Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Sands (1818–1873)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

John Sands (1818-1873), engraver, printer and stationer, was born in Sandhurst, Berkshire, England, on 12 November 1818, son of Robert Sands and his wife Hannah. His great-great-grandfather, Robert (b.1729), was a noted engraver and his great-grandfather, Robert, grandfather, James, and father were all engravers and printers of distinction. His father worked with such notable craftsmen as John Le Keux and the Cruikshanks and also on Punch. Thomas Hood, the poet, was a cousin. In 1837, after serving his apprenticeship as an engraver and map-colourer, Sands came to Sydney for the sake of his health and with stationery valued at £500 set up a retail business in George Street. In 1848 he took over Mary Reibey's house and shop front and on this site, next to the General Post Office, the firm operated until 1970.

Sands formed several partnerships in Sydney and Melbourne. The first, in April 1851, was with his brother-in-law Thomas Kenny; in 1852 Sands and Kenny took over James Williams's printery in Queen Street, Melbourne, moving next year to Collins Street. In 1860 Dugald McDougall (1834-1885) joined them as Melbourne manager and the firm there became Sands, Kenny & Co. Kenny retired from both partnerships in December 1861 and the firm became Sands and McDougall. By 1870 as stationers, booksellers, printers and account book manufacturers the firm was one of the largest of its kind in Australia and in that year won prizes for printing and book production at the Intercolonial Exhibition in Sydney. Sands printed and published a wide variety of publications, but especially notable were his directories, almanacs, gazetteers and prints by F. C. Terry and S. T. Gill depicting colonial life. In 1881 the Sydney firm, known as John Sands Ltd, offered one of the first groups of Christmas and New Year cards in Australia: the first card, at a price of 1s. 3d., was listed as 'Little girl offering a Christmas pudding to Swagsman'.

In 1864 Sands had been a member of the general purposes committee of the New South Wales Free Trade Association and in the 1860s was a director of the Phoenix Building and Investment Society. He died at his residence, Marmion, Waverley, on 16 August 1873, survived by his wife Marjory, née Moffat (d.1904), whom he had married in Sydney on 6 December 1850, and by five sons and a daughter. He was buried in the Presbyterian section of Rookwood cemetery and in 1904 was reinterred in Waverley cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £20,000. His wife then separated the business, the Sands family retaining the Sydney operations as John Sands Ltd, and the McDougall family continuing in Melbourne as Sands and McDougall. Sands's eldest son, Robert (d.1925), took over the Sydney firm when he completed his apprenticeship. Another son, Herbert Guy (d.1927), was a director of the firm for many years, a founder of Davy and Sands, engineers of Pyrmont, and later a pastoralist in the Orange district. The firm's 'hourglass' trademark is based on the old printers' tradition of punning pictorially on the logotype of the founder. John Sands Holdings Ltd was formed in 1950 to acquire all the shares in John Sands Pty Ltd.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1861, 2. 83, 1875-76, 5, 631
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Aug 1873, 22 Oct 1881, 16 Jan 1970
  • Bulletin, 29 Oct 1881
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 29 Oct 1881
  • private information.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Sands, John (1818–1873)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 25 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


12 November, 1818
Sandhurst, Berkshire, England


16 August, 1873 (aged 54)
Waverley, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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