ROWLANDSON, Alfred Cecil (1866-1922)

ROWLANDSON, Alfred Cecil (1866-1922)
was born at Daylesford, Victoria, in 1866. His family having removed to Queensland he was educated at the Superior Normal School, Brisbane, but at 11 years of age began working as a shop boy. In 1878 another move was made to Sydney, where Rowlandson was employed as an office boy with an indent agent. In 1883, at 17, he joined the staff of the N.S.W. Bookstall Company, and was employed as a tram ticket seller at the office at the corner of King and Elizabeth streets. He was promoted to cashier and then manager. When the proprietor, Henry Lloyd, died, Rowlandson in 1897 bought the business from the widow and conceived the idea of selling Australian books at one shilling each. In spite of his belief that there was a market for cheap Australian books the prospects were not encouraging. Australians generally had not much faith in the value of the work of their novelists, and it seemed unlikely that books could be sold in large editions in a country with a population still under 4,000,000 when Rowlandson began publishing at the turn of the century. An early transaction was the giving of £500 for the copyright of Sandy's Selection by Steele Rudd, which meant that about 20,000 copies had to be sold before a penny of profit could come in. Rowlandson also spent comparatively large sums in readers' fees, and among the many distinguished artists employed as illustrators were Norman, Lionel, Percy and Ruby Lindsay, David Low and Will Dyson (q.v.). As a result of increased costs during the war the price per copy was increased to one shilling and threepence, but it was lowered again to one shilling as soon as possible. Rowlandson, who had to work extremely hard to keep control of a business worked on a small margin of profit, became ill early in 1922, and taking a voyage to North America for the sake of his health was unable to land when he arrived at San Francisco. On his way back to Australia he was taken to a private hospital at Wellington, New Zealand, and died following an operation on 15 June 1922.
Rowlandson was a kind-hearted, courageous man of business, who did a remarkable piece of work for Australian literature. It is true that most of the books that he published were of a merely popular kind, but he had an important share in the breaking down of a great deal of prejudice against local work. In slightly over 20 years of publishing he issued about 5,000,000 copies of books by about 70 authors, illustrated by over 30 artists, and left a name for just dealing not surpassed by any other publisher. He married and left a widow and three children.
The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 June 1922; A. C. Rowlandson, Pioneer Publisher of Australian Novels; The Bookfellow, 31 July 1922.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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