Eason, Charles (1823–99), wholesale and retail newsagent, was born 11 May 1823 at Yeovil, Somerset, second son in the family of three sons and two daughters of a glover and baptist deacon, George Eason (1782–1828), and his wife Rebecca (née Tucker). After attending school at Weymouth and Bath he was apprenticed, aged fifteen, for seven years to a printer, at the end of which time he went to work with a bookseller in Paternoster Row, London. In October 1850 he became clerk-in-charge and later manager of W. H. Smith's railway bookstall at Victoria station, Manchester. When Smith asked Eason to go to Dublin to manage his Irish newspaper distribution business (March 1856), it was as much because he regarded him as ‘under the influence of real and true religion’ as because he valued his experience.
Eason's first task in Dublin was to put W. H. Smith's Irish finances in order. Then he turned to extending the business. The main development was railway bookstalls, made possible by the rapid extension of the railways in Ireland (from 1,385 km (c.870 miles) in 1854 to 3,055 km (c.1,910 miles) in 1866). By 1890 the firm had nearly all the main contracts. Another, made possible by the abolition of stamp duty on newspapers in 1856, the greater prosperity that Ireland experienced in the 1860s, and the increasing number of Dublin-published penny dailies, was the widening of the market for newspapers. Eason tried to increase book sales and introduced a subscription library (1860s). A novel line of business was stationery, which necessitated the establishment of a small ancillary printing office (opened in the 1860s). Eason also launched the publication of catholic prayer-books (1870s). In 1856 Eason moved the firm's retail business from Eden Quay to 21 Lower Sackville Street, where it remained until 1869. From 1864 wholesale business was conducted round the corner at 86 Abbey Street and new retail premises, at 40 Sackville Street, were acquired in 1887.
As early as 1872 Eason asked Smith for a partnership but Smith declined. What precipitated a separation of the Irish business from the British and Eason's taking it over as owner was a statement made in the house of commons by Timothy Michael Healy (qv) in February 1884. Healy caused embarrassment by chiding Smith, by now a tory MP and a severe critic of Irish catholics and their home rule and agrarian politics, with hypocrisy in profiting from the publication and sale of catholic prayer-books. Eason & Son, as the business was renamed, ‘was a mirror image of the much larger W. H. Smith operation in England’ (Cullen, 9). Charles Eason was a fair, albeit strict, employer who, unlike some protestants, readily took on catholics. And unlike Smith, Eason took no part in politics.
Beyond business Eason's chief interests were religion and family. When first in Ireland he continued his membership of the baptist church but in 1865 joined the presbyterian congregation at Rathgar, attracted by its minister, William Fleming Stevenson (qv); later he attended the Church of Ireland church at Harold's Cross, and finally he returned to the presbyterians. It was the social concerns of religion that absorbed him: the poor, the young, philanthropy, and temperance. He also joined the freemasons (1876). Before moving to Ireland, Eason married (2 May 1851) Caroline Birks, who was born in Yorkshire, the daughter of a draper. In Dublin they lived at first in Upper Rutland Street, moving to Kenilworth Square, Rathgar, in 1858 and then building a house there (1861). Charles Eason died 5 November 1899. He and his wife had six sons and two daughters. The eldest son, George (b. 1852), entered the business in 1868 but left after misappropriating £236 (1875) and died in Canada (1882). The second son, Charles (1853–1941), entered it in 1875 and took over in 1895. The fifth son, Frederick Tucker (1865–1964), also entered the business. The elder daughter, Emma, married George Herbert Carpenter (qv). Charles Eason junior's eldest son John Charles Malcolm Eason (qv) became managing director of Eason & Son (1926–50).