Cole’s Book Arcade was a massive three-storey bookstore in the heart of Melbourne that opened on Cup day in 1883. But this was a bookshop with a difference. It had a fernery, a wonderland with funny mirrors, a music department, a lolly shop, a lending library…there were secondhand books for sale, a Chinese tea salon, even a live monkey display! The arcade was the embodiment of one man’s vision and humanitarian ideals: Edward William Cole.
For visitors to the city in the 1880s, the journey was not complete without a tour of Cole’s Book Arcade, where one could pick up a copy of the much loved and rightly famous Cole’s Funny Picture Book. Such was its renown, that the arcade was visited by writers Rudyard Kipling and Mark Twain during their travels in Australia.
Edward William Cole was an eccentric, humble man who came to Australia in 1852, aged 20, with the Victorian Goldfields in his sights. But it did not take him long to discover that his own pot of gold was not to be found in the ground. While Cole called the arcade his ‘hobby’, he was a savvy and astute businessman who died, in 1918, a very rich man.
While Edward Cole’s life has been re-imagined by author Lisa Lang in her novel Utopian Man, today all that’s left of his grand arcade is a glass ceiling in one of Melbourne’s busy CBD laneways.
Readings from Utopian Man are by Richard Piper.