Of Books and Auction Sales part 2 by Paul Depasquale

Of Books and Auction Sales part 2

Prices and Value

Is the best value in collectable books to be found in book shops or at auctions?

The answer must necessarily depend upon how well you know your chosen area and how determined you are to buy as soon as possible. When books are offered in box or shelf lots, the dealer has the advantage because his interests will be wider than those of any collector—large lots at mart auctions are rarely if ever sorted by category, meaning that the books represent many fields. In this context the collector must be distinguished from the accumulator, though it is not uncommon for accumulators to call themselves collectors. The collector is given his chance through the increasing tendency of the auction houses to offer books singly, a trend most noticeable at present at Small & Whitfieldʼs and at Megaw & Hoggʼs: for a desirable single item the collector always has the opportunity of beating the trade. Not everyone, however, is comfortable about buying at auction, and there is something about finding a desired book in a shop which is entirely sui generis. There is also the advantage that, in a shop, you may change your mind while you browse—how often have we not all picked up the first ʻmust buyʼ only to put it back when something even more ʻmust buyableʼ comes to hand?—whereas at an auction you cannot change your mind. A bought lot is yours and at your risk from the fall of the hammer: there are no second chances.

Another problem at auctions is that nothing has a fixed price, so that you cannot foretell how much particular items will make: it is therefore difficult to budget. Again, this must favour the trade. One is often left in the position of having to think sharply on oneʼs feet after having clinched a few lots at or above oneʼs pre-set maxima: how far to go for the next lot or lots? Compare this jungle atmosphere with the civilized, the gentle joys of browsing. However, if you are of the temperament which the sports commentators term ʻcompetitiveʼ, and you derive pleasure from beating others, then auctions are for you, for every time an item is sold by auction someone ʻwinsʼ and someone else ʻlosesʼ.

Of course, the ʻwinnerʼ may not necessarily be the person who makes the purchase, for, of all the fallacies which surround collecting, one of the more pernicious is to the effect that if you buy at auction you cannot be paying too much. Indeed, for every ʻbargainʼ buy at a lively mart auction (there are days when most lots are bargains) there will be a buy made at or above shop price. Again, the first principle of buying at auction must be restated: know your area and keep to it.

It takes all types to make an auction, from the over-cautious bidder who all too often is left lamenting that he did not ʻgo one more jumpʼ to the swaggering bravo who bids with the almost mad enthusiasm of Errol Flynn playing a pirate king. The sale room is to a large extent a theatre wherein we all play our parts, including the freewheeling swordsman who likes to cut his way to the treasure whatever the cost. This sort of thing cannot last, unless perhaps if the hero has an independent income of great proportions—in which case, why would he do his own buying at auction if it were not for the theatrical impact of his triumphs? It is not unknown for audiences (I mean audiences, which may include buyers) at auctions to burst into applause at the end of a spectacular bidding duel.

To buy advantageously at auction needs much preparation: books have to be examined as to condition, edition and completeness. At our own (Pioneer Books) auctions this is done by us to the best of our ability, and the results are in the catalogue. We have had some errors, but happily not too often: the fact is that no auctioneer can give absolute surety, but especially is this so at mart auctions. Here you bid for what the auctioneer displays and you buy, in the end, according to your judgement. No auctioneer would last long if the house did not act in good faith—deliberate false representation is unthinkable—but there is no way in which any mart auctioneer could collate and fully describe the books he offers—that is up to the would-be purchaser. The auctioneer is bound to do his best for the vendor and for the purchaser, which is a unique position to be in, for he must get the best price he can for the vendor while the purchaserʼs aim is to buy as cheaply as possible. Nevertheless, the house will answer your questions to the best of its ability, for it is the competition between two or more would-be buyers that makes an auction, not some amazing sleight of hand on the auctioneerʼs part.

I have found the staffs of all five houses discussed here to be both friendly and helpful: if they ever seem less than that to you, pause to consider the pressure on them not only on sale days but during the preparation of sales. There is no auction unless buyers attend, and I cannot imagine a house which would do anything to upset visitors. They know that the casual visitor of today is the vendor or the buyer of tomorrow: it is just a matter of letting them hook themselves. For those of us who are already addicted, life would be much more dull without the mart sales by auction.

Of Books and Auction Sales by Paul Depasquale

Paul’s many sorties into publishing and writing included ʻIn-Houseʼ (1981-1993), which was modest enough in its beginnings, but developed into a quality production; we felt as if no expense was spared. I thought I’d lost the soft copy of these long ago, but I’ve just discovered them and so I thought I’d reprint some of the articles.

Another love of Paul’s was auctions. He loved buying at them. He loved holding them – we were pioneers of book auctions in Adelaide – and so we have here a record of things as they were mid-1990s. This article was the lead in The Pioneer Books Magazine Volume one, Spring 1994. I reprint the Contents Page to give a flavour of a typical issue:


Of Books and Auction Sales 5
by Paul Depasquale

Sunburying: A Tale of Ephemera 13
by Judith Crabb

The Playing of Cards: 21
A Consideration of the Literature.
Part 1—The Elizabethan Period
by Cathy Chua

The Fourteenth Trump. A Trick 41

Violet Needham: An Afterword 45

Mortal Games. A Review 47
by Chris Depasquale

An Incomplete Essay on Guy 53
Boothby and the London Theatre
by Paul Depasquale


Of Auctions and Book Sales part 1

If you were to look into a volume of Australian Book Auction Records (compiled and published these days by Jill Burdon of Canberra) you would find only Pioneer Books representing book auctions in Adelaide. We have in fact conducted twenty two book auctions, the list reading like this:

1 – September 1986 Pioneer Books/Academy Enterprises
2 – December 1986
3 – March 1987
4 – September 1987
5 – March 1988
6 – November 1988
7 – March 1990 Under the style of Academy Enterprises Pty Ltd.
8 – June 1990
9 – September 1990
10 – November 1990
11 – February 1991
12 – March 1991
13 – June 1991
14 – August 1991
15 – September 1991
16 – June 1992 Under the style of Pioneer Books
17 – September 1992
18 – February 1993
19 – September 1993
20 – February 1994
21 – May 1994
22 – September 1994

The first fifteen book auctions were held at the Dom Polski Centre, 230 Angas Street, Adelaide; latterly, they have been held at Enterprise House, Greenhill Road, Unley.

Our results for Australian books above a certain value are recorded because we prepare comprehensive and detailed Catalogues, with full bibliographical details, careful descriptions and estimated prices (prices realised are also published after each auction sale). It is fair even for me to say that we prepare our catalogues well and conduct our auctions well, but a further glance into a volume of the Australian Book Auction Records will show that we are very much lightweights in the overall scene—the records are dominated by the results of heavyweights with international clout in Sothebyʼs and Christieʼs, as well as by such Australian specialists as Lawsonʼs in Sydney and Joelʼs in Melbourne. Our aim is to cater for the more modest areas of book collecting ($5 upwards, with not much above $100) which hardly come within the purview of those great rivals.

Our book auctions are but a small segment of our overall business. Pioneer Books conducts book auctions because I am myself fascinated by auctions, by their excitement, by their unpredictability, by the unending variety of styles displayed by the auctioneers and by the rich diversity of ʻfeelʼ in auction houses great and humble. I made sure to attend Sothebyʼs great book auctions in Melbourne at the height of the boom in the 1980s and I was not so much merely impressed as bowled over but that is another story. It is to help sate my own thirst for auction excitement that our firm plays out its modest role in the vast drama of sale by auction in Australia.

Unless you study the Advertiserʼs ʻAuctions Generalʼ columns from day to day but most importantly on Saturdays you could scarcely credit how many goods ranging from heavy earth moving equipment to thimbles are cleared through sale by auction in Adelaide each week—and this infinite range of goods naturally includes books and plenty of them. We are concerned presently with mart auctions i.e. auctions held in the markets or permanent premises of auctioneers who sell goods brought to these places in order to be offered for sale.

It would probably be impossible and certainly would be deleterious to health to attempt to attend most, let alone all, of the mart auctions held in Adelaide each week. I shall confine my remarks to the five auction houses whose sales it happens that I attend most frequently in the endless quest for books—there is no suggestion intended that there are no other houses worth following, for there are, but I can neither follow them all nor write about them all here.

Moss Marchant & Co., of 52 North Terrace, Kent Town, is a long established house which conducts a mart auction each Monday. From a bookmanʼs point of view, these auctions are entirely unpredictable and that is a large part of their charm. One visit to Mossʼs (we all call the house ʻMossʼsʼ, never ʻMarchantʼsʼ) may leave the bookman cold, but a series of visits will not. Mossʼs is distinguished by the eclecticism of its offerings: everything comes within the charmed circle of offerings here, meaning that much that is odd and curious in the line of printed matter (not necessarily books) surfaces here from time to time—general books old and new, old bibles large and small, childrenʼs books, old newspapers, old magazines, sheet music, comics, calendars, ephemera, just about anything printed on paper may be found at Mossʼs over a period of time. While the purist might lament the houseʼs lack of censorship of these offerings—the theme song might well be ʻAnything Goesʼ—the fact is that the all-embracing breadth of the offerings has meant that, over the years, Moss Marchant & Co. has been responsible for the preservation of thousands of old items which are a significant part of our sociological heritage.

The atmosphere at Mossʼs is unique: Moss himself has seen it all over the last quarter of a century and he banters with his ʻregularsʼ in the confident knowledge that they are free to give as good as they get. The importance of ʻregularsʼ to an auction house cannot be over-stated; in the field of books, for example, whether at a televised sale at Sothebyʼs or at a mart sale at Moss Marchant & Co.ʼs, it is extraordinary how few the buyers of any substance are. Only an observer ʻin the knowʼ would realise this; it has struck me at large auction sales in Sydney and Melbourne as well as at the humbler marts in Adelaide.

It is important to get to know the characteristics of the auctioneer if you wish to enjoy his auctions (the main auctioneers in all these houses are men). Moss is a patient auctioneer of the old school: once he knows that you are ʻin the marketʼ he will always come back to you before ʻknocking downʼ an item, giving you that one last chance to exceed the dictates of common sense. Perhaps at this point I should say that it is foolish at mart auctions not to let the auctioneer know that you are ʻin the marketʼ; mart auctions are always running against time (as it is, some do not finish until late afternoon), and the auctioneer has his deadlines to meet. If Moss has ever conducted an auction at which he has not grumbled about the reluctance of buyers to bid up or complained that the auction is moving too slowly, then I have not seen it.

Also on Mondays these days (formerly on Tuesdays) are the mart auctions of Adelaide Antique Auctions, 75 King William St., Kent Town. The principal auctioneer, and the one who sells whatever books are in, is Stephen Sinclair, who is younger in years and in auction experience than Moss Marchant. I will not say that he is aloof but he is polished and goes very fast, sometimes at what seems an almost hectic pace. The ʻregularsʼ, of course, find this no problem, for they are used to it and have normally ʻdone their homeworkʼ. Mr Sinclair does not have (yet) Mossʼs bedside manner or his casual banter, though occasionally there bursts out from him a wicked humour which I presume that he generally keeps in check.

Adelaide Antique Auctions, unlike Moss Marchant & Co., also conducts specialist auctions, often held in the evening, of art, fine furniture and other collectables. Thus it has a leg in the two worlds of mart auctions and fine art auctions—and what different worlds these are: you do not see many women in furs at a mart auction. As to its book offerings at its mart auctions, they are more or less comparable with those at Moss Marchant & Co.: anything and everything will be given a chance to find a buyer. Again it is a house whose mart sales, from the bookmanʼs point of view, must be gauged over an extensive period, for any one given sale may be disappointing in this area, and no wonder, given the diversity of the offerings. I still recall the shock with which I learnt that some people collect tins with the same passion that I have for books. Amazing…

Small & Whitfield, of 1 Unley Road, Parkside, hold their mart auctions weekly on Tuesdays, though the mart sale will be dropped when one of their important Monday evening auctions of select old furniture etc. is conducted. Graham Small and David Whitfield are the dynamic duo of Adelaide auctions: they work together in their highly raised seats overlooking the crowd—and their auctions usually are crowded—and responding with startling rapidity to every bid so that, when a bidding duel develops, the progress is excitingly swift. At none other of the houses under review do two auctioneers work together, one actually conducting the auction, the other spotting bids and generally being helpful (they swap roles about half way through the auction), but the results are so impressive that I am surprised that they have this technique to themselves. Partly because of the overall excellence of their offerings, and partly, I am convinced, because of their method of going to work, this house is the most electrifying of any in Adelaide. Bidding here is always brisk and for the better items usually vehement: it is no place for the faint-hearted. When things are ʻgoingʼ the place fairly buzzes.

Of particular interest to us is the fact that Small & Whitfield is a house that has always been prepared to feature books, and the stream of interesting books on offer here seems to be neverending, whether as single items or as shelf lots. The difference from both Moss Marchant & Co. and Adelaide Antique Auctions (I am speaking here of mart sales) is that estate (i.e. privately owned) books surface here from time to time in quality and quantity rarely if ever seen at the other houses. But I emphasize again that many items appear at the other two houses which would not normally fit into the ambience of a sale at Small & Whitfieldʼs whose interests and standards are very much their own. Nobody interested in books of quality can afford to miss Small & Whitfieldʼs.

At another extreme is Henley Auctions, of 103 Henley Beach Road, Mile End, where Ziggy Badrice and Bob Lambourne reign supreme, giving this mart also a style and a life of its own. Many deceased estates pass through this house whose ample proportions are always crowded with goods and people. Both Bob and Ziggy are no-nonsense auctioneers conscious, I should think, of the thousand and more lots before them, who when wound up progress at such astonishing speed that one wonders how the clerk and the office keep up with them. Both Adelaide Antique Auctions and Small & Whitfield use the number system for bidding: each buyer has to register and show the number when clinching a purchase. Some buyers will have permanent numbers and the auctioneer will knock items down to their number from memory. But at Moss Marchant and Co. and at Henley Auctions the auctioneers call the buyerʼs name, initials or pseudonym as the case may be—a remarkable feat of memory and of mental gymnastics separating ʻXʼ from ʻYʼ and ʻXYʼ from ʻYXʼ (so to speak) while selling at a frantic pace. One dips oneʼs lid. It will be a pity if increasing sophistication means that this time-honoured method is lost. (I should note that the buyers still have to register at the office before being able to use a name under which to buy).

I sometimes get the feeling that there is a crowd of people who live at Henley Auctions, for they are so much part of the place; at no other auction house within my experience do so many people settle in for the day, staying for so many hours apparently out of mere interest. People seem to attend this houseʼs auctions as they used to attend the weekly dance—and Ziggy and Bob and their aides put on quite a show for them. There is no place quite like Henley Auctions, but it is an acquired taste—its appeal grows on one with experience, until you would miss the crowded rows of goods and the restless crowd of people if they were not there. Books are usually sold in box or shelf lots here, a method which naturally favours the dealers—but it is amazing how often the presence of a collectable book or comic or two in a lot will bring about a duel between the trade and a private buyer. This shows that Henley Auctions, for all its down-market appearance and sheer comprehensivity of offerings, also comes within the rounds of that peripatetic person, the keen collector.

Every second Thursday sees us at Megaw & Hogg Auctions, of 107 Sturt St., Adelaide. This house also uses the number method and is otherwise nearer to Small & Whitfield than to the others in their method of featuring books as either single items or as shelf lots, with the emphasis on quality—though, as in any auction house, nothing is left out from the cheaper offerings in the later part of their sales. Certainly, as in the case of Small & Whitfield, the appeal of collectable books is acknowledged here. Every house has its own style, its own themes, its own ʻstuffʼ, too, if you like. Megaw & Hoggʼs chief auctioneer is Joseph (Joe) Tabaszewski whose manner is mild and whose banter is friendly, though his eye is (necessarily) sharp: the contrast with the heightened atmosphere of Small & Whitfield could not be more emphatic. If there is drama here, it is usually the drama of competition on the floor with the auctioneer acting as a friendly referee.

Like Small & Whitfield, however, Megaw & Hogg features from time to time books of real quality and importance from private estates, and their auctions play an important part in our own activities. As to the difference in styles between these two houses and between them and the others who have been mentioned: it is one of the chief fascinations of the study of auctioneering that there is no one ʻbestʼ method—there are as many styles and methods as there are auction houses, and vive la différence.

Who is Woolmer Gatty?

I have updated this entry with new information to hand at the end of the original piece.

A Tea Party. Announced in The Mail Adelaide Saturday 25 March 1916

Miss Heather Hammond invited a few of her friends to Horncliffe, Wakefield street, on Monday afternoon to meet Miss Muriel Parsons, who has lately returned from a trip to England. We gathered in the drawing room, and Miss Heather Hammond gave a very clever impersonation of Mr. Frederick Dennett at the piano. It was wonderfully realistic in dress, attitude, and even the friendly smile’ he gives the andience. *She played the Rachmaninoff prelude in his best style, and was loudly applauded. Miss Parsons sang several songs. Miss Hazel Hammond played the mandolin, and Miss Dorothy Palmer tickled the piano keys with good effect. Mrs. W. G. Hammond hostessed the party. Tea and chatter filled up the rest of the time, and the guests included Mrs. David Power. Mrs. Aapas Parsons. Lady Bray, Mrs. Gavin Gardner, Mrs. G. M. Anstey,. Mrs. Neil Campbell, Mrs. David Paton. Mrs. B. Bevan, Miss Lucy Avers, Miss Harriet Simpson, and Miss Joyce Harrold.’ The Mail

Frederick Dennett was ‘…a dashing young concert pianist who was something of a pop star in the early 20th century.’ The Australian

A few years later there was a press announcement from K. H. Faulding & Co.— ‘A daily artistic calendar. The design is from an original watercolour by Miss Heather O. Hammond, a young Adelaide artist, and shows a very effective ‘treatment of treatment decorative of all Australian flowers — the Sturt Pea.’ The Register (Adelaide) Saturday 18 December 1920

Woolmer Gatty is the pseudonym of Heather Hammond, a writer and illustrator born and bred in Adelaide before marriage meant moving to a tea and rubber plantation in Ceylon, owned by her husband. She lived exactly the sort of life one might expect of a female of the period not quite able to shake off the bonds of her class and gender, if admiring of those who do.

Six years later an extract of her first, and as it turned out only, novel appeared in the Adelaide press: The Register (Adelaide) Thursday 5 January 1922

A notice of Tabitha Tries Turkeys (London, Stockwell), appeared two days later in The Register Saturday 7 January 1922. By the time the book appeared she was Mrs Rex Hamer of Kandy, or thereabouts, as J Penn states. After a favourable review, Penn quotes Hammond, who explains her desired, but foiled, anonymity:

Although it has been my ambition to write, I have never wanted my ‘works’ to appear in my own name. I would have kept it a dead secret always. Somehow there is a je-ne-sais-quoi of something not quite nice; almost one might say losing of caste, about a woman writer. It is a result of the long ages of repression we have endured at the hands of men. They make a great a parade of admiring the ‘feminine’ woman, which means to them the woman who stays unobtrusively at home and lets her brain atrophy for want of using, simply because they are afraid of her finding her power and coming into the world and competing with them to their hurt. It is Man who has put this world-side interpretation on the word ‘womanly’; it is he who has lauded all those gentle meaningless attributes that he professes to admire.

So cunning and insidious has been his campaign that women themselves have absorbed the creed, and are almost as vituperative as men in their outcry against the coming woman of brains and personality. And the men, poor shivering souls, are beginning to see their magnificent structure of the ‘womanly’ cult, that subtle protection of their own preserves, tottering at its foundations. Women are no whit more ‘womanly’ in its own right sense, nor do they make less perfect mothers for thus leaving their parasitic estate to make the best of their minds and capabilities.

Mes soeurs, do not let men push you back to dormant life with their specious arguments. It is only their final argument against the inevitable. Henceforth they must fight for their place in the sun.

But for all this theorising, which I have worked out in my own mind, to my own complete intellectual satisfaction, I myself am not really a follower. The prejudice is too strong, the ‘womanly’ germ too deeply imbedded for me to come out of the rut even sufficiently to put my name to a book. I am of the world which will doubtless very soon be called ‘old’. But I will try to sympathise and encourage the coming women doctors, lawyers, architects – particularly architects, for I am sure women would not make the kitchen premises so miserably inadequate as they often are – just to have a soupcon of the courage of the opinions that I feel sure I hold.

For the present my turkeys afford me simple occupation; and for odd moments, these intricacies that are called knitted socks. The Register

Now and again Adelaide newspapers report on her life in that privileged upper-class white position in Ceylon, this one upon a visit back to Adelaide by her.

LIFE IN CEYLON News Tuesday 15 July 1924
Mrs. Hamer Enthusiastic
If one desires a foretaste of Paradise one must go and live at Kladuganuawa. 10 miles from Kandy, in Ceylon. This was the impression gained during: a chat with Mr. and Mrs. Rex Hamer….She looks the picture of health, and speaks ecstatically of the fascination of life on her husband’s estate, which is planted with two thirds tea and one-third rubber. “Kandugannawa is situated ideally,” said Mrs Hamer. “It is away up in the hilly country, and our bungalow is built on a hill. The view in every direction is marvellously beautiful.
“How do I spend my days? I get up at 6 every morning,. because it is too wonderful outdoors not to enjoy every moment of the exhilarating air. We have early tea at 7, then I interview Appu, the head boy, concerning meals and so on. He really is a wonderful being, always dependable and most efficient. “Sometimes when I am in Kandy I send him a wire that I am bringing six friends out to dinner, three of whom will stay the night. When I arrive he has a delicious meal prepared and bedrooms ready for the visitors. No fuss or bother, and I do not have to worry at all. But about my day. After early tea I feed my chickens and potter round until noon when we have what we call breakfast. Everybody has a sleep after breakfast, and then comes tea at 4.30, followed by tennis or a walk, then dinner, which we have at 8 o’clock or 8.30.

(picture of Mrs Rex Hamer which unfortunately I can’t reproduce)

“Planters lead a quiet life,” said Mrs. Hamer, “and it appeals to me tremendously. Three days in Colombo are quite long enough; then I want to get back to my bungalow in the hills. Of course we have the cheeriest week-end parties, with dances, music, and tennis to our hearts’ content. “These shoes,” Mrs. Hamer said, displaying footgear smart and uncommon in pale tan and black crocodile skin; “they were grown on the estate.” “‘Do you keep pet crocodiles?” Mrs. Hamer laughingly replied:-“No; but the chap whose skin furnished these shoes was trying to break in and steal chickens. He was a cabragoya – a small species of crocodile.’

(and so it goes on, ending with):

Mrs Hamer said she as not written another novel since “Tabitha Tries Turkeys,” but she’had” had articles published from time to time, and this beauty of the district has constrained her to express herself in verse, some of which may be seen in the near future. The News

Aus Lit records one poem by her under the name Woolmer Gatty published in The Bulletin vol. 44 no. 2261 14 June 1923, but that was before this interview.

Pictures appeared in an exhibition in Perth in 1928 prompting this review:

PEN AND INK DRAWINGS The Daily News (Perth) Wednesday 14 November 1928
Work of Heather Hamer
‘ In the Booklovers’ yesterday afternoon an exhibition was opened of some un usual black and white drawings, the work of an Adelaide woman, who is now with her husband living in Ceylon. As
Heather Hammond. Mrs. Hamer was well known in Australia, more especially in Adelaide, her home city, by her literary work and her graphic illustrations. The pictures now showing manifest
some entirely new features. They are entirely imaginative, and remarkable effects of color and form are produced simply by line. Eastern subjects predominate, one, ‘The Reading of the Mahawansa,’ being especially striking, although each sample of her work shows new and individual treatment, and the expression by a Western mind of the mysticism of the East. Except in a few instances, they are not pictures which one would choose to live with, or to hang in one’s favorite room, but they express new ideas in illustrative work and are well worth a visit, especially from those who are associated with any form of art. Musicians will be interested in her line interpretations of some of the modern composers. In the ‘Cathedrale Engloutie’ mermaids below the surface of the water swim lazily In and out of the submerged archways of the building. The ‘Danse Macabre’ of Saint-Saens shows marked originality and extremely fine work, and MacDowell’s ‘Sea Pictures’ are finely Interpreted. The less pleasant subjects are strongly depicted, ‘Avarice,’ from Oscar Wilde’s poem, being most clearly expressed in the lines and pose of the figure. Mrs. Hamer has also some fine examples of bookplates, which in designing she has stamped with the personality of the owner of the plate. The collection is a comparatively small one, but very representative, and will on view for some days, during which all lovers of art will find a short visit will be time well spent, even if filched from some other activity.

Another report in the same paper commented:

Another Australian woman apparently is to arouse interest in the world of art. We were privileged yesterday afternoon to see some of the work of Heather Hamer….The work, which is purely line drawing, is distinctly unusual, and will shortly be placed on exhibition in Perth. It Is imaginative and, although black and white, strongly, suggests color, especially in her Oriental drawings, where draperies and curtains are of rich texture….One art critic has taken some Omar Khayyam drawings of Heather Hamer’s to London, and predicts the Issue of a new edition of that work as a result. The Daily News (Perth) 31 October 1928

The exhibition’s opening was covered:

Charmingly tracked in navy crepedechine with an Oriental scarf and biscuit Bangkok hat, Lady James opened the exhibition of black and white drawings by Heather Hammond (Mrs. Rex Hamer) in the Booklovers’ yesterday. She was very proud, she said, that except for etchings, the best, black and white drawings, done in Australia had been thus far the work of women. In thanking Lady James, Mr. G. Temple-Poole highly praised the work of Mrs. Hamer and wished the artist every success. The Daily News (Perth) Tuesday 13 November 1928

We can see another long notice about an exhibition of her work, this time in Adelaide eight years later.

UNIQUE DISPLAY OF ILLUSTRATIONS The Advertiser (Adelaide) Tuesday 21 April 1936

Sinhalese History And Legends


The exhibition of imaginative illustrations in black and white, by Mrs. Bex Hamer (better known, perhaps, as Heather Hammond), to be opened this afternoon by Lady Bonython at the gallery of the Royal South Australian Society of Arts, is unique and intensely interesting. To an extensive knowledge of Sinhalese history and legend. Mrs. Hamer has been able to add her undoubted gifts of facile freehand drawing, and a correct sense of perspective and proportion, as well as a sensitive gradation of line, and contrast in blacking in. To the uninitiated, the effect secured by an ordinary mapping pen, and a brush, will be surprising, as will also be the amount of detail devoted to costumes and their varied motifs. This work particularly has to be as carefully executed as it would be in the woven material itself, and Mrs. Hamer has been very successful through her careful and clean draughtsmanship, in securing a general effect of reality, though never monotonous in its details. The artist has a vivid imagination and versatility, which have inspired her to express on paper her love for the symbolism of her adopted country. The collection has been divided into four sections, all equally pleasing. In Nos. 1 and 11. ‘Sleep, Baby, Sleep,’ the figures are well drawn, and the posing quite natural. In No. 3, ‘Nina, Carry ing Pots,’ is a fine specimen of perspective, and No. 4, ‘My Son, Why Are You Crying?’ shows good expressions and careful handling of the drapery. In No. 9. ‘Our Mother Gave Birth To Seven,’ the variety of type and expression has been well developed. No.7. ‘On the Surface, the Lotus Blooms,’ is delightfully simple in line, except for the luscious bloom itself, which has all the wealth it needs; and in No. 6, ‘Grandfather. Shall I Pluck a Coconut?’ the difference in expression of young and old is well defined, and the palm tree well drawn.

Impressions Of Music This section is most original hi its conception and Inspiration. No. 25, ‘Danse de Puck,’ is delightful in its simple lines, and graceful suggestions, while in Nos. 24. ‘Barcarolle,’ and 26, ‘La FlUe au Cheveux de Lin,’ the delicate and intimate detail is well executed. In No. 20, ‘Sea Pieces,’ the bold sweep of waves is very fine, and No. 17, ‘Caprice,’ has much variety and Intimate* work: the peacock’s coloring is suggested cleverly, and the costumes are fun of originality. In No. 18, ‘Carnival,’ the peacock again attracts the eye, while the various figures and types of faces are full of interesting work.

Eastern Subjects Turning to No. 32. ‘There Was a Door,’ is good in its detailed drawing, and the figure is well modelled; and No. 35, ‘Saliroga and Asokamau’ is well grouped, and the detail simple in outline. No. 40. ‘Perahura,’ a picture of an Indian festival, is particularly well drawn, and bold in its construction, full of life and with much variety; the caparisoned elephant stands out well in all Its importance. ‘ No. 42, ‘Come, Fill the Cup,’ is also most interesting.

Miscellaneous. This small section contains much patient work, very successfully handled. So. 53, ‘London Bridge is Broken Down,’ is a medley of living figures, which, though crowded, allows each one its foil value. Medieval and modern faces are easily recognised, from Henry Vm. and Shakespeare to those of later times. No. 51, ‘At the King’s Pleasure,’ is a clever drawing of the same king, and his six wives: the different types show in pictorial form his evident desire for variety. No. 46, ‘Fairy Tales,’ a delightful study of a child, surrounded by pictorial representation of favorite stories, and No. 48, ‘Lady Godiva,’are well drawn; and No. 54, Rapunzal, the character In Grimm’s tales, who drew up her princely lover by her strands of hair, is graceful in outline, and yet strong. Mrs. Hamer, who is to be heartily congratulated on her work, has also a book of nursery rhymes, from the old Sinhalese, in which she has translated the words, as well as drawn the quaint illustrations. The Advertiser

In the 1990s this book of nursery rhymes was reprinted in India.

Hammond had a close relationship with Perth, as this 1919 newspaper report reflects:

At the present moment one of the most popular items of the English Pierrots is the delightful “Quakers,” as interpreted by Miss Langley and Mr. Austin, which was written and the music also composed by that chic little lady Miss Heather Hammond, of Adelaide, at present staying at the Esplanade Hotel, but whose visit to Perth will be all too brief for her many friends. Miss Hammond, who is veritably the lucky possessor of “all the talents” (as she shines as a black-and white artist with a very sure touch and an original style of her own) is besides a clever journalist and story-writer.

Miss Hammond and Mrs. Mortlock were amang the notables from the Eastern States present at the Pageant Bali at Government House on Monday, the latter stately in black shadow lace embroidered with jet, with an underdress of black satin. The younger lady was piquante in a costume that flashed sunrise upon us – an exquisite creation, with diaphanous angel sleeves of flame-colored cloudy gauze, disposed over an underdress of dawn pink, brilliants as dewdrops circled the corsage over the swathes of misted mauve and gold embroidery, and the morning touch of golden dawn was reflected in the veritable fairy shoon. Sunday Times (Perth) Sunday 12 October 1919

It may not be surprising, therefore, to see this report, much later, in 1940, a press report suggesting that she was settling in Perth. The report announces a small publication

OUR local Red Cross Society is to benefit by the proceeds of the sale in Perth of 50 copies of a delightful book entitled “Garden in Ceylon,” which was published last year in Ceylon, where it raised 100 guineas for the local Red Cross organisation. The author and illustrator is Heather Hamer who, with her husband, Mr. Rex Hamer, reached Perth from Colombo several weeks ago and Mrs. Heather Hamer intends settling here. Mrs. Hamer, who is a South Australian, has visited Perth on several occasions and some years ago, it will be remembered, exhibited a number of her black and white drawings at an exhibition arranged by Mrs. Temple Poole and opened by the late Lady James….In her “Garden in Ceylon” she writes of old and new Eastern gardens, and relates legends associated with them and with their trees and flowers. Her illustrations, which reveal her as a black and white artist of no mean talent, reflect in their exotic character her lengthy sojourn in the East. A foreword in verse by the Governor of Ceylon (Sir Andrew Caldecott) is an interesting feature. The 50 copies to be sold in Perth are the residue of the first edition published in Ceylon. They are available at the Red Cross,shop in London Court and also at the Booklovers’ and Franceska Libraries. The West Australian (Perth) Monday 30 September 1940

One wonders what is left, if anything, of her pictorial work. This same report says that ‘Two of her pictures are in the Adelaide Art Gallery and another is in the possession of Lady Gowrie, while an exhibition which she held in Bond Street, London, a few years ago met with considerable success and won her warm Press tributes.’ It’s hard to believe it could all have disappeared. Perhaps there are still private homes in Adelaide hanging her work. A report in The Australian Women’s Weekly Saturday 16 May 1936 says ‘Mrs. Hamer had intended to display
her work in Sydney shortly, but her exhibition in Adelaide has been so successful she has not enough pictures left’.

It seems evident, that although her novel had been well-received and she could have been encouraged to write more, that her forte was with the brush, not the pen. Perhaps the fact that she felt able to put her name to her art, but not to her prose, had something to do with it. Hence in an early piece published in WA ‘Little-Son-Galah’ Western Mail Thursday 4 December 1919 the story is attributed to Woolmer Gattey (sic), whilst the picture is by Heather Hammond. You can see it here.

In 1947 The Advertiser (Adelaide) Monday 12 May 1947 says she is living in England. Just a few weeks later an obituary for her father appeared:


Mr. William Gatty Hammond, who died at the home of his daughter, Mrs. G. R. Williams, of Old Beach road. Brighton, on Thursday, celebrated his 98th birthday on May 1. Well known in Adelaide amateur theatrical circles. Mr. Hammond once gave concerts for the purchase of a pipe organ at old Chalmers (Scots) Church. North terrace, city. He came to Adelaide with his wife in 1882 and for a time was associated with G. &R. Wills. Mr. Hammond left two daughters — Mrs. Rex Hamer, of England, and Mrs Williams. The Advertiser (Adelaide) 22 May 1947

There is no indication that Heather came back for her father’s funeral, though she did attend her mother’s much earlier in the 1920s:



Mrs. W. Gatty Hammond, whose death at Brighton occurred on November 8, had lived at Brighton since 1924, and made many friends there. She came to Adelaide with her parents (Mr. and Mrs. T. G. Drown) when she was about two years of age, in the sailing ship Irene, and made two visits to England when a girl in the days of sailing clippers. Later she paid another visit to the old country with her husband and children, and was wrecked in the Oroya in the Bay of Naples on the return voyage. During the last few years, in spit of advanced age, she twice went to Ceylon, to see her elder daughter, Mrs. Rex Hamer. All her journeyings were a source of entertainment to her friends on her , return, as she frequently gave interesting lectures on her trips. As a hostess she was full of charm, and was never happier than when entertaining her exceptionally wide circle of friends. She gave many entertainments to assist church work and in aid of charities. Mrs. Hamer will leave for Ceylon to-day. Chronicle(Adelaide) Saturday 12 November 1927

The last trace I have so far been able to find of Heather Hammond is talks she gave on radio in Australia during the war years such as ‘Personality in the Home’ and ‘Eastern Gardens’ during which time she is presumably still living in WA, perhaps Albany. Then the war ends, she is reported to be living in England and we never hear another thing about her. I hope to be able to fill in the missing pieces at some later point.

Bibliography of works by Heather Hammond/Heather Hamer/Mrs Rex Hamer excluding poetry and stories published in newspapers.

Tabitha Tries Turkeys
Author Woolmer Gatty
Illustrator: HGH;
Published London, England: Stockwell, 1921 157p.
Description: illus.

Garden in Ceylon /​ by Heather Hamer ; with a foreword by His Excellency the Governor, Sir Andrew Caldecott, K.C.M.G., C.B.E. .
Author Hamer, Heather.
Published Kandy, Ceylon : Millers Ltd., 1939.
Physical Description 24 p, [8] leaves of plates. : ill. ; 28 cm.

Old Sinhalese nursery rhymes and folk songs /​ collated and illustrated by Heather Hamer ; with a foreword by Solomon Dias Bandaranaike.
Author Hamer, Heather.
Published Ceylon : Colombo Apothecaries, 1935.
Physical Description 1 v. [36 p.] : ill. ; 29 cm.
reprinted in India in the 1990s

Subsequent to writing this, I have received more information from two sources. Sue Kelso, family history expert, was able to source Hamer’s records.

Heather Gatley Hammond was born in Adelaide on 3rd April 1885 to William Gatley Hammond and Clara Agnes Brown. Her parents married in the Camberwell registration district of London in the September quarter 1882. They were first cousins. That explains why the Gattey/Gatley name is used in both sides of the family. As Sue commented to me, that made the research confusing for a while. She died as Heather Gattey Hamer died in 1962.

The Times, Thursday 22 Feb 1962
HAMER – On February 21st, 1962, peacefully in a nursing home in Hove, Heather, dearly loved wife of Rex Hamer, 74, The Drive, Hove, formerly of Ceylon. Service at the Downs Crematorium. Bear Road Brighton, tomorrow (Friday) at 4pm. No flowers please.

The index to her will reads:

“HAMER Heather Gattey of 74 The Drive Hove Sussex (wife of Sylvester Richmond Hamer) died 21 February 1962 at 48 Westbourne Villa Hove Sussex Probate Lewes 24 September to the said Sylvester Richmond Hamer retired tea planter Effects 150 pounds 5 shillings.”

I confess to being surprised by this, I had assumed that she was young when she was married, but she must have been well into her thirties.

Her husband Sylvester Richmond Hamer was baptised 1st April 1883 St John, Preston, Lancashire, England. He was the child of Henry Hamer, Town Clerk, and Margaret, who lived at West Cliff. I’m not surprised, with this lot as names, that he was called instead ‘Rex’. The announcement of his death was almost two years after Heather’s:

“HAMER Sylvester Richmond of Flat 7 74 The Drive Hove Sussex died 16 December 1963 at 26 Wilbury Villa Hove Probate Lewes 27 January to Westminster Bank Limited and Aubrey Keith Alwyn Loadsman solicitor 16,273 pounds.”

Shipping documents confirm that Heather and Sylvester arrived in Fremantle on 27 July 1940, getting on the ship in Colombo. I would love to know why they left Colombo and why they decided to move to the UK after the war.

The other source of information is the South Australian Art Gallery who do still have the pictures referred to in the original story. Alice Clanachan, assistant curator, said it is possible to view the pictures, but it is by appointment and a couple of weeks lead time may be necessary. I am hoping she will give me some pictures to post here.

The latest closure of libraries in the UK

While Australians worry about the impact that local conservative politics is having on its country at the moment, being over the other side of the world I continue to marvel at the policies of the Tory govt in the UK. One of the least civilised of its many methods to make poor people pay for the rich – aka austerity – at the moment is the closure of libraries. This has been going on in a way that evokes stories we would otherwise think of as science fiction set in a barbaric future. I had been under the impressions that it was happening largely in regional centres which have more poor people to pay for the lifestyle of the city’s bankers as well as for the paypackets of the Tories themselves.

Most recently, however, there is this; first read the consultant speak:

“The change programme seeks to ensure Imperial War Museum can continue to respond to challenges and opportunities, build on our successes to date, improve and update ways of working across the organisation and reduce IWM’s net expenditure by £4million per annum to account for changes to funding and increases in pension contributions. IWM aims to achieve the expenditure change by reducing costs and increasing our income through further commercial activity.”

They added: “The consultation period for the organisational restructuring element of IWM’s change programme has now begun. We are working closely with those who may be affected by the change proposals and will continue to do so until the end of the year. Any announcements regarding changes at IWM will be made early next year (2015).” http://www.thebookseller.com/news/imperial-war-museum-library-threatened-closure

Want to know what that actually means? It means they are going to close the Imperial War Musuem’s library and 60-80 people are going to lose their jobs. That’s what ‘working closely with those who may be affected’ means. Sacking them with a Christmas card.

And what better time than in the year which has been marketed as the anniversary of WWI?

Shame, UK. Shame.