William Arthur Toplis (1857~1942) was born and studied art in Sheffield. A successful artist, with work accepted by The Royal Academy, he arrived in Sark for a holiday in 1883 and spent the rest of his life in the island painting the details of its rugged coastline and landscape.
His first major Sark painting, The Gouliot Rocks was accepted for the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1884. Toplis had large scale Sark paintings accepted for both the 1885 and 1887 Royal Academy exhibitions and he made sketches for many more.
The plan to produce The Book of Sark was conceived in 1907 by journalist, novelist and poet, William Arthur Dunkerley (better known by his pseudonym, John Oxenham). He persuaded his friend William Toplis to embark upon a project to reproduce a selection of his best paintings in full colour prints for sale in book form.
Oxenham approached Hodder & Stoughton, then a relatively new publisher based in London. An agreement was reached to produce a book containing twenty one full colour reproductions of William Toplisâ€™ landscape or seascape paintings of Sark, ten of which had been exhibited at the Royal Academy in London. The book was to include Oxenhamâ€™s description of the views which Toplis was to paint and text by Professor T. G. Bonney on the Islandâ€™s geology and by E.D Marquand on the flora of Sark.
Hodder & Stoughton agreed to publish the book on condition that Oxenham and Toplis obtain three hundred subscribers (later reduced to two hundred) before the end of the year. Hodder & Stoughton would then print five hundred individually numbered copies to be signed by the artist and author.
Messrs Carl Hentschel were printing the colour work and continually sending proofs to Toplis, who was never completely satisfied with the reproductions. Eventually, in January 1908, the publisher issued an ultimatum to the artist and he grudgingly stopped complaining about the quality of printing.
By April 1908, the binders had been changed and the first copies were produced and dispatched to the subscribers. The quality of the book so far exceeded the expectations of the recipient subscribers that many further orders were generated.