Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hassell, George Frederick (1869–1945)

by Douglas A. Dunstan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

George Frederick Hassell (1869-1945), printer, was born on 22 February 1869 at Leicester, England, eldest son of George Hassell, printer, and his wife Emma, née Buckley. In 1883 the family migrated to Adelaide and two years later re-established the printing business, G. Hassell & Son, in Victoria Square. In 1887 it moved to Franklin Street and in 1910 transferred to 104 Currie Street. At 14, while still at Leicester, George had induced his father to buy some new decorative initial letters to embellish a particular piece of typography. After his father retired in 1900, and George and his brother Frank took over, a higher standard of work was produced. In 1904-53 the firm printed for the University of Adelaide. On 12 November 1890 Hassell had married Agnes Anna McLeish; they were Methodists.

He was more than a mechanical printer. He was a true bibliophile who loved literature and music and eventually owned over 1200 classical records. These interests led him into publishing, between 1900 and 1935, nearly seventy works. They included Theocritus's The Feast of Adonis (1910), translated by Hassell's close friend Robert Clucas. Hassell personally handset this text, which was printed with the Greek and English versions on facing pages; a leather-bound, hand-tooled copy is in the Mitchell Library, Sydney. He compiled a tiny booklet, Those Shadowy Recollections (1915), a collection of poetry on the theme of lost youth. The beautiful anthology of Australian prose, poetry, art and photography, Art and Letters, Hassell's Australian Miscellany, appeared in 1921. The firm now had a branch in Melbourne and from 1922 was known as The Hassell Press. That year the brothers' partnership was dissolved and Hassell's son, Frederick William, whose wife was also a printer, entered the business.

Other books to appear under their imprint covered art, economics, law, philosophy, poetry and science. They published Henry Lawson, Sir Douglas Mawson, Professor Walter Howchin, Dr Thorburn Brailsford Robertson, Simpson Newland, Stanley (Viscount) Bruce and (Sir) Archibald Grenfell Price. George Robertson of Sydney correctly predicted that works from the Hassell Press would become collector's items; Lawson's Joseph's Dream (1923) and The Auld Shop & the New (1923), printed for Robertson, are among them.

Hassell's involvement in publishing, as distinct from printing for other publishers, was comparatively rare then or now. In his dedication to fine typography he adopted a restrained, formal, classical approach and abhorred the flamboyant garishness of many of his contemporaries. He studied and followed the Oxford University Press style and returned twice to England in 1926 and 1936. He had few contemporary Australian competitors in typographical design and printing quality; many of his peers were content with the mediocre and few were skilled typographers. Although his conservative approach achieved some fame early in this century, today his meticulous attention to detail might be considered unimaginative. His work, however, won repute throughout Australia and brought Adelaide to the fore in the field.

Hassell was a genial, lovable man formed by his reading—he was 'one of the best-read men in Adelaide, and one of the more modest'. His enthusiasm led him to form the Book Club and he was a president of the Adelaide Dual Club.

Survived by his second wife, Ida Frances, and two sons, he died of cancer at his Wayville home on 2 November 1945. His estate was sworn for probate at £13,573. His work lived on in the high standards maintained by his son, at whose request the firm in 1953 merged with Griffin Press Ltd. Continuation of the family name in the printing world was prevented when Fred's son Geoffrey was killed in action in World War II.

Select Bibliography

  • W. H. Langham, The Hassell Press 1885-1935 (Adel, 1935)
  • Newspaper News, 15 Dec 1945
  • Australasian Printer, Nov 1951
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 8 Nov 1945.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Douglas A. Dunstan, 'Hassell, George Frederick (1869–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hassell-george-frederick-6596/text11355, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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