Six newspapers were launched in Launceston, Tasmania between 1825 and 1839 before provincial publication occurred elsewhere in Australia. A seventh Launceston title appeared before the Launceston Examiner and Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser began publication on 12 March 1842. James Aikenhead (1815–87), an entrepreneurial Scot, was the proprietor and official editor, but the unofficial editor was Rev. John West (1809–73). While editing the Examiner, he was pastor of the town’s Congregational Church. He inspired a national movement to abolish the transportation of convicts to Van Diemen’s Land. Transportation ended in 1853, and West left Launceston in November 1854 to become the first designated editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.
Jonathan Stammers Waddell, a printer, helped launch the Examiner. He held a minority inter- est and on his death in December 1857, this was acquired by a nephew, Henry Button, who had worked at the paper periodically for 13 years. Aikenhead edited the Examiner until 1869 when son William replaced him. The Examiner began appearing daily on 21 December 1877, when the Cornwall Chronicle (est. 1835) was competing strongly as a tri-weekly. The Chronicle made two forays into daily publication (1878–79 and 1880), but the Examiner bought it and closed it in November 1880. New competition emerged in July 1881 with the launch of the bi-weekly Telegraph, which became a tri-weekly in April 1882 and a daily in June 1883. It closed in March 1928.
Button, an excellent reporter and innovative printer, became the Examiner’s sole proprietor in 1887. In November 1897, accountants William Robert Rolph (1864–1948) and Alexander T. Young joined the Examiner partnership. Button retired in 1898. In 1916, when Young retired, the firm became W.R. Rolph & Sons. In the Rolph era, the Examiner dropped Launceston from its title on 1 January 1900, published the Weekly Courier (1901–35), and established the Saturday Evening Express in 1924 and commercial radio station 7EX in 1938. Gordon Burns Rolph (1893–1959) trained in all aspects of newspaper work before joining his father in management. Gordon rose to become general manager, then chairman and managing director, and finally governing director. He was president of the Australian Provincial Press Association from 1946 to 1952. He was knighted in 1948.
On 3 September 1939, the Examiner had news on its front page for the first time to announce the declaration of war in Europe. In 1948, it became a tabloid. Examiner editors have included Frederick Prichard (1893–1920), Stanley Dryden (1920–33), Rupert John (Jack) Williams (1938–66), Goodwin Ewence (1966–76), Michael Charles Palliser Courtney (1976–92) and Rodney James Scott (1993–2004). The Sunday Examiner was introduced in 1984 when the Sunday Mercury began in Hobart.
Edmund Alexander Rouse (1926–2002) married the youngest of Gordon Rolph’s daughters, Dorothy, in 1951. He became assistant manager of the Examiner, managing director in 1959 when Sir Gordon died and chairman of the board in 1969. Between 1959 and 1989, Rouse transformed Rolph and Sons into a powerful media corporation, ENT (Examiner & Northern Television) Ltd, owning the licences for both of Tasmania’s commercial television channels, as well as Melbourne radio station 3UZ, and tourism and hotel interests. Under new cross-media legislation, ENT acquired Associated Broadcasting Services Ltd and became a radio powerhouse in regional Victoria.
The Rolph–Rouse dynasty ended when Rouse was imprisoned in 1990 for trying to bribe a Tasmanian Labor government member, Jim Cox, to vote with the Liberals in parliament so that outgoing Premier Robin Gray could retain power. When Rouse resigned all his positions in ENT, the company’s share price crashed and it faced difficulties with the banks. On 30 August 1990, ENT sold the Examiner to Rural Press Limited (60 per cent) and the Burnie-based Harris and Company Ltd (40 per cent) for $28 million. Rural Press became the sole owner in December 2003 and merged with Fairfax Media in May 2007.
Since 2006, the Examiner has been active online. In 2012 it was named Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers’ Association (PANPA) Newspaper of the Year in the 25,000–90,000 circulation category. In 2013, the Examiner recorded a circulation of 25,765 Monday to Saturday, and the Sunday Examiner 31,959.
REFs: Australian, 13 August 2002; R. Kirkpatrick and S. Tanner, ‘Tall Timbers Topple: End of Independence for Tasmania’s Daily Press’, Australian Studies in Journalism, 14 (2005).