John Speechly Gotch was a dentist who was swept up with the inertia of the colonizing age and in September 1849, he left Liverpool, England for Philadelphia, USA. After six months in Philadelphia he transferred to New York to learn about manufacturing artificial teeth.
Here, Gotch learned of the gold in Victoria and in 1853, joined the rush, taking passage on the Baltimore clipper Peytona. The Peytona was shipwrecked off Mauritius and Gotch came safely ashore, penniless and with only his nightshirt on his back.
Gotch set up in Mauritius temporarily as a dentist and established a practice. After eleven weeks, he had saved £35 to complete his passage to Melbourne in the Emma Colvin.
Arriving in Victoria, Gotch made for Fryer Creek, near Castlemaine, where the latest
strike had been reported. He found only one small nugget, of thumbnail size, and worth about £3 at the time. He soon ran out of money and provisions and in a final stroke of unluckiness, injured his foot with a pick. He returned to Melbourne penniless in the back of a friendly teamster’s wagon.
Gordon and Gotch
When Gotch arrived in Melbourne, he could barely walk on his bandaged foot and had two-pence halfpenny to his name.
At the Western Markets, he fell into conversation with one of the stall-holders - Alexander Gordon; a tall, kindly Scotsman of sixty-three years, who sold newspapers, and was also an advertising agent for the Melbourne Argus. He had no money, but offered the younger man a job selling papers and running up advertisements, and the offer was accepted.
At night, the two men slept under the counter of their market shack.
Gotch embarked on his new job with enthusiasm. After a few weeks, Gordon made a characteristically cautious offer of a partnership. The offer was based on the proviso that Gotch had to sell as many newspapers on the diggings as Gordon did from his market stand. The challenge was taken up, then duly performed; so the partnership of Gordon and Gotch came into being.
Shortly after they joined forces, there was a suggestion that they should have an agreement drawn up by a lawyer. Gordon commented
if we are honest men we do not need a lawyer; and if we are dishonest, no lawyer can make us honest.
Taking Care of Business
Times were propitious for the partners. With Victoria being proclaimed an independent Colony of New South Wales and fresh gold discoveries bringing waves of immigrants, public and private building boomed.
The two principal newspapers published in Melbourne at this time were The Argus and The Age, but the partners’ sales of these journals were not great. The bulk of their business lay in British publications such as The Illustrated London News, The Home News, Lloyd’s, Reynolds Magazines, Dublin"s Weekly Freeman, and the European Mail.
As was to be expected, in a colonial community eager for news from Home, there was strong competition among the various newsagents to offer the issues of latest date, and the arrival of a ship was an event for the whole of Melbourne Town. The first contact with a ship arriving in the Bay was made by the lookout men in the semaphore station. As soon as they could read her signals, a messenger was despatched post haste to the hill still known as the "Flagstaff Gardens" where the flag indicating her Departure Port was hoisted for all to read.
When Gotch saw the red and white flag, indicating the ship was from London, he would rush by hansom cab to Sandridge (Port Melbourne) seize his parcel of papers and magazines and race his rivals back to town.
During 1854 a railway – the first in the Colony – was laid from Melbourne to Sandridge by the Melbourne and Hobson’s Bay Railway Company, and the hansom cab races began to become a memory of days gone past. The partners had achieved a measure of prosperity and in 1856 a move was made to Temple Court, in Collins Street and the growth of Gordon and Gotch began.
Over the next 100 years, Gordon and Gotch survived two world wars, and the Great Depression. The company grew across Australia, The United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and Papua New Guinea.
Today, Gordon and Gotch is part of the PMP Group. (ASX: PMP) As the largest independent distributor and wholesaler of printed media which includes magazines, partworks and books.
Gordon and Gotch distributes in excess of 130 million copies per year. This equates to five Gordon and Gotch products being sold every second across Australia.