Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser single work   companion entry  
Issue Details: First known date: 2014 2014
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    Australia’s earliest newspaper, the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, was first published on 5 March 1803, produced and printed by transported convict George Howe.

    For almost 20 years, the Sydney Gazette was the only newspaper in the colony of New South Wales. It was effectively a government gazette, although Howe was given permission to solicit advertisements and collect subscriptions, as well as inserting items of news. Only 100 copies of the first issue were published, at a time when the population of the colony was about 7000, with fewer than 1000 free settlers. Initially the newspaper consisted of four small, three-column pages of ‘portfolio’ size, the most that Howe could manage with a small hand press and limited supply of worn type. As well as shipping and court news, there were agricultural reports, religious homilies, literary extracts and even original poetry written by Howe himself. Even so, some of Howe’s readers found the Sydney Gazette rather dull, and it was constrained by his subservient relationship with the authoritarian colonial government.

    By the early 1820s, the newspaper’s production had grown to 300 or 400 copies.

    The Howe family continued to run the newspaper, with Robert Howe becoming Government Printer on his father’s death in 1821. Some of the Sydney Gazette office records of this era have survived and, together with the early convict records held in the New South Wales Archives Office, they provide fascinating glimpses of the operation of a successful printing and publishing enterprise, by now located in lower George Street and staffed with a mix of convict and free workers. Surviving subscription lists and newspaper delivery rounds chart the emerging social geography of early Sydney.

    However, the paper faced serious competition by the second half of the 1820s, with several newspapers vying for subscribers from among well-to-do colonists, together with the advertising revenue they attracted. In 1824, Robert Howe imported a new state-of the-art Columbian press, able to print a large format five-column newspaper. The Sydney Gazette became bi-weekly and, briefly during 1827, even daily—which made it Australia’s first daily newspaper. Appealing to the first ‘native-born’ generation of colonists, Howe adopted the motto ‘Advance Australia!’ and included more local content, employing journalists to research and write it.

    In 1824, a second newspaper, the Australian, commenced publication, making a strong point of its independence from government control. From that time, colonial newspapers became enmeshed with local politics. In 1829, Robert Howe drowned in Sydney Harbour, and by the early 1830s, his widow, Ann, aligned the Sydney Gazette with the reformist, liberal administration of Governor (Sir) Richard Bourke, antagonising a powerful group of wealthy merchants and landowners who sought to restrict political and civil rights to free settlers.

    Ann appointed outspoken ticket-of-leave convict, William Angus Watt, as editor. He published a series of articles attacking the treatment of assigned convicts on the pastoral estates of the interior. In the furore that followed, the Gazette changed ownership in 1836, when control passed to wealthy merchant Richard Jones. He appointed Rev. Ralph Mansfield as editor. After a series of short-lived conservative editors, the Sydney Gazette ceased publication on 20 October 1842.

    Through their pages and business operations, the Sydney Gazette and its contemporaries, such as the Australian, the Sydney Monitor and the Sydney Herald, provide a compelling picture of early colonial society and culture. These first-generation newspapers also provide access to the interior world-views of the earliest newspaper readers in Australia.

    REF: S.J. Blair, ‘Newspapers and their Readers in Early Eastern Australia: The Sydney Gazette and its contemporaries 1803–1842’ (PhD thesis, 1990).


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Last amended 9 Sep 2016 16:45:05
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