Edward William Cole

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Edward William Cole
Edward William Cole portrait.jpg
Edward William Cole outside his home Earlsbrae Hall in Essendon, Victoria, Australia.
Edward William Cole

5 January 1832[1]
Died16 December 1918 (aged 86)
Occupationbookseller, author, editor

Edward William Cole, also known as "E. W. Cole of the Book Arcade", (5 January 1832 – 16 December 1918) was a bookseller and founder of the Cole's Book Arcade, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Early life[edit]

Cole was born at Woodchurch near Tenterden, Kent, England, to Harriet Cole, on January 4, 1832. Detailed research [1] indicates Harriet's husband, Amos Cole, was on the hulks in Plymouth at the time of Edward's conception and therefore Amos could not be Edward's father, who's identity remains unknown. Harriet herself was both illegitimate and illiterate. Cole received little formal education. In an obituary in the Age on Tuesday, 17 December, 1918, it is reported that "Indeed, he used to say himself that he had as a boy only six months' schooling."

When Cole was 4, despite no record of a divorce, his mother Harriet married again to Thomas Watson, on 27 February 1836, just two months before Amos was transported to Van Diemen's Land on 24 April, 1836. Aged 18, Cole moved to London in 1850 with £20. On 14 April 1850, he migrated to the Cape Colony aboard the 'Dalhousie' and had some success as a farmer and enjoyed botanical explorations.[2] On November 11, 1852 Cole arrived at Cole's Wharf (no relation) in the Yarra in Melbourne Victoria. He spent some time on the diggings at various jobs.


On 30 September 1865, Cole started a book shop at the Eastern market, Melbourne, with a stock of 600 volumes. His total takings at the end of October amounted to £15 12s., most of which was spent in buying fresh stock. He gradually prospered and became lessee of the whole of the market, most of which was sub-let to small stall-holders. He engaged a band, spent a comparatively large sum on advertising, and made the market a popular resort. Though Cole had little education he read a great deal, and in 1867, under the pseudonym of "Edwic", he published The Real Place in History of Jesus and Paul, which is largely a discussion on the validity of miracles. The last paragraph of the book stated that it had been written largely to show what Jesus was not, and that he hoped to publish another book showing "what he really was and Paul also, namely that they were two honest visionaries". No one in Melbourne or Sydney would publish it.

In 1874 Cole took a building fronting on Bourke Street near the market, and opened his first "book arcade". This business was successful and he also continued renting the market until 1881, when he was unable to secure a renewal of the lease on sufficiently favourable terms. He then began negotiations for a building lower down Bourke Street near the general post office.

Cole's Book Arcade[edit]

Interior of Cole's Book Arcade, Bourke Street, Melbourne

Cole's Book Arcade was opened on 27 January 1883 and grew into one of the great book businesses of Australia. It became known as "the prettiest sight in Melbourne".[3][4] Such was its renown that Cole's Book Arcade was visited by writers Rudyard Kipling and Mark Twain during their travels to Australia.[5] The shop was extended to Little Collins Street and afterwards buildings on the other side were bought through to the Collins Street frontage. The statement that there was once a stock of two million books is manifestly absurd, but the arcade certainly had one of the largest stocks of books in the world. Members of the public were invited to walk through the arcade, and to spend as much time as they liked turning over the books or even reading them. A large second hand department was on the first floor, where a band played every afternoon. The business continued to prosper and Cole eventually opened various new departments including one of printing.

Publications including Funny Picture Books[edit]

He compiled a large number of popular books, of which the Cole's Funny Picture Book series, which was launched with great publicity on Christmas Eve 1879, and Cole's Fun Doctor were most successful, their sales running into many hundreds of thousands. Another publication (early 1900s) was Cole's Treasury of Song, A Collection of the Most Popular Songs [Old and New] containing about a thousand songs.

Publications: Horticulture books[edit]

Cole also had great success publishing gardening and horticultural literature. Cole’s Penny Garden Guide was abridged from the Law Somner and Co. Handbook to the Garden (1880), a device much used by Cole. His biggest garden success was Cole’s Australasian Gardening and Domestic Floriculture (1897) by William Elliott. He also published Hamilton McEwin’s The Fruitgrower’s Handbook, and reprinted others, such as John Lockley’s Rose Growing Made Easy, under his imprint. Cole’s The Happifying Gardening Hobby (1918), an endearing anthology of words and pictures, embodied his altruistic wish for universal health and happiness.[6] Historian Ken Duxbury describes this work as a ‘sort of horticultural version’ of Cole’s Funny Picture Book.[7] Cole also edited a booklet entitled Cotton Growing: the coming leading industry in Australia in 1905 and in 1913, the second edition of The Fruitgrower’s Handbook. Over the next two years, he published two works by A. E. Cole (no relation) The Bouquet: Australian flower gardening and The Australian Floral Almanac.[7]

Personal life and legacy[edit]

Cole married Eliza Frances Jordan in 1872; she predeceased him, dying on 15 March 1911. They lived in a flat above the arcade.[8] Cole himself died in Melbourne on 16 December 1918 and was buried in Boroondara Cemetery. Two sons and three daughters survived him.

Cole's establishment had a considerable effect on the culture of Melbourne. The business was continued for about 10 years after his death, when the executors decided to close it and sell the properties, which had now become very valuable. A member of his family bought the goodwill, and the shop was continued for another 10 years in Swanston Street on a comparatively small scale.


  1. ^ "Edward William Cole". Retrieved 21 August 2011.
  2. ^ Duxbury, K. (2003), 'With Mirrors and Rainbows: Part 1’, Australian Garden History, 14 (6), pp. 20–24.
  3. ^ Image – Cole's Book Arcade – Electronic Encyclopedia of Gold in Australia
  4. ^ Cole's Book Arcade – Concept – Electronic Encyclopedia of Gold in Australia
  5. ^ http://www.abc.net.au/rn/hindsight/stories/2011/3289272.htm
  6. ^ Aitken, R., (2002), ‘Cole, Edward William’, in R. Aitken and M. Looker (eds), Oxford Companion to Australian Gardens, South Melbourne, Oxford University Press, p. 147.
  7. ^ a b Duxbury, K. (2003), ‘With Mirrors and Rainbows: Part 2’, Australian Garden History, 15 (1), pp. 14–19.
  8. ^ Mellor, Amelia (29 September 2020). "Cole's Book Arcade was Melbourne's literary funhouse, but its creator was truly inspirational". the Guardian. Retrieved 4 October 2020.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • ewcole.com website [2]

Under 'Publications' see Cole's addressing of 21 subjects: Aeroplanes, Alcohol, Animal Next to Man, Apples, Books, Business Education, Compilations, Dress, Federal Capital, Federation of the World, Frauds, Fun, Gardening, Hobbies, Lying, Music, Poetry, Race, Recreation Day, Religion and World at a Glance.

Under 'Tokens' see Cole's 62 different token messages sorted into Advertising, Politics, Religion/Philosophy and Banners.

Under 'Biographical' listed are 2 detailed research summaries, 6 separate biographies, a gallery of Book Arcade photos and Cole family photos, and 2 novels inspired by Cole.

Under 'Chronology' listed are 440 items of relevance to Cole and his life.