Reprint: George Robertson: Henry Lawson's Tribute by Redgum (J. G. Lockley)

George Robertson, who did more for Australia and her literature than any man who had lived before him, finished his life work a few hours since and passed quietly away.'

Many an able pen will be engaged in piecing together an appreciation of the man to whom the nation is so greatly indebted. But no man, or woman, be they ever so appreciative, will do better work than was done nearly 23 years ago by Henry Lawson, whom the late George Robertson loved with all his heart.

I had the privilege of seeing the poet and his publisher at close quarters over a long term of years, and saw both in their best and happiest moods. It was also my joy to hear Mr. Robertson read his Lawson from the manuscripts and from the galley proofs, and later on from the finished volume, named "In the Days When the World was Wide," which was the second book of importance published by Angus and Robertson during the year 1895.

The firm's first was "The Man from Snowy River," by A. B. Paterson, which introduced a new note into our national poetry, and began the work that within a few years was to make the name of Angus and Robertson a household word throughout Australia. George Robertson, and not his partner, Donald Angus, had the guiding hand in that great venture. I was close enough to both at that time to feel that the older man was not so interested or so hopeful of the Paterson and Lawson ventures as his humour-loving and far-sighted junior.


"Snowy River" was fashioned on Rudyard Kipling's "Departmental Ditties and Barrack Room Ballads," which were being widely read at that time.

In type, paper, binding, set-up, and everything else, the Australian book was to be quite a facsimile of the others. A copy of that first edition is at my elbow now, the end papers yellow and stained with age, and the lettering just a little less bright than it was when I covered it with the scarlet cloth used in the Book Club nearly 38 years ago.

Pasted inside the cover of "Snowy River" is a notice announcing that "A volume of poems by Henry Lawson would appear." At that time, the name of the book had not been decided upon. The name "Banjo" did not appear either on the title page or at the close of Mr. Paterson's short introduction. The volume was an immediate success. From that day on, George Robertson began to mount the ladder by which he rose to fame among the publishers of the world.

Strange to say, the firm's first book was not dedicated to anyone. That feature was overlooked. Henry Lawson's "In the Days When the World was Wide" had two dedications, one to "J. F, Archibald" and the other in verse "To an Old Mate." And, occupying a place at the end of this volume appeared Angus and Robertson's first announcements. Among these appeared "My Sundowner and other Poems," by John Farrell; poems by Victor Daley, "Rhymes from the Mines" and other lines, by Edward Dyson; and "A Saltbush Certainty," by A. B. Paterson, whose name on one of these pages figures before The Banjo in brackets.

Some time during 1910, Henry Lawson, who had had 14 years' experience of his publisher, wrote, "The Auld Shop and the New," published and privately circulated during 1923, which, on the title page, he confesses to have "Written specially for 'The Chief,' George Robertson, of Angus and Robertson, as some slight acknowledgement of and small return for his splendid generosity during years of trouble." Only 75 copies of this little volume were put into circulation. My copy is No. 16. It is a great treasure, full of priceless pen pictures well known to all who frequented the Auld Shop in Castlereagh-street. Unfortunately, there are too many libellous references in the story. These Henry Lawson hoped the "partners would take in the 'spirit' in which he had written them. The 'Auld Shop and the New' was to be the property of the head of the firm, to do with as he likes, and to be added to as the years go on."


"To express great praise or gratitude in the rhyme itself, or to tone or smooth it down, would be to spoil the 'art' (or artfulness) of the thing and be false to the idea of the 'inspiration' of it," Henry Lawson wrote in the preface to the volume.

Mr. Robertson held the verses on the original foolscap sheets on which they were written in pencil, until a year after the poet's death, before publishing them. They were part of a parcel of work which I had bought for inclusion in "The Skyline Riders," but were obviously not for publication. After holding them for some time I gave them to Mr. Robertson.

Every word in the prose story appealed to "the Chief," as Henry Lawson called him. Nothing that Lawson wrote made him laugh so hilariously. Only Lawson could have painted such faithful word pictures of the old shops long since passed away.

Mr. Robertson, in his notes on "The Auld Shop," said he could fill a volume with stories of "the Dane," as his co-religionists styled him.

Among other statements made in that contribution, Mr. Robertson tells of purchasing Henry Lawson's first book of poems for £54, the sum of £14 being paid to him in advance.  

"The volume." he says, "was to be produced at the publishers' risk. When 'Snowy River' had proved such a great success, we voluntarily wrote to Lawson to say that we would cancel the straight out sale and consider the £54 a payment in advance of half profits. In a short time we were forced to buy him out again."

No publisher ever did more for one of his clients than the late George Robertson did for Henry Lawson. Few men have done more for their adopted country. His life work left Australia better, brighter, happier, and more hopeful than he found it.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 September 1933

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on May 14, 2010 6:59 AM.

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