State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 78 Spring 2006


Charlwood & Sons. Printers. Calvert lithograph of shop front. Not dated but c. 1855.
Courtesy of Don Charlwood. (For much of its history the firm was known as Charlwood & Son, and is generally referred to as such.)


Don Charlwood
Charlwood & Son, Printers and Booksellers:
Some Family Notes

Among much else in the State Library's Coppin Collection are broadsheets advertising plays coming to Marvellous Melbourne and programmes printed after the plays had arrived. Many of these were printed by Charlwood & Son of 7 Bourke Street East, a business three doors east of the former GPO.
The ‘Charlwood’ of the firm was my great-grandfather, Arthur, who was born in 1798 in the Surrey village of Charlwood, a village with a beautifully-preserved 1080 church and many equally well-preserved half-timbered cottages and outlying farm buildings. A first mention of the family name as having come from the village occurs in 1211 when William de Cherlwude was a reeve of the village. A Geoffrey de Charlwode was living there in the same year.1 Today, alas, the village is threatened by the expansion of Gatwick Airport.
While still a young man Arthur Charlwood left St Nicholas, the ancestral church of his family, and joined the Particular Baptist sect which had proselytized strongly in the area. In 1823 he married a Particular Baptist girl, Jane Laker, who lived seven miles away in Sussex. They married in Brighton, being obliged by the law of the day to marry in the established church. In Brighton Arthur had served his apprenticeship and there he either set up in business or was employed as a compositor.
Some time between 1829 and 1831 the couple and their three surviving children moved to Norwich and set up a printing press at 7 Bridewell Alley, a building which today is part of the Norfolk Folk Museum. Additionally, Arthur had a stall in the local marketplace where he dealt in books, sold booklets he had printed and the patent medicines much favoured in his time. Since these pursuits were not enough to support a growing family, he also ran an eating place in the square. He was much involved, too, in producing and editing a Particular Baptist periodical: The Gospel Standard.
Arthur had been producing the Standard for eight years when he announced in its October 1850 issue that he had ‘disposed of his Agency, Printing Office and Business’ and proposed emigrating to Australia. This would have come as no surprise to readers since his eldest son, Stephen, then aged twenty-three, had gone ahead of the family to Melbourne. His father, then in his fifty-second year, ended his announcement with the words, ‘I bid you one and all affectionately farewell’.
Stephen had sailed with a number of other Particular Baptists, including two of his sisters and their husbands, on the Harpley. She berthed in Melbourne on 7 January 1850. Arthur and Jane and their six younger children followed him on 24 October 1850 on the Success. This was the same Success that gained such notoriety years later. Deserted by her

Left: Charlwood village. St. Nicholas Church, photographed from The Street, 1976, The Half Moon public house to the left, and the war memorial in the centre of the photograph.
Right: Unknown painter. Portrait of Arthur Charlwood, c. 1856. Courtesy of Don Charlwood.

crew in 1852, when they joined the rush to the Diggings, she was purchased by the Government and became one of the hulks used in Hobson's Bay to accommodate the overflow of prisoners from Melbourne's gaols. A generation later she was passed off in both Australia and the USA as a convict transport replete with manacled figures, barred cells and even a flogging triangle. My grandfather, who had come out as a 12-year-old on her, took numbers of his family, including my father, to see the degraded old vessel.
On Arthur's voyage the Success carried his newly acquired printing press which had the capacity to print theatre broadsheets. On this, the family's future depended. The voyage took 132 days — at a time when James Baines' clippers were striving to halve such times.
While being unloaded in the Yarra, the press fell overboard; surely the family's hearts must have fallen with it. By good fortune it was quickly retrieved. The immersion does not seem to have harmed it but one of the supporting legs was broken. The only artisan available to repair it was a blacksmith and, in my family's memory, the repaired leg never needed replacing.
Presumably Stephen had already made arrangements to rent number seven Bourke Street East from its owner, Robert Lynch. An engraving by one of the Calvert brothers shows the shop's frontage: in the one upper storey is a large central window with a giant number
seven to either side of it; above the ground floor entrance:
Established in 1851
Charlwood & Son
Above the west window: Booksellers Stationers & Printers; above the shop door: Argus Agency; above the east window: Agents for Morison's Pills. The windows appear stacked with books. Just above pavement level, Illustrated News is advertised to the left and Home News to the right.
In the Melbourne City Council rate book for 1854 Charlwood's building is described as ‘Brick House of Shop 7 rms + Building at back’. For at least a year after Arthur took up business there, a large upper room was used by a small Particular Baptist congregation. John Chandler, a young and earnest member of the group, wrote a small memoir of these days: Forty Years in the Wilderness. In it he tells that his father often attended meetings there: ‘…dear old Mr Charlwood used to read the sermons and would often comment on them’.
On 27 May 1852 Arthur wrote a letter to the Gospel Standard in Norwich. It concluded with the following advice on emigration:
I would not persuade anyone to emigrate who is getting a comfortable living at home, but if, like me, their way is hedged up, and the providence of God directs their removal, for the information of such I would add that there seems a good prospect for almost all trades, especially carpenters, bricklayers, and wheelwrights. Shoe-making in particular has been an excellent trade; harnessmaking is very good; servant girls are hardly to be had at any price. Indeed there seems bread for all who will work for it.
Among Arthur's few papers from this time is a poem. Whether he wrote it or copied it is not known, but its end echoes his letter:
…here in my adopted land no parent feels the pain
Of hearing loved ones cry for bread and how they cry in vain,
But labour meets a sure reward and want and hunger flee,
I love thee well Old England but Australia for me.
After only a year in Melbourne the room used by the Particular Baptists was required for business. The Charlwood & Son flyers were then headed:
Established 1850
Theatrical and General Printing Office.
The year of Stephen's arrival, 1850, was now claimed for the firm's establishment, and the emphasis was on their theatre work.
A second, undated, Calvert woodcut shows that the Bourke Street frontage had been altered, perhaps around this time. The bookshop door had been moved to the western extremity; an eastern door shows a flight of stairs leading up to Morgans Photographic Gallery, presumably Morgan was a sub-tenant, his name appears below the architrave of the building. The shop in this illustration is identified as Charlwood & Sons. Printers.
The only clear description I have of this era comes from an undated, unidentified Melbourne newspaper, some seventy years later, almost certainly an Argus of November 1928. It was garnered from my grandmother's memories on her ninetieth birthday:
Charlwood's … became an importing and distributing house, was French's agent for their plays for Australia, the theatrical printers, printing all programmes and also had the first three sheet poster equipment. They used not only to print these for Australia, but for leading artists visiting the West coast of America, as it was cheaper to ship them direct from here than to send them from the Eastern States to California by caravan. This was in the Gold Rush days when communication between Victoria and California was close and frequent.
‘Charlwood's,’ the article added, was ‘for years a popular rendezvous such as Mullen's later became in Collins Street’.
Much of Charlwood & Son's general work was of an ephemeral nature and has largely vanished: Rules of the Prahran Volunteer Fire Brigade, Laws and Regulations of the Melbourne Synagogue, Charlwood's Melbourne Almanac and so on. But several small volumes had a strong folk appeal: The Barry O'Neill Songster, for instance, ran to five editions and Thatcher's Colonial Ministrel2 was even more successful. Thatcher was an immensely popular goldfields songster. To read his rhymes today gives one a vivid picture of goldfields life.
Misfortune struck Charlwood & Son when Stephen died in 1858, and then, two years later, Arthur himself died. The only other trained printer in the family was Edward. At the time of his father's death he was twenty-four, and from all the evidence available, he was out of the country. He appears to have enlisted in the Scots Fusilier Guards and was serving in the Crimea with a Norwich boyhood friend, John Anthony. Anthony's father had a wine and spirits stall in the Norwich marketplace. Back in England, presumably for discharge, Edward formed an attachment to John's half-sister Hepzibah, a girl four years his senior. In what year he then returned to Melbourne is not known, but again he went to England, a brief visit to marry Hepzibah. They sailed together on the Suffolk, arriving in Melbourne 22 June 1863.3
On Arthur's death the management of Charlwood & Son had passed to Charles Muskett, another of the Success group of Particular Baptists. Charles had married Arthur's daughter Phoebe; Although he was a good business man, he was not a trained printer. In 1869 he left the ailing business and he and his wife set up as independent booksellers at 78 Bourke Street East, specializing first in medical text books, later university text books in general. Four years later Charles Muskett died; fortunately he left Phoebe in a position to put in a manager. The couple's son was to become Dr Philip Muskett, a pioneer in Australian dietetics; their daughter Alice a well known artist.
By 1878 Charlwood & Son had fallen apart: Edward Charlwood took over the printing press and his brother Charles the bookselling. Neither of the brothers appears to

Left: Charlwood & Son, printer. Cremorne Gardens. [1856]. Playbill. George Coppin papers.
MS 8827. Box 65/122, playbill 7/1. La Trobe Australian Manuscripts Collection.
Right: Charlwood & Son, printer. Theatre Royal. 1865. Poster. H81.176/17.
La Trobe Picture Collection.

have had the drive of their father and Stephen, besides which there were now many competitors. After one lean year in the city Edward took the press to Bright where he produced The Alpine Gazette. This lasted only a year before he made a move to Beechworth. There he was obliged to sell the press to the publishers of the Ovens Gazette; they employed him as a compositor and his 17-year-old son Arthur as an apprentice. Later Edward became a partner in the firm and lived on in Beechworth till his death there in 1905. Hepzibah
survived him by 17 years. The remains of both husband and wife were interred at Beechworth. The former Charlwood press continued printing The Ovens Register until 1956 when it was sold for scrap.
Charles Charlwood, my grandfather, kept the bookselling arm of the original Charlwood & Son running in premises at 74 Elizabeth Street. He was assisted there by his eldest daughter, Emily Charlwood, then in her teens. Later Emily — better known by the sobriquet ‘Trot’ — was to become the social editor of Table Talk, a position she held for many years. Under the pen-name of ‘Celia’, she was feared for her acid comments on ladies' dress and appearance at Government House balls, ‘First Nights’ and the like. Nevertheless, I remember Nettie Palmer being warm in her praise of Emily Charlwood's part as a pioneer of women journalists and one who helped many young women coming after her.
When the bookshop was finally forced to close, many of the books were taken to Charles's home at ‘Wensum’, 207 Victoria Parade. Charles died many years before I was born, but in my teens the shelves of books ‘from the shop’ absorbed me. Since no-one else appeared to be interested, my grandmother invited me to take any I fancied. I had little notion of the value of any of them. Mainly I was guided by dates of publication and authors familiar to me. Among the many I took were a 1610 Breeches Bible and a copy of King Lear with marginal directions — a prompt copy. This last I decided to sell through Sotheby's in 1979. Of the seven David Garrick prompt copies of Lear it proved to be the earliest. It brought 2500 pounds and left me wondering what other treasures had passed through my grandfather's and great-grandfather's hands. Some of them no doubt ended up on the shelves at ‘Wensum’.
Lastly, I have been intrigued by a parallel between Arthur Charlwood's work in Melbourne and that of John Charlwood who died in London in 1592. According to the English Dictionary of National Biography, he too was a stationer and printer ‘at the Saracen's Head, near Holbourn Conduit’. For thirty years his name frequently appears in the Registers, chiefly for ballads, religious tracts, and similar popular pieces. He, too, was a Surrey man.


Ruth Sewell and Elisabeth Lane, The Free Men of Charlwood, Rose Garland Press, 1951.


Reprinted in facsimile by the Adelaide Library Board of S. A. in 1964. See also Hugh Anderson, The Colonial Minstrel, 1960.


Edward kept a vivid diary of this voyage for his bride's family. It remained in their keeping for 120 years, after which it was passed to the writer by Mrs Joyce Wing, Hepzibah's great-niece. The original is on long-term loan to the State Library of Victoria. In 2003 Burgewood Books, a family publisher, published it in facsimile: The 1863 Shipboard Diary of Edward Charlwood.