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John Nicholson Mailer (1825-1892) was born in Edinburgh to Andrew Mailer, a stone mason, and Marion Nicholson. His older brothers, Andrew and Robert, were shoemakers and John, at aged 16, was also apprenticed to that trade. John became a bookbinder, however, and married Mary Cochrane in July, 1852 in Edinburgh at St Cuthbert’s. Andrew and Robert emigrated to America; Andrew in 1849 and his brother Robert and his mother Mary sometime before 1851. John and Mary decided to come to Australia and arrived in the colony of New South Wales in November 1854. Their eldest son Andrew (1854-1902) was born in Scotland and the Mailers had four other children in Australia: John Henry (1857-1887), Robert Adam Thomson (1861-1925), Mary (1862-1937)  and Ida Marion (1868-1868).
In Sydney, John found work in his trade as a book binder and became an assistant to James W Waugh in Waugh and Cox’s stationery and bookselling business in 1855. In November 1862, John purchased the business operating at 286 George Street, Sydney, and advertised himself as a stationer and account book manufacturer, telling potential customers that ‘his practical knowledge of the Account Book Manufacture enables him to assure those who may favour him with their patronage that nothing will be supplied but such as are of the best material, workmanship, and latest improvements.’ The business did not appear to prosper and by August 1864 all his assets were assigned to Trustees on behalf of his creditors and by November 1865, he had decided to cease trading and by December 1865, all his stock had been sold to pay off the creditors.
In 1866, it had been necessary for the jointly operated bookshop of the British and Foreign Bible Society and Religious Tract and Book Society (RTS) to dismiss their depository and to seek a new appointment. The Society had not been served well by its recent appointments as in 1862 the then depository, Joseph Holloway Morrison, was found guilty of embezzlement of society funds to the amount of about £600. The newly advertised position attracted a salary of £250 with residence at the Bible Hall, Pitt Street, and the successful applicant was also required to post a security of £500.  John Mailer applied and was appointed.