The brothers Samuel (1828-1913) and William (b. 1826-?) Calvert established a series of children’s books in the 1870s called Calvert’s Australian Picture Books. To produce this style of book, known as Toy Books, they brought wood block printing techniques developed by the English master printer Edmund Evans to Australia.

During the last third of the 19th century there was a growing market for children’s books, partly in response to enactment of Education Acts in the British colonies, in addition to expanding demographics as successful gold miners brought their families from England.

The Calvert brothers produced large editions of children’s books including This is the hut that Jack built in Australia and The young Australian’s alphabet. Each title sold for one shilling printed on paper, or one shilling and six pence printed on cloth.

The Hut that Jack built is an Australian version of the traditional nursery rhyme, This is the house that Jack built illustrated by Randolph Caldecott shown in an earlier Illustrated Children’s Books blog.  The cumulative rhyme describes the valour of the boy Jack who finds a venomous snake drinking milk in his hut, how the snake is taken by a kookaburra, then stolen by a hawk, shot by young Jack, and mounted on the front of the hut as a trophy.

The Calvert’s Australian Picture Book series compares well to the English Toy Books of Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway. The style of artwork of each artist varied and in combination with the popularity of this new technique of children’s book production, there was something for every child.

Samuel and William Calvert were sons of the much celebrated English wood-engraver and painter Edward Calvert (1799-1883). The brothers studied painting, design, etching and engraving under their father’s tutelage. Samuel pays loving tribute to his father’s early works in his Memoir of Edward Calvert, artist. Here is the title page and Edward’s 1827 woodblock print of ‘The Return Home’.

At the age of seventeen William immigrated to South Australia and Samuel, aged twenty, followed in 1848. Subsequently they both sailed to Melbourne where Samuel worked as a wood-engraver providing illustrations for books, advertisements, magazines and newspapers, while William set up a printery in Little Collins Street. Samuel created the engravings and printing was done at William’s establishment. The brothers were in partnership between 1854 and 1857 but ten years later Samuel again set up a separate commercial wood-engraving business until he retired to England in 1888.

Image of the Picnic at Heidelberg, from the Illustrated Melbourne Post of 1867

Picnic at Heidelberg, from The Illustrated Melbourne Post for 1867

Engraved woodblock printing became the most common method of book and newspaper illustration during the 19th century in Australia. It was less expensive than metal engraving and the engraved woodblock could be printed with ordinary letter type so that illustrations could be inserted. Samuel Calvert was prolific in his output, submitting illustrations for nearly all Melbourne papers between 1855 and 1880.

Image of The Return fancy dress ball at the Exhibition Building

The Return fancy dress ball at the Exhibition Building, from the Australasian newspaper, October 1866



To pursue more research on the Library’s Children’s Literature Research Collection go to the Children’s Literature Research Guide


This article has 4 comments

  1. Calvert’s books are always interesting. Can I borrow “This is the hut that Jack built in Australia” from SLV?

    • Hi Danny,
      I’m glad you like the Calverts’ books. The SLV doesn’t lend any books as we are a research library and that includes “This is the hut that Jack built in Australia”. However you can pre-order this item to be read in the Library’s Heritage Collection Reading Room. Just phone the Library on 86647002 and give us your details, the rare book details and the date you intend coming in to view the item. You can take photos of the item with your own mobile or camera too but not copy it on a photocopier.

  2. I have a copy of I won’t and i will by William Samuel Calvert, published 1858, would you be able to give me more info on the book as I can’t find another copy. I could send you some photos. Best wishes, Terence

    • Hi Terence,
      It’s great to get your interesting inquiry to my blog so thank you.
      I have done a quick search for your title and haven’t come up with anything either. We do hold bibliographies I will check for you but in the meantime I’d appreciate it if you could send me some images. 1858 is quite early for the Calvert Brothers. Can you supply the imprint details too please? I will be on leave Dec 21st to Jan 5th but will respond early January. Perhaps send that information directly to my work email [email protected]
      best wishes, Dr Juliet O’Conor

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *