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Edgar Charles (Ted) Harris (1897–1964)

by J. P. Holroyd

This article was published:

Edgar Charles (Ted) Harris (1897-1964), publisher, was born on 28 July 1897 at Eaglehawk, Victoria, son of native-born parents Thomas Harris, grocer, and his wife Louisa, née Nichols. He was educated at Eaglehawk State School until the age of 13. After being employed for a year with a solicitor and for a few weeks in a bank, he ran away to Melbourne where he was fascinated by Cole's Book Arcade. Returning home, he became a telegraph messenger at the Bendigo post office before working as a postman at St Kilda from 1914. A friend introduced him to fine literature. 'It was like finding a new world', Harris said years later.

Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 11 October 1916, he trained in England in 1917, but was sent home and discharged, medically unfit, on 20 February 1918. Harris then resumed his job as a postman, at Gilgandra, New South Wales. He subsequently worked as a billposter in various towns and cities from Mount Morgan, Queensland, to Melbourne. There he became a typist. Gifted with a pleasant, light-tenor voice, he was taken into the chorus in Barry Lupino's pantomime, Mother Hubbard. A mild stammer did not affect his singing. He next toured the outback with Randolph Bedford's troupe. In Sydney he joined the office-staff of David Jones Ltd and also combed the bookshops. His book, A Spring Walk: Windsor to Bulli, was privately printed in 1922.

Having played minor roles with Oscar Asche in Cairo and Julius Caesar, Harris found his niche in 1923, working in Melbourne for A. H. Spencer at the Hill of Content bookshop. He stayed with him for sixteen years during which he helped to sell the significant libraries of Robert Sticht, F. H. Cole and H. L. White. On 3 August 1925 he married a divorcee Frieda Ethel Forwood, née Starr, in a civil ceremony at Carlton.

In 1938 Harris joined George Jaboor who had taken over the Australian agencies for Cambridge University Press. When war in 1939 caused a paper shortage in Britain, Harris suggested printing local editions for their principals. On his recommendation a publishing adjunct, Georgian House Pty Ltd, was founded in 1943; following Jaboor's death in 1946, Harris became its managing director. His books were nicely produced: the Australiana facsimile editions and Australian art monographs were outstanding; the natural history works and the Australian Junior Encyclopaedia (1951) were all excellent. Leading writers appeared on the Georgian list. Harris stated that the profits on cheap picture books, which he produced for chain-stores, offset losses on quality works. When Robert Close's Love Me Sailor (1945) was banned in 1948, Close was gaoled and Georgian House fined.

Harris suffered a severe heart attack in 1955 and publishing was curtailed. Tall, dignified and known as Ted, he was president (1957-58) of the Australian Book Publishers' Association. He was also managing director (1947-64) of E. C. Harris Pty Ltd and the Australiana Society Pty Ltd. Andrew Fabinyi thought him 'one of the most creative publishers in the English-speaking world'. Harris died of ischaemic congestive cardiac failure on 27 September 1964 in East Melbourne and was cremated; his wife and two sons (both in publishing) survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • A. H. Spencer, The Hill of Content (Syd, 1959)
  • Age (Melbourne), 16 Mar 1963, 29 Sept 1964
  • E. C. Harris papers (privately held)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

J. P. Holroyd, 'Harris, Edgar Charles (Ted) (1897–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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