A group of businessmen established the Telegraph Newspaper Co. Ltd in Brisbane in 1871, and on 1 October the following year the first edition of the Telegraph was published. This afternoon newspaper would survive for more than 115 years.
The Telegraph began as a broadsheet of four pages with a cover price of one penny. The print run for the first edition was just 200 copies. The first editor was Theophilus Pugh (1831–96), a remarkable figure in the early history of Queensland and the publisher of Pugh’s Queensland Almanac (1862–1927).
The Telegraph was originally published from premises near the corner of George and Queen Streets in Brisbane. In 1891, a striking Italianate edifice was constructed in Queen Street to house the newspaper and provide professional offices in the city. It was designed by George Cowlishaw who, with his brother James, played a leading role in the company’s affairs from the early 1890s. There was a serious fire in the Telegraph machine room on Friday, 8 December 1893, but the staff were still able to get the paper out that afternoon. In 1963, the Telegraph moved to its final home at Bowen Hills, headquarters of Queensland Press Ltd.
In 1876, the Telegraph began publishing a weekly newspaper, the Week, which continued until 1934. As news-pictorial newspapers gained popularity and circulation, the Telegraph was thought by many observers to be among the best of this genre. Its Saturday evening sports edition, printed on pink newsprint, was a slick and distinctive offering produced under punishing deadlines. For most of its long life, the Telegraph was a broadsheet; however, it switched to tabloid format early in 1948.
Pugh was one of many talented newspaper-men and women who worked on the Telegraph, and made their mark in journalism and elsewhere. Those who had a major impact included Nathaniel ‘Nat’ Gould, a sports writer for the paper in the 1880s who became a celebrated writer of racing novels; early editors like the distinguished journalist Dr F.W. Ward and Thomas Heney, a former editor of the Sydney Morning Herald; Keith Noud, one-time turf editor of the Telegraph and renowned track and radio race caller in the 1940s and 1950s; crime reporter Ken Blanch; World War II correspondent and later Telegraph chief-of-staff Mervyn Warren; and Erica Parker, who in the 1950s and later redrafted the boundaries for reporting on issues of significance for women readers. Sallyanne Atkinson, subsequently Lord Mayor of Brisbane, was a cadet journalist at the Telegraph, and John Dickie, who served two terms as Commonwealth Censor, was a cadet journalist at the Telegraph in the 1950s. So too were John Larkin, who became a respected writer for the Age in Melbourne, and Hugh Curnow, who went on to the Daily Mirror in London.
Journalist and newspaper executive Bill Boyan has written an engaging memoir of his life and times at the Telegraph, where he worked for 45 years from 1926. Telegraph: City Final (1991) is a rare and invaluable record of a newspaper era now gone, briefing readers on stories ranging from some of the city’s major murders to the famous Stinson air crash of 1937. The colourful Brisbane characters of those years keep popping up—some of them newspaper people, others their readers and contacts. The Telegraph that Boyan joined as a cadet occupied ‘a rather prim and proper world’. Four-letter words of even mild meaning were banned, along with the words ‘damn’, ‘bastard’ and even ‘pregnant’.
The last Saturday edition of the Telegraph appeared on 29 December 1979. The paper was a victim of changing lifestyles, and expanded television and radio coverage of news and sport. Around Australia, afternoon newspapers were in trouble, and by the early 1990s they would all be gone. In the five years to the end of 1987, there were no fewer than six reviews of the Telegraph’s future. When Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited succeeded in taking over the Herald and Weekly Times in 1987, one of the dailies it now controlled was the Telegraph. The final issue of the newspaper appeared on 5 February 1988.
The Daily Sun (est. 1982) switched from morning to afternoon publication and changed its name to the Sun, but by the end of 1991 it too was gone, and after 119 years Brisbane was without a paid afternoon daily newspaper.