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Dwight, Henry Tolman (1823–1871)

by Ian F. McLaren

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Henry Tolman Dwight (1823?-1871), bookseller and publisher, was born in London, son of Richard William Dwight, mariner, and his wife Anne, née Meade, and grew up at Deptford, Kent. His elder brother, Richard William (1816-1864), migrated to Melbourne in 1853 with his wife Isabella Ann, née Gill, and became a grocer at Emerald Hill. Richard died on 19 August 1864 and was buried in the Melbourne general cemetery.

After experience in the London book trade, Henry migrated about 1855 to Melbourne, bringing with him a large stock of second-hand books. Within months of his arrival, he set up business at 234 Bourke Street East. In 1864 he took over the Glasgow Book Warehouse at 232 Bourke Street which had been opened the year before by Robert Mackay, publisher of Mackay's Australian Illustrated Almanac (1860-1877). Dwight used both premises until 1870 when he retained 232 Bourke Street only.

Although George Robertson, Samuel Mullen and George Slater had commenced bookselling in Melbourne in 1853, Dwight's knowledge of books and attention to customers' wants attracted Adam Lindsay Gordon, Henry Kendall, Richard Henry 'Orion' Horne, Sir Archibald Michie, and others to his shop. There Dwight presided as 'a colonial Quaritch', over a literary coterie of 'lawyers, doctors, divines, journalists—a motley crew, but united in the bonds of bookdom. It was no light privilege to be admitted into the sacred circle'. Dwight was the Melbourne authorized agent for Quaritch of London whose catalogues bore his name.

Dwight issued in November 1859 his Catalogue of a Collection of Books, Old and New, Theological and Miscellaneous … Books on Architecture & Building, Brewing and Distilling, Geology, Mineralogy, Mathematics & Natural Philosophy, which he claimed was the first such catalogue issued in the colony. His next catalogue claimed a stock of 10,000 volumes which by August 1862 had grown to 60,000 volumes. The 1865 catalogue contained 508 items of 'a choice selection of Books and Pamphlets, printed in, and relating to, the Colonies of Australia'.

Dwight lived quietly and sought no public prominence. One of the rare references to him in the press was in 1868 when police seized a number of American editions which he had bought at a sale, but the books were soon returned to him 'as one of the most enterprising and respected members of the bookselling trade'.

Dwight was an early and successful publisher, including G. Bourne's Journal of Landsborough's Expedition from Carpentaria in Search of Burke and Wills (1862) and works by Rev. Julian Tenison Woods, Thomas McCombie, J. J. Thomas and J. Geary. He also published Australian Celebrities or Personal Portraits of 100 Theatrical Stars of Various Magnitudes (1865), The Hamlet Controversy. Was Hamlet Mad? (1867) and The Cordial and Liqueur Maker's Guide (1869). Dwight issued verse by R. Horne, George McCrae, Edward Curr, D. W. Jobson and others. In fiction Dwight published Lindigo, The White Woman, or The Highland Girl's Captivity Among Australian Blacks (1866) by Angus McLean, and joined with George Robertson and Sampson Low of London in McCombie's Frank Henly, or Honest Industry Will Conquer (1867).

Dwight died at his bookshop on 13 June 1871, survived by his wife Elizabeth, née Aldis. He bequeathed his property to the University of Melbourne in reversion upon his wife's death, with annual proceeds to be divided into prizes for the 'encouragement of learning in ancient history, constitutional and legal history, and natural philosophy'. Dwight's bequest was one of the first of substance to the university. When it became effective in 1904 it was valued at £5000.

Select Bibliography

  • R. C. Miller, Books: Their History and Influence (Melb, 1883)
  • A. P. Martin, ‘Concerning Australian Poets’, in Australian Poets, 1788-1888, D. W. B. Sladen ed (Lond, 1888), pp xxxi-xliv
  • E. Scott, A History of the University of Melbourne (Melb, 1936)
  • E. M. Miller, Australian Literature from its Beginnings to 1935, vol 2 (Melb, 1940)
  • A. Blainey, The Farthing Poet: A Biography of Richard Hengist Horne, 1802-84
  • a Lesser Literary Lion (Lond, 1968)
  • Leader (Melbourne), 24 Mar 1866
  • Australasian, 3 Oct 1868, 17 June 1871
  • Herald (Melbourne), 13 June 1871.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ian F. McLaren, 'Dwight, Henry Tolman (1823–1871)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dwight-henry-tolman-3460/text5289, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 24 August 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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