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Wymark, Frederick Victor Grey (1872–1942)

by Marjorie Wymark

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Frederick Victor Grey Wymark (1872-1942), bookseller, was born on 6 October 1872 at Stawell, Victoria, son of Frederick George Wymark, a schoolmaster from England, and his Victorian wife Ann, née Sykes. Brought to Sydney as a child, Fred grew up at Woolloomooloo. When David Mackenzie Angus established a bookselling business in Market Street in 1884, Fred became his first assistant, after fighting another boy for the job. George Robertson joined Angus in 1886. With James Tyrrell, Wymark delivered orders in a billycart; he was formally apprenticed to Angus in 1890. At the Castlereagh Street Congregational Church, Sydney, on 17 October 1894 he married Emily Sophia McCure.

Already in charge of the second-hand department, Wymark took over the expanding Australian section as Robertson's interest in buying and selling these books waned. On Angus's retirement in 1899, Wymark bought many of his shares and in 1907 became a director when Angus & Robertson Ltd was formed as a public company. In 1905 Robertson and Wymark had petitioned the Commonwealth parliament, seeking the amendment of copyright laws to protect Australian books from piracy in the United States of America.

'Tall, fair, blue of eye, big boned, quick-minded and quick-moving', Wymark combined 'the heart of a child' with a businessman's 'faculty of seeing instantly and clearly'. He persuaded his fellow directors to purchase the freehold of the Castlereagh Street shop and the adjoining building. In 1909 he instituted the firm's art gallery where his son Charles later worked.

Becoming an authority on books, prints, pictures, journals, letters and manuscripts relating to Australia and the Pacific, Wymark searched for treasures for David Scott Mitchell and later (Sir) William Dixson who freely acknowledged their indebtedness to him in building up their collections. He 'could sense an Australian rarity anywhere between Peru and Kamchatka, and knew its history, its value and its probable purchaser'. On his only business trip to Britain he persuaded many notable second-hand booksellers to give him first offer of rare items on Australasia and Oceania before the publication of their catalogues; he also dealt with European booksellers such as Mullers of Amsterdam. Norman Lindsay told Robertson that he always regarded Wymark's 'genius for barter, the prerogative of Phoenician piracy, with profound respect'.

Wymark's insistence on investigating any offer enabled him to secure such choice items as the original drawings in colour for John Gould's The Birds of Australia and James Cook's letter on naming the east coast 'New South Wales'. Wymark purchased some important libraries, including that of James Norton and the Colenso library from New Zealand for which he bid in person; among other rarities he obtained for the Mitchell and Dixson libraries were maps, charts, manuscripts, signed letters, pictures, portraits, coins, medals and stamps.

An 'alert genius', Wymark loved old books and playing bowls. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, he died at Church Point on 19 October 1942 and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. R. Tyrrell, Old Books, Old Friends, Old Sydney (Syd, 1952)
  • A. H. Spencer, The Hill of Content (Syd, 1959)
  • Australian Booksellers Association, The Early Australian Booksellers (Adel, 1980)
  • A. W. Barker, Dear Robertson (Syd, 1982)
  • Biblionews, June 1976, p 27.

Citation details

Marjorie Wymark, 'Wymark, Frederick Victor Grey (1872–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wymark-frederick-victor-grey-9206/text16263, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 27 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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