Level 3 Mortlock Wing State Library of South Australia North Terrace Adelaide SA 5000

Portrait of William Silver, creator of the York Gate Library

This portrait of Stephen William Silver FRGS FLS, was donated to the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (South Australian Branch) by his widow, Mrs Sarah Constance Silver. It accompanied the York Gate library collection to South Australia and came from William Silver's estate.

S W Silver portrait Photo

Stephen William Silver FRGS FLS (1819-1905) had a special interest in the activities of the Royal Geographical Society of London to which he was elected a Fellow in 1859. He served on its Council for more than thirty years and remained active in the Society until he died. (F Botha; Philobiblon: Journal of the Society of Bibliophiles in Cape Town, new series, nos 1 and 2, March and June 1997, p. 4-22.)

It was requested by Mrs Silver, that the portrait be hung with the library from York Gate. The portrait was created circa 1880. The portrait is framed in glass with a black japanned lacquer on wood frame.

Silver's collection had two types of book plates, one for the books housed at 3 York Gate on the southern periphery of Regents Park in London and another for those kept at his country house 'The Benhams', in Letcombe near Wantage in Berkshire. These book plates are more in the nature of labels; they are confined to an address (without the owner's name), topped by an ornate 'S'. 

In addition to a book plate, most of Silver's books were also embossed in gold on the front cover and/or the spine with a design consisting of a small globe over a banner containing the words ‘York Gate Library’. The second edition of the York Gate catalogue, published in 1886, noted that ‘during the last four years [since the first edition] the accessions to the Library have been very numerous, and advantage was taken of the opportunities afforded by the William Beckford, the 10th Duke of Hamilton, Ellis and Michael Wodhull sales, to secure some of their typographical treasures and rarities’. Petherick thanked the booksellers Bernard Alexander Christian Quaritch and Frederick Startridge Ellis for these acquisitions. (the Silvers of S.W. Silver and C/- - Chris Durrant)

William Silver recruited his friend Mr E A Petherick FRGS to create the first edition of the York Gate Library catalogue which appeared in 1882. In the years following its appearance Silver embarked on a greatly accelerated programme of acquisition for his library. So great was the number of additions to the library that by the time the second edition was brought out in 1886, Silver's collection comprised 5,349 items, requiring almost three times as many pages as first edition four years earlier. In the process, the library was greatly enriched by many of the greatest typographical treasures in Silver's field of interest. In this he was helped by the famous London bookseller Bernard Quaritch and of course by Petherick himself, who had a formidable knowledge of books. Sliver's acquisition programme was also helped by the fortunate circumstance that a number of important collections of books came up for auction in London in the early 1880's. One of these auction sales in 1882 was the magnificent library of the eccentric William Beckford (1759-1844), author of Vathek and a number of travel books. A man with a deep pocket, Beckford had acquired many rare works for his own collection while he lived in virtual exile in Europe in the eighteenth century. Other important auction sales in those years from which Silver’s library was enriched were diplomatist Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803), and the prominent book-collector and translator, Michael Wodhull (1740-1816), both of whom had famous collections. The catalogue reveals, in some cases, from whose collection a particular item was acquired.

Silver was only about 65 years old when the second edition of the catalogue was published, and one wonders what was added in the next 20 years until his death in 1905. While this is an intriguing thought, we at least know-from Petherick’s catalogue what the library contained in 1886 and from this we now know that it was then probably the most comprehensive collection of books in that field in private hands.

The following is from the archive collection of the Way papers, held in the National Library of Australia; correspondence - in the UK in 1905 between Augustus Petherick, the SA Agent General in London and the widow of William Silver on the history of the sale of the YorkGate Library to South Australia.

E A Petherick (E. A. P.)

Augustus Petherick, an ‘Australian’, born EDWARD AUGUSTUS PETHERICK, 1847, was a bookseller, publisher, bibliographer and book collector. Petherick was born on 6 March 1847 at Burnham, Somerset, England. The family sailed from Bristol in the Kyle and arrived at Melbourne in March 1853 with 400 books. Edward could read at 5 and while working for his father attended Alfred Brunton's School at Fitzroy part-time until 1860. In August 1862 he joined the bookselling and stationery firm of George Robertson, who was impressed by Edward's precocious knowledge of books and enthusiastic application to his duties. In spare time he acted as secretary to the Sunday school at the Oxford Street Congregational Church, Collingwood, and its Penny Savings Bank and Young Men's Society.

In 1870 Robertson chose Petherick to reorganize the London office. He soon transformed the branch and remained manager till 1877 when the possibility of Robertson's retirement required him to return.

In 1865 he had begun to collect titles for a catalogue or bibliography of Australia but put it aside in 1870. In 1878 he wrote: 'the business of the London department being well organised, I took up the work again; but finding I could do little without the books, I began to collect them—as they came within my grasp, and the savings of a limited salary'. As a contractor he worked for William Silver.

He recruited his friend Mr E A Petherick FRGS, ‘a gentleman who has made the history and bibliography of this branch of literature his especial study' to compile a catalogue of the collection.

In 1882 he won public recognition as a bibliographer by publishing the Catalogue of the York Gate Geographical and Colonial Library. Its success prompted William Silver to enlarge his collection with help from Petherick whom he commissioned to prepare a second edition sub-titled 'An index to the Literature of Geography, Maritime and Inland Discovery, Commerce and Colonisation'. In 1894 Petherick’s cataloguing and book selling business went bankrupt, but he eventually traded his way out of that matter and married as well.

By 1894 Petherick had approached Edward Braddon and Duncan Gillies with an offer to present his collection to 'Federated Australia', he to be appointed librarian of the collection at a nominal salary. The offer was considered in December 1895 at a meeting of Australian agents-general who asked the Imperial Institute to house the collection. Although the institute was unable to co-operate Petherick clung to the idea of presenting the collection to the Australian people. When the Commonwealth came into being in 1901 he wrote on 15 March to Prime Minister (Sir) Edmund Barton proposing that the collection be added temporarily to 'the High Commissioner's Office' in London with himself as its custodian and buyer for the Federal Parliamentary Library. His approach was premature, and no action resulted. By 1905 Petherick was instrumental in persuading Silver’s widow to sell the York Gate collection to the Royal Geographical Society of SA.

The following article was written by Mr William Roberts, The Times expert on book auctions and Library sales, who came for the information and dined with Mr and Mrs E.A. Petherick at Streatham on 19th July1905.

"It will interest many people in England as well as in Australasia to know that the Library collection of the late Mr. S. W. Silver (whose death was announced in the Times of March 10th) known as the York Gate Geographical and Colonial Library, has been purchased en bloc by the Agent General for the South Australian Branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia. It will be at once shipped to Adelaide, where it will remain for all time a permanent and homogeneous tribute to the collector’s memory. The price paid for the library is understood to be £2,000.

Mr Silver began the formation of a Library some 50 years ago, but its chief treasures have been acquired during the last 30 years, the dispersal of the Beckford, Hamilton, Ellis, and Wodhull collections having afforded him opportunities of which he freely availed himself. In 1886 Mr John Murray published an exhaustive catalogue of the whole collection, compiled by the well known authority and bibliographer, Mr. E. A. Petherick F.R.G.S., and this handsome catalogue forms one of the most useful and frequently consulted books of reference on. geographical and colonial subjects. Copies of it are in constant use in the British Museum, and in nearly all the great Public Libraries of the world. When the catalogue was issued the library consisted of about 5,000 books and pamphlets and since then additions to the extent of about 1,000 articles have been made. The fine copies of excessively rare and important books are very numerous. One of the finest is the copy, of Ptolemy, "Geographia di Francesco Berlinghieri Fiorentino” , printed at Florence by Nicolo Todescho circa 1480, with 31 maps engraved on copper and at once a monument of typography and the engraver’s art; a reduced facsimile of the map of the world is given in the Catalogue. The Copy of De Bry’s Collection of Travels and Voyages to America and the East, in Latin, 1590-1654, is one of the finest known. Hakluyt's “Voyages and Discoveries of the English Nation “, 1599-1600, and "Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchas His Pilgrimes", 1625-26, are also exceptionally fine, the varied contents of the eight folio volumes are exhaustively set out in Mr Petherick’s Catalogue, occupying as they do 23 pages. The Travels and Voyages of Thevenot, Rey and of J. Churchill, &c., are also represented by fine examples. Perhaps the volume which Mr Silver most prized was the "Journal of a Voyage to Newfoundland and Labrador, commencing April ye Seventh, and Ending November the 17th, 1766", in the autograph of Sir Joseph Banks, giving an account of the plants, birds, insects, and other objects which he collected, with a description of the cod fishing and curing, both by the English and French, also of the State of St. Johns, the Government, and so forth.

These are only a few of the rarities in the York Gate Library: as this catalogue is so well known it is not perhaps, necessary to enter into an exhaustive analysis of its contents. The collection is rich sets of various societies’ publications, and in works relating to the Geography and History of every country in the world, in various languages. But it is especially rich in books and pamphlets, many of very great rarity, but not, perhaps, in all oases of great commercial value, on the British Colonies, especially Australia and New Zealand, so that the City of Adelaide has become the possessor of a Library at once unique and of the highest interest and importance to a11 students of Greater Britain.

It was feared at Mr Silver’s death, that the collection would be dispersed under the hammer, but the enterprise of the Australasian Geographical Society has prevented this, to its honour and credit. It would occupy many years to form another such collection, and many of the articles probably could not be obtained again within the next half a century."