Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Dymock (1861–1900)

by Wallace Kirsop

This article was published:

William Dymock (1861-1900), bookseller, was born on 11 May 1861 at North Melbourne, fourth son of Scottish parents Walter Dymock, Wheelwright, and his wife Janet, née McFarlane. About 1867 the family moved to Sydney and lived at Redfern. William was educated chiefly at Cleveland Street Public School. By 1878 he was employed in the book trade, working for John Andrews, James Reading & Co. and the Sydney branch of George Robertson & CO.

After visiting England, where he established contact with Bernard Quaritch, Dymock set up his own business in Sydney in the early 1880s, being at 208 Pitt Street by 1884. The shop was called Dymock's Book Arcade and his trade was aimed not only at a broad popular market but at discriminating collectors like Alfred Lee and D. S. Mitchell. He took over several other firms, notably the Picturesque Atlas Publishing Co. Ltd, as the Book Arcade expanded its activities and moved its premises, first to 142 King Street and then in December 1890 to 428 George Street; his new arcade was 200 ft (61 m) by 30 ft (9 m).

From 1884 Dymock issued regular catalogues and lists; that year the first of a series of publications containing views of Sydney appeared. Although he was to offer Sir Henry Parkes £2000 in 1890 to write a two-volume autobiography, general publishing came second to bookselling. The absorption in 1896 of William Maddock's circulating library, with Maddock's continuing as manager, added an important new dimension to the firm's place in the Sydney book world. Dymock proudly proclaimed himself Quaritch's agent and maintained an interest in valuable collections of antiquarian books, acquiring the libraries of Dr George Bennett and Sir Wigram Allen. His advertisements described the George Street arcade as 'the largest Book Shop in the world', holding 'upwards of one million books'.

At the Sydney Municipal Council elections on 1 December 1898 Dymock contested Macquarie Ward for the Citizens' Reform Committee and defeated Sydney Burdekin. He campaigned strongly as a 'young Australian', 'broad and progressive in his views'. In September 1900 he gave evidence and appeared on his own behalf before the Legislative Assembly select committee on the working of the Free Public Library; he believed its principal librarian H. C. L. Anderson was giving undue favour to Angus & Robertson. Dymock died of a cerebral haemorrhage early on 5 October 1900 and was buried in Waverley cemetery with Presbyterian forms, although he had requested that no minister be present. He was a Freemason.

Dymock was unmarried and his sister Marjory, wife of John Forsyth, managing director of A. Forsyth & Co. Ltd, was executrix, trustee and principal beneficiary of his estate, valued for probate at £10,399. She continued the business and her family still has a controlling interest in the company set up in 1913. In 1926 George Robertson (Sydney) recalled affectionately 'the somewhat erratic but wholly lovable William Dymock'; despite vigorous competition, relations remained good between two outstanding firms created about the same time by former employees of the other George Robertson. Dymock was a member of several clubs and sporting associations and perhaps less single-mindedly devoted to the book trade than his rival; but he retains the distinction of being the first native-born Australian to have launched an enduringly successful major book-selling business.

Select Bibliography

  • J. R. Tyrrell, Old Books, Old Friends, Old Sydney (Syd, 1952)
  • J. Holroyd, George Robertson of Melbourne, 1825-1898 (Melb, 1968)
  • G. Ferguson, Some Early Australian Bookmen (Canb, 1978)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1900, 4, 583
  • JRAHS, 52 (1966), 228
  • Daily Telegraph, 18 Nov–2 Dec 1898, 6 Oct 1900
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 Dec 1898, 6 Oct 1900
  • Bulletin, 13 Oct 1900
  • Henry Parkes correspondence (State Library of New South Wales)
  • documents lodged under Companies Acts, no 4769 (State Records New South Wales)
  • letters, 1899-1908 (Sydney Municipal Archives, Town Hall, Sydney)
  • private information.

Citation details

Wallace Kirsop, 'Dymock, William (1861–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 19 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


11 May, 1861
North Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


5 October, 1900 (aged 39)

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