EW Cole (1832 - 1918)



The medals featured on the Home Page were produced by EW Cole during the late 19th century in Melbourne, Australia, and reflect many of the ideas of "The 11 Pillars of Rational Religion". (1) He used them to not only promote his beliefs about universal religion and the brotherhood of man, but to promote his enterprise - Cole's Book Arcade.

Commercial success was a long time coming. In 1861, aged 29, he had written to his parents in England listing 17 "... trades and callings I have followed in this country within the last eight years..." and "... followed many other callings for a short time". (2) He spent his spare time in the Melbourne Public Library (now the Victorian State Library) pursuing his passion - "The studying of the various religions of mankind". (3)

In 1865 he was selling pies from a barrow and in a life-changing decision, chose to sell books instead of pies. He had finally reconciled his passion with his livelihood - selling books containing knowledge to enable people to make decisions about religion, based on the facts. He wrote "It is books that will relieve man of his weary hours, enable him to pass his time pleasantly; and whilst enriching his mind with wisdom which cannot fail to be of intrinsic value to him in every phase and condition of life here, will also serve as capital in the next stage of existence. I idolise them for their unparalleled value as an agency helping mankind to higher destinies".

As a result of his spare-time research, he published his own booklet "Cole's Information for the People on the Religions of the World" in 1866. He would give away a free copy away to his book-barrow customers. In the Preface, he wrote "We firmly believe in the future unity and eternal progress of man, and that is absolutely necessary for such unity and progression that knowledge of every kind which tends to annihilate sectarian prejudices, and compel men to extend justice and charity, by admitting that others who differ from them in faith are, as a rule, equally honest with themselves in intention ... Let us onward, friendly reader, in our search after the facts, resting assured that we are in the path of duty: that the discovery and dissemination of truth can never be detrimental, but must conduce to man's welfare. Let us read, mark, learn and inwardly digest -
Intelligently examine all things;
Try to learn all we can;
For universal knowledge brings
The greatest good to man".

On Melbourne Cup day, 1883, he opened Cole's Book Arcade, described at the time as "the largest of its kind in the world". (4) The 51 year-old fourth-born son of a convict father and an illiterate mother found himself the sole proprietor of an enterprise that "employs several hundred hands, turning over one hundred thousand pounds sterling per annum". (4)
From the definition of religion quoted on the Home Page, "The quest for the values of the ideal life", he certainly decided on the values he believed were part of the ideal life. The six illustrations below are a summary of these.

He devoted his life to the dissemination of knowledge to help people make informed decisions - the writing, publishing and selling of books, as well as producing his medals as "the practices for attaining the values of the ideal". He also had a "theology or world view relating the quest to the environing universe" which he summarised in his short essay "God and the Universe" reproduced at left.

He only produced one other publication on religion in 1867 called "The Real Place in History of Jesus and Paul." The cover is shown at left.




(1) Thanks to George Dean for his photography of the Cole medallions and permission to use his images.

(2) Original letter held in the Victorian State Library archives.

(3) In 1910, towards the end of his life and after great commercial success still listed his passions as "1. The studying of the various religions of mankind. 2. The starting and running a peculiar institution called a Book Arcade."

(4) From the writings of Henry Williams, a contemporary and employee of Cole's. He had also claimed that EW Cole "soon became the best known man in Australia". Even today, some regard him as one of the 200 most significant Australians, in any field, of all time.




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Cole's Book Arcade - "The Largest of its Kind in the World". Click here for a larger image.

EW Cole aged 55.
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"Federate the World"
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"Greatest of Truths"
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"Improve Your Mind"
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"Keys to Knowledge"
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"Value of Industry"
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"Words of Wisdom"
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Cole's "Religions of the World". Click here for a .pdf of the 26 page document (32MB).

Cole's short essay on "God and the Universe". Click here for a larger image.

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Cole's only other publication on religion. Click here for a 1.5 MB .pdf of the 62 page document.