JOE HOOLE EXAMINES THE REMARKABLE STORY OF EAGLE'S PRINCIPAL INTERNATIONAL DISTRIBUTOR.
Their name appears in every single issue of Eagle, Girl, Swift, Robin and Boys’ World and in every issue of the 1980s Eagle and countless other British comics and magazines, although most readers probably never saw it. Along with the title and Dan Dare, Gordon and Gotch and the Central News Agency of South Africa are the only other constant names in the two versions of Eagle. Gordon and Gotch appeared at the bottom of a page in the publisher’s details as the ‘sole agents for Australia and New Zealand’ and the Central News Agency as agents for South Africa. These two companies were independent of each other, but had worked closely together since 1904 when they reached an agreement that Gordon and Gotch would become sole agents for C.N.A. in Britain while their branches in the Cape and Natal would be taken over by C.N.A.
Born in Kettering Northamptonshire in 1829, John Speechly Gotch was a dentist, who sailed from Liverpool to seek his fortune in the U.S.A. in 1849. While in New York to learn about the manufacture of false teeth he heard about the discovery of gold in Victoria and in 1853 he sailed on the clipper Peytona, bound for Australia. However the ship was wrecked off the coast of Mauritius and Gotch escaped with only his nightshirt on his back and penniless. He worked as a dentist in Mauritius for eleven weeks to earn enough money for his passage to Melbourne and on arrival he made for Fryer Creek near Castlemaine where the latest gold strike had been reported. The above painting from 1855 by Edwin Stocqueler shows gold digging in Australia. Unfortunately all Gotch found was a small nugget worth about £3 before he ran out of money and provisions. He also injured his foot with a pick. He returned to Melbourne on the back of a teamster’s wagon, because he could hardly walk and he was almost penniless again – he actually had tuppence ha’penny left. There he met a Scotsman called Alexander Gordon who ran a market stall which sold newspapers and was also an advertising agent for the Melbourne Argus. He initially offered John a job selling papers and organising advertisers, but Gotch proved so adept that a few weeks later Gordon offered him a partnership which depended on his ability to sell as many newspapers in the diggings as Gordon sold on his stall. Both men flourished and the partnership was duly established. It was suggested that they should have an agreement drawn up by a lawyer, to which Gordon responded “If we are honest men we do not need a lawyer; and if we are dishonest, no lawyer can make us honest.”
Although at this time two principal newspapers were published in Melbourne, imported British publications like The Illustrated London News, Home News and Lloyds were more popular as colonists were eager for news of home. Consequently there was great competition among newsagents to acquire the most recent editions and the arrival of a ship was always eagerly anticipated in the town. When a ship was arriving it would send a semaphore signal to a lookout station on the coast. A messenger then hurried to a hill known as Flagstaff Gardens and hoisted a flag which indicated the ship’s departure point. When Gotch saw the red and white flag which indicated that a vessel was arriving from London, he would hurry by hansom cab to the port ready to collect his parcels and race his rivals back to town. The new firm was able to move from their market stall to permanent offices in 1856 and when Gordon sold his interest in the company to Gotch in 1859 to return to Scotland, the firm was pre-eminent in Melbourne as news and advertising agents and as distributors of newspapers and periodicals from Britain. In 1860 John’s brother William joined the business and the following year his brother in law Alfred Jones also joined. Branches were opened in Sydney in 1861, London in 1867 and Brisbane in 1875. Each involved a partnership in which John held at least a half share and was directly involved in their management. In 1874 John travelled to London personally to tackle a crisis created by a defaulting clerk.
The branches were not uniform in their activities, which ranged from the import and distribution of newspapers, printing supplies and stationery, printing and publishing of books such as The Australian Handbook, advertising and a press telegraph service. Well before the turn of the century, the London Office extended its work to general exports and the Australian Offices extended to the importing of such items as machinery and pianos. New branches were opened in Perth in 1894 and Wellington in New Zealand in 1899. John died in September 1901, but a small group of his relatives continued to exercise a considerable degree of control. The Company thrived, extending operations to the U.S.A. and Canada. American publications began to be imported, but the Company always imported significantly more British ones. Despite the problems created by two World Wars, which included the London Office being bombed in the Blitz and imports of publications to Australasia being restricted in favour of more vital supplies, the Company managed to survive and when Eagle began in 1950, Gordon and Gotch were the agents for most British publishers in Australia and New Zealand. Consequently when Eagle’s publishers changed, their agents in Australasia remained the same. The success of Eagle in Britain and Australia led to the creation of an Australian version, which ran from 1953 to 1955 by the Adelaide Advertiser newspaper, under licence from Hulton Press. Printed on cheap newsprint and with less colour than the British original, it ran for eighty six issues, but like many Australian based children’s weeklies of the time, it struggled because the market was not large enough. It also competed with the imported original. In the final issue, the editor John Collins assured readers that arrangements had been made for more copies of the British version to be available from newsagents all over Australia and indeed Gordon and Gotch rose to the occasion and more copies were imported to meet demand.