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Henry James Thitchener (1841-1911)

by Gillian Hamilton 


Henry James Thitchener

Henry James Thitchener had the printing industry in his blood. Born in Marylebone, London, he was the son of Henry James Titchener, an engraver and copperplate master printer, and Mary Titchener. His student days were followed by an engineering apprenticeship, which led to 15 years as a mechanic for the V&J Figgins Type Foundry in Clerkenwell.


In 1867, at age 26, he married Rosina Matilda Hayward, 20, at St Benet Paul’s Wharf, London. They lived at 231 Upper Thames Street, London, just a few doors up from the church.


Their first child, Rosina Matilda (Rose), was born at Islington in January 1869, followed by Louisa Agnes (Louie) in July 1870, Henry Arthur (Harry) in June 1873, and Alfred Arthur in July 1875. The family lived and worked at 53 Barnsbury Road, Islington while Henry worked to build his typefounding business.

In early 1876, Rosina discovered she was pregnant again, around the same time Henry spotted the 600-page clothbound Australian Handbook, published by Gordon and Gotch, at a bookseller in Bride Street. He was interested to read that bonuses were being paid to new businesses in the colony as he’d seen “so much printing material going out to Australia” while working at V&J Figgins.

Here was a great opportunity for him to succeed in a place where there was little if no competition. In Australia he would be able to produce printing type that could be bought cheaply in the colony, rather than having to be ordered from America or England. Also, Islington was overcrowded, due to the expansion of the railway network in London.



Moving to Australia provided an escape from the noise and pollution of the city.

It must have taken some persuading for Rosina to agree, for she would be travelling in the third trimester of

her pregnancy with their four small children. Pregnant women had a difficult time at sea, with only basic medical help available. Death from complications was a very real concern.


Nevertheless, the Thitcheners bought passage aboard the newly built Blackwalls fully rigged iron ship, the Melbourne, bringing with them £3,500 worth of typefounding machinery and matrices of frequently used type. They left the East India Docks on 10 June 1876 and arrived at Melbourne’s Sandridge Railway Pier on 1 September, after 77 days at sea.


The family settled at the Stanley Buildings, 3 Moray Street, Emerald Hill and Rosina gave birth to Alice a few weeks later. In February 1877, Alice died from a gastric infection and was buried in a public grave at Melbourne General Cemetery with another Moray Street baby. 


A year later, Rosina was pregnant with her sixth child and on 4 September, 1878, Agnes Florence arrived. Unable to recover from the birth, Rosina died from puerperal peritonitis, an infection of the placenta in the womb. She was buried in an unmarked grave at Melbourne General Cemetery. 


Rosina Matilda Thitchener

(nee Hayward)

Henry married Irish woman Elizabeth Hallehen, 36, at St Mark’s Church, Fitzroy in July 1879. Little is known of this second marriage except that an Eliza Thitchener died in October 1915 and was buried at Melbourne General Cemetery.


Henry managed to keep the Victorian Type Foundry going, but only just. As his business grew, he could not keep up with the demand and in 1878 applied for the bonus he thought he was owed. At this time, he was supplying type for the Victorian Government, the South Australian Government, and the Sydney Morning Herald, as well as Melbourne printers. Examples of his type were of such high quality that they were displayed at the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880-81.


After failing to get his bonus, Henry was called to testify before the Victorian Royal Commission on Tariffs in December 1882.


“… I cannot meet the demand. I may say I am the only one in the colonies making printing type by improved machinery,” Henry testified. “I expected a bonus to employ labour to build machinery under my own supervision and then I could have commanded the whole of the work in the colony.”

“It states here (page 182 of the Australian Handbook) that bonuses were given to new industries.” Henry went on to add that had he not seen the advertisement in the book, he would have remained in London.

In a bid to get more secure income, Henry tried to sell the foundry, along with his services, to the Victorian Government Printing Office followed by the South Australian Government Printer.  Both turned him down so in 1885,

he moved to Sydney, going into partnership with John Davies, who had also worked for V&J Figgins. The Australian Type Founding Company set up at 91A Clarence Street. 


By 1897, Henry was living at ‘Edenia’, Newtown, where he had a small workshop.

In 1899 the partnership was dissolved and the company sold to Frederick Wimble, who had a printing ink business. F. T. Wimble employed Henry’s son, Harry to manage the type foundry, where he remained for 33 years, until his death in 1934.  


The early 1900s were a time for Henry to enjoy retirement and family weddings. In 1902 Louie married Walter Shaw in February, followed by Alfred and Catherine McIntyre in June, and Florence and Frederick Wagner in August. His two older children were already married: Rose to Alfred Hiscox in November 1895 and Harry to Sarah Collins in May 1898. 


As the winter of 1911 set in, Henry became ill and died 23 June from pneumonia, pleurisy and heart failure. He was buried at Sydney’s Rookwood Cemetery, his name carved into the headstone with lead filling the grooves of the letters, a fitting acknowledgement of his typefounding past.

Henry left his jewellery and clothing to Alfred, as well as the dining room and best bedroom furniture. The other furniture and household effects were left to his housekeeper, Mrs. E. Downes.

The residue of his £1172-5-4 estate was divided into 20 parts. Harry and Alfred received eight parts each; Rosie, Louie and Florence got one part each, as did his housekeeper.


Could Mrs. Downes have been more than a housekeeper? Possibly, because in 1929, 18 years after Henry died, an Elizabeth Downes, aged 74, was buried in Rookwood Cemetery, in Henry’s grave.


Her personal details, however, are not included on the headstone. But the Sands Directories for 1894-96 showed an Elizabeth Downes living at ‘Edenia’, shortly before Henry’s time there.

Whatever their relationship, Henry and Elizabeth have taken it to their grave.


Henry James Thitchener with one of his type casting machines


The Australian Type Founding Company trademark

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