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GEORGE ROBERTSON

Attracted by a familiar name ...


'I landed in Sydney on the afternoon of 12 February, 1882 with ten shillings and a penny in my pocket,' George Robertson reminisced, 'and in the morning I was up good and early looking for a job.'

Robertson was an English-born Scot who had completed a bookselling apprenticeship in Glasgow. He migrated to New Zealand in 1879 and spent three years working with his brothers on their sawmill.

He was just 22 and recently married when he arrived in Australia, having travelled steerage in a steamer. 'Why not try the old game?' he thought to himself, and began calling on all the bookshops he could find.

The first four had no vacancies. Then, crossing George Street, he saw another shop with a very familiar name outside, "George Robertson & Company" ... it seemed remarkably providential.

This was the Sydney branch of Robertson's Melbourne-based namesake, a man who was 35 years older, but no relation to our George Robertson, and had arrived in Victoria in 1852 on the same day, coincidentally, as another prominent bookseller, E W Cole.

Despite having the same name as the firm's owner, George Robertson was engaged by the company; it became the only job he needed in Australia. Among the other staff was another Scot, David Angus, who had served a bookselling apprenticeship, too, but in Edinburgh not Glasgow.

The pair enjoyed each others company, and their fellowship in books. When Angus left after two years to start his own business, Robertson helped him after hours to prepare his stock.

Looking back on that period of his life, Robertson mused, 'I never met George Robertson the First; the only communication I ever held with him was an exchange of short notes on the subject of my salary ... I had been in charge of his retail department for 15 weeks and thought a "rise" was due. He gave me one and made it retrospective.'

'I banked the 15 pounds "back money" and with that identical sum,' said Robertson, 'in January 1886 purchased a half share in Mr Angus's business, then only eighteen months old.'

George Robertson confessed later that he used to stroll past the new shop at night just to gloat over the "Angus & Robertson" sign above the window.

 

© BARRY JOHN WATTS 2002

 

George Robertson, Bookseller & publisher
George Robertson, Sydney,
arrived with ten shillings
and a penny (approx. $1.00)

Melbourne's George Robertson
George Robertson, Melbourne,
arrived in Australia 30 years
earlier than his namesake

David Angus
David McKenzie Angus invited
Robertson into partnership

drawing of first A&R shop, Sydney
George Robertson used to stroll
past this shop and gloat.

 
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