 69 Elizabeth-street. The business was developing fast, principally on the wholesale side. In those days there were no publishers' representatives in Australia, and the great problem for the bookseller was to forecast what would be popular, and order a sufficient number of copies to meet the demand. About 1873 large premises were built in Little Collins-treet, with provision for stationery, book-binding, lithography, etc., and branches were opened in Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Auckland. In 1890 Robertson retired and the business was carried on by his son, Charles Robertson. It was eventually formed into a company which in 1922 was amalgamated with Melville and Mullens under the name of Robertson and Mullens Ltd.
George Robertson died on 23 March 1898. He was married twice and left a large family. He was purely a business man and did not enter much into the life of Melbourne, though generous to hospitals and charities. His personality remains elusive, but he did great service to the public by bringing much good literature to a young colony whose culture had of necessity to be imported. The need for encouraging local literature was not then fully appreciated, but Robertson published some interesting Australian books, including Kendall's Leaves from Australian Forests, Gordon's Sea Spray and Smoke Drift, and J. Brunton Stephens's The Black Gin and other Poems.
The Age and The Argus, Melbourne, 24 March 1898; L. Slade, The Victorian Historical Magazine, vol. XV; Ideas, September 1945.
II. (1860-1933)
bookseller and publisher
son of the Rev. John Robertson, was born at Halstead, Essex, England, on 14 April 1860. He was educated at the South-western Academy, Glasgow, and was trained as a bookseller with James Maclehose, bookseller to the university of Glasgow. He emigrated to New Zealand as a young man and two years later (in 1882) came to Sydney, where he obtained employment at the local branch of George Robertson and Company, booksellers of Melbourne. He was in no way related to the founder of that firm. In January 1886 he joined D. M. Angus in partnership, at first in Market-street and afterwards in Castlereagh-street, Sydney. After Angus's death in 1900 Robertson continued in partnership with Frederick Wymark and Richard Thomson who had acquired Angus's share of the business, until in 1907 the partnership was converted into a public company and continues under the name of Angus & Robertson Ltd. About 1895 the publishing side of the business began to be developed and many successful volumes were launched. Among the earlier authors were Henry Lawson (q.v.), A. B. Paterson (q.v.), and Victor Daley (q.v.). Robertson could recognize quickly a promising author and was willing to take considerable risks in backing his judgment. During the last 30 years of his life the number of volumes he published exceeded the total number brought out in the same period by all the other publishers in Australia. The Australian Encyclopaedia, published in two volumes in 1926, is one of the most important books published in Australia. Robertson died on 27 August 1933. He was married twice, (1) in 1881 to Elizabeth Stewart Bruce and (2) in 1910 to Eva Adeline Ducat. His widow survived him. There were three daughters and a son by the first marriage.
Robertson was a keen man of business with a feeling for good literature. He would frequently buy the right to issue an Australian edition of an English or American book, not only because he thought it would sell, but because he considered it was the kind of book that should be widely read. He could drive a keen bargain, but he also did many kindnesses to the literary men of his time.
Sydney Morning Herald, 28 August 1933; private information; Who's Who in Australia, 1933; Sydney Directory, 1888, 1908; Henry Lawson, The Auld Shop and the New.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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