Rigby Ltd

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Rigby Limited was an Australian book publisher, based in Adelaide. Their output consisted largely, but not exclusively, of Australian subjects, especially non-fiction, by Australian writers and artists.


The founder[edit]

William Charles Rigby (March 1834 – 14 July 1913)[1] was born in London. His parents had intended for him the life of a hatter, but he was attracted to bookselling, so was apprenticed to Parker & Sons of London and Oxford,[2] where George Robertson and Samuel Mullen (both became bookshop owners in Melbourne) were fellow workers.[a]

Thinking to make his fortune on the goldfields of Victoria, he purchased the 48-ton lugger Gem, previously associated with a yachting club at Ryde, Isle of Wight, and in 1853 set out for the colonies with his young wife Harriet and their son, her parents (Mr and Mrs Caple), sister Fanny Caple and a crew of seven, presumably including a navigator/captain; thirteen in all. A large crowd gathered at Southampton to witness the departure of the tiny craft. The voyage was long and hard, a total of 18 weeks, and at one point they were driven ashore, possibly on Kangaroo Island, but managed to get her free without damage. They entered Port Phillip Bay, sailed up the Yarra River without benefit of a pilot, and without following pratique, formalizing the voyage after the event. The crew disembarked and without waiting for their pay made off for Ballarat.

Rigby had intended the Gem for service on the Yarra, but found her unsuited to the purpose[3] (or was frustrated by years of litigation),[2] and eventually the little vessel was sold by auction for a fraction of her value, perhaps ending up in the South Australian coastal shipping fleet.

Rigby spent six years at the diggings without making his fortune, then moved to Adelaide, where in 1859, with five cases of stock to a total value of £229 16 7d., he opened a book shop at 53 Hindley Street, in those days the premier shopping strip. Set into the pavement in front of his shop were blue and white tiles, proclaiming "W. C. Rigby — Bookseller, Stationer, and Newsagent".[2] He had such an understanding of the literary tastes and commercial requirements of Adelaide that his business prospered and in 1875 he took the lease on vacant land at 74 King William Street,[4] and erected a new building, artistically decorated with oil paintings which were periodically refreshed.

In 1901 he was able to purchase the King William Street property freehold from the Montefiore estate for £4,000.[5] In 1909, at age 75, Rigby retired, and the business was sold to a limited liability company, registered in September 1909, retaining the name of the founder.[6]

He died at his home "St Heliers", 40 Third Avenue, East Adelaide, and his remains interred at the West Terrace Cemetery.


His wife Harriet died on 28 November 1872.[7] Their family included at least one son, W. J. Rigby (c. 1853 – 7 January 1894)[8] and three daughters: Mrs A. Ringwood, of Barnard Street, North Adelaide; Mrs Max Meth; and a Miss Rigby, of East Adelaide.[2] At least three daughters were born in Adelaide: Ada Harriet in 1863 (she died 1865), Ada in 1866 and Lilian in 1871. Lilian married Max George Meth (c. 1862 – 11 December 1947) in 1890. A son, Max W. Rigby-Meth, was an actor in England.[9]

Rigby Ltd[edit]

King Wm / Grenfell streets in 1911

J. M. Bath joined the firm in September 1912, and the proprietors decided to realise its value, and sell the lease, while selling the business to George Fraser, of Sands & McDougall, with an eye to amalgamating the two companies. As a result of the Great War of 1914–18 nothing eventuated and on 1 May 1917 Fraser sold his shares to Bath, who negotiated a 30-year lease of the King William Street property, then in 1924 sold the building and lease to Army and Navy Stores, Ltd. In the meantime Bath secured the lease on Sandford's warehouse behind the shop, on Imperial Place, from which premises business continued to expand.[10]

In 1932 he purchased Herbert Small's Electrolux shop adjoining at 16 Grenfell Street,[11] and the Rundle Street branch of Cole's Book Arcade.[b]

Bath died in 1946 and V. M. Branson took over as managing director. The company began publishing textbooks for South Australian schools, followed by books of general interest by and for Australians. Branches were opened in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane in the 1950s, with an up-to-date distribution centre in James Place, Adelaide. A Perth office opened in 1962.

In 1965 Horwitz and Rigby merged to become Australia’s largest publisher.[12][13]

In January 1967 Michael Page joined the company as its Publishing Manager. In 1973 the company changed owners and Branson left. During his reign the number of employees increased from 44 to over 200 and, towards the end, hundreds of new titles were published every year.[14]

In 1977 the Paul Hamlyn Group, through its Octopus Books subsidiary, purchased 10.48 per cent of Rigby's capital from an Adelaide investor, and a takeover bid by that company, which entailed buying out the major shareholder,[who?] was opposed by the Australian Independent Publishers Association.[15]

By 1977 Rigby had become Australia's largest book publisher.[14]

In 1978-79 Hamlyn Group RCI (James Hardie Ltd) took over Rigby.[13][16][17] By 1984 all Rigby staff had been dismissed. It survived "for a while" as a subdivision of Reed Elsevier.[18]


John Morley Bath (c. 1880 – 3 June 1946) became company secretary around 1917 and managing director from c. 1934.[19]

Vernon Mostyn Branson (1908 – 21 June 1992) was manager from 1946, managing director from 1950[20] to 1973. He was author of

  • V. M. Branson (1966) The Art of Ivor Hele
  • V. M. Branson (1976) The Rigby Saga
  • V. M. Branson (1981) The Golden Years of Apex 1956–1981 ISBN 9780909854102
  • V. M. Branson, W. B. C. Rutt (1982) Lead with a Watchful Eye: The Silver Jubilee of Guide Dogs in Australia ISBN 9780867700244
  • V. M. Branson (1983) Kooyonga 1923–1983, the Story of a Golf Club ISBN 9780959115208
  • Trevor Goulding, V. M. Branson (1988) Landmarks of Adelaide, A Sketchbook ISBN 9780867700558
  • Douglas Luck, V. M. Branson (1979) Sketches of Murray Bridge ISBN 9780959465204
also Clare and District Sketchbook (1974), Victor Harbor and District Sketchbook (1974), Southern Vales Sketchbook (1977), . . .

Book series[edit]

  • Alcheringa Series[21] - published in association with Bill Onus's 1962 television series on ABC Television
  • Australian Men of Letters[22]
  • Australian Pocket Books[23]
  • Fast Tracks[24]
  • Humphrey B. Bear Book[25]
  • Opal Young[26]
  • Rigby Instant Books[27][28]
  • Rigby Jumbo Instant Books
  • Rigby Opal Books[29][30]
  • Rigby Sketchbook Series[31]
  • Rigby Social Studies Series
  • Rigby's Pageant of Australia[32]
  • Rigby's Reading Development Series
  • Rigby Study Guide Series[33]
  • Seal Books[34][35]


  1. ^ Not to be confused with the George Robertson of Angus & Robertson fame, this George Robertson founded Robertson & Co. of Little Collins Street, and Mullen founded Mullen, Melville, and Slade, which became Melville & Mullen. Robertson and Mullen first met while working in a bookshop in Dublin; Mullen, at least, later worked for Parker and Sons.
  2. ^ This was long after E. W. Cole's death, and the company's only outlet in Melbourne was a modest establishment on Swanston Street, the famous Book Arcade having been liquidated around 1925.


  1. ^ "Family Notices". The Express and Telegraph. Vol. L, no. 14, 967. South Australia. 15 July 1913. p. 1. Retrieved 14 February 2022 – via National Library of Australia.
  2. ^ a b c d V. M. Branson (7 July 1951). "Honor for booksellers". The Advertiser (Adelaide). Vol. 94, no. 28, 935. South Australia. p. 6. Retrieved 14 February 2022 – via National Library of Australia.
  3. ^ "Rigby's Business Established in 1859". The Advertiser (Adelaide). South Australia. 12 July 1933. p. 18 (South Australian Register (Adelaide SA : 1839–1900)). Retrieved 14 February 2022 – via National Library of Australia.
  4. ^ "The Week's News". Adelaide Observer. Vol. XXXII, no. 1765. South Australia. 31 July 1875. p. 7. Retrieved 14 February 2022 – via National Library of Australia.
  5. ^ "Important Land Sale". The Register (Adelaide). Vol. LXVI, no. 16, 978. South Australia. 13 April 1901. p. 7. Retrieved 14 February 2022 – via National Library of Australia.
  6. ^ "Advertising". The Register (Adelaide). Vol. LXXIV, no. 19, 614. South Australia. 23 September 1909. p. 2. Retrieved 14 February 2022 – via National Library of Australia.
  7. ^ "Family Notices". South Australian Register. Vol. XXXVII, no. 8124. South Australia. 29 November 1872. p. 4. Retrieved 14 February 2022 – via National Library of Australia.
  8. ^ "Family Notices". South Australian Register. Vol. LIX, no. 14, 712. South Australia. 8 January 1894. p. 4. Retrieved 14 February 2022 – via National Library of Australia.
  9. ^ ""Variety" Is Right". The Mail (Adelaide). Vol. 27, no. 1, 363. South Australia. 9 July 1938. p. 4. Retrieved 30 December 2022 – via National Library of Australia.
  10. ^ "Army and Navy Storesm". The Register (Adelaide). Vol. LXXXIX, no. 25, 926. South Australia. 31 January 1924. p. 6. Retrieved 15 February 2022 – via National Library of Australia.
  11. ^ "Valuable City Property Sold". The Advertiser (Adelaide). South Australia. 20 October 1932. p. 16. Retrieved 14 February 2022 – via National Library of Australia.
  12. ^ Nicholson, Joyce (June 2000). "A Difficult Trade: Interview". Australian Bookseller & Publisher. pp. 84–85.
  13. ^ a b Sheahan-Bright, Robyn (2005). To Market to Market: The Development of the Australian Children's Publishing Industry (Griffith thesis thesis). Griffith University.
  14. ^ a b "Rigby Limited, publishers BRG 12" (PDF). State Library of South Australia. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 February 2022. Retrieved 15 February 2022. This document has not been used for early history of the business.
  15. ^ "Strong Opposition to Takeover Bid". Canberra Times. Vol. 51, no. 14, 851. Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 10 August 1977. p. 26. Retrieved 15 February 2022 – via National Library of Australia.
  16. ^ Haye, Valerie (1981). The Impact of Foreign Ownership on Australian Publishing in the 1970s (MA Thesis ed.). La Trobe University School of Social Sciences, Department of Politics.
  17. ^ Branson, Vern (October 1986). "Rigby Remembered". Australian Bookseller & Publisher. pp. 38–41.
  18. ^ Austlit. "Rigby | AustLit: Discover Australian Stories". www.austlit.edu.au. Retrieved 29 December 2022.
  19. ^ "Death of Mr J. Morley Bath". The Advertiser (Adelaide). South Australia. 5 June 1946. p. 4. Retrieved 15 February 2022 – via National Library of Australia.
  20. ^ "Director". The Advertiser (Adelaide). Vol. 93, no. 28, 693. South Australia. 26 September 1950. p. 6. Retrieved 15 February 2022 – via National Library of Australia.
  21. ^ se:Alcheringa series, worldcat.org. Retrieved 12 March 2023.
  22. ^ Henry Kendall : A Critical Appreciation with Brief Chronology and a Bibliography by Thomas Thornton Reid, austlit.edu.au. Retrieved 13 March 2023.
  23. ^ Australian One-act Plays: Edited by Greg Branson. Book two, books.google.com. Retrieved 13 March 2023.
  24. ^ Fast tracks II teacher's ideas book / Jan Pritchett, Sue Corish and Catherine Kennedy-Parker, nla.gov.au. Retrieved 13 March 2023.
  25. ^ Humphrey's visit to the zoo / [by Gordon A. Rule], nla.gov.au. Retrieved 13 March 2023.
  26. ^ se:Opal young, worldcat.org. Retrieved 16 March 2023.
  27. ^ Rigby Instant Books (Rigby Limited - Book Series List, publishinghistory.com. Retrieved 12 March 2023.
  28. ^ se:Rigby instant book, worldcat.org. Retrieved 12 March 2023.
  29. ^ Rigby Opal Books (Rigby Ltd.) - Book Series List, publishinghistory.com. Retrieved 16 March 2023.
  30. ^ Publication Series: Rigby Opal Books, isfdb.org. Retrieved 12 March 2023.
  31. ^ The Rigby Sketchbook Series, hibeach.net. Retrieved 12 March 2023.
  32. ^ Rigby's Pageant of Australia - Book Series List, publishinghistory.com. Retrieved 12 March 2023.
  33. ^ se:Rigby Study Guide Series, worldcat.org. Retrieved 20 May 2023.
  34. ^ Seal Books (Rigby Limited) - Book Series List, publishinghistory.com. Retrieved 12 March 2023.
  35. ^ Seal Books+ Rigby, worldcat.org. Retrieved 12 March 2023.

Further reading[edit]

  • Michael Page,"Case-study: Rigby Limited", in: Craig Munro and Robyn Sheahan-Bright, eds., Paper Empires: A History of the Book in Australia, 1946-2005, University of Queensland Press, 2006, pp. 41-43.