Tasmania has enjoyed a strong and vigorous newspaper history that dates back to the earliest days of settlement.
The first newspaper, the Derwent Star and Van Diemen’s Land Intelligencer, appeared on 8 January 1810, just seven years after the establishment of the first colony at Hobarton. It was produced on a wooden press brought to Van Diemen’s Land by Lieutenant-Governor Colonel David Collins. The newspaper was printed ‘under authority’ of the government by George Clark and James Barnes. Clark also printed the second newspaper to be produced in the colony, the Van Diemen’s Land Gazette and General Advertiser (1814). Both newspapers were short-lived, the Derwent Star lasting just 12 issues and the Gazette nine.
Since then, more than a hundred titles have been published, some lasting just a few issues like the Derwent Star and the Gazette, others spanning decades—and longer, in three cases providing the foundations of media dynasties that lasted more than a century.
While a small number bear the name of the colony—Van Diemen’s Land—others are more geographically specific, reflecting the smaller population centres in which they appeared. Among the former are titles such as the Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser (1825–57), the Tasmanian (1827–39) and the Colonist and the Van Diemen’s Land Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (1832–34). Included among the latter are the Hobart Town Courier (1827–59), the Cornwall Press and Commercial Advertiser (1829), the Launceston Advertiser (1829–46), the Devon Herald (1877–89), the North West Post (1887–1916) and the Zeehan and Dundas Herald (1890–1922). In fact Launceston can claim the distinction of being the home of Australia’s regional press, with the first seven titles being produced in that city.
Representative of the subject-specific titles that sprouted, particularly during the 1800s, were the True Catholic: Or Tasmanian Evangelical Miscellany (1843), the Teetotal Advocate (1843), the Britannia and Trades Advocate (1846–51), the Temperance Banner (1850–51), the Irish Exile and Freedom’s Advocate (1850–51), the Tasmanian Democrat (1891–99) and the Leader: The Truth. The Whole Truth. And Nothing But The Truth (1868–69), which supported the Orange Movement. More enduring religious titles have included the Church News (now the Tasmanian Anglican, 1862– ), the Quaker Australian Friend (1887– ) and the Catholic Standard (est. 1937), renamed the Advocate (1971–77).
There were also a number of rather quirky titles, including the Trumpeter (1833–49), the Peoples’ Horn Boy (1834), the Tasmanian Weekly Dictator (1839), the Hobarton Guardian, or, True Friend of Tasmania (1847–54), the Clipper (1893–1909), the Monitor (1894–1920) and Sunbeams (1896–1902). Tasmania also had its own version of the political satire, Punch (1866–78).
According to J. Moore-Robinson’s Chronological List of Tasmanian Newspapers (from 1810–1933), the majority of early newspapers were relatively short-lived. This often reflected the activities of the early printers, editors and writers—particularly people like Andrew Bent, Robert Lathrop Murray, Henry Melville and John Morgan. Two prominent early names were John Pascoe Fawkner, who established and edited the Launceston Advertiser for two years before playing a key role in the settlement and early development of Victoria, including as editor of the Port Phillip Patriot and Melbourne Advertiser, and Henry Savery, the convict author of Australia’s first novel, Quintus Servington (1830–31).
Bent probably had the greatest influence on the development of the Tasmanian press. He was a strong advocate of press freedom, and played an important role in emphasising a right to private ownership of the press. He also introduced editorials and letters to the editor.
A small number of newspapers have enjoyed long and successful lives. The Launceston Examiner and Commercial and Agricultural Examiner, the Hobarton Mercury, and the Wellington Times (later the North Western Advocate, before becoming the Advocate in 1918) have all been operating for well over a century. For much of their lives, these newspapers were run by family dynasties: the Examiner by the Rolph and later (by marriage) Rouse families; the Mercury by the Davies family; and the Advocate by the Harris family.
The success of these papers can be attributed to their strong association with the communities they serve. Tasmania is considered highly parochial, with the state divided into three geographic regions that approximate the prime circulation areas of the three major newspapers. They were able to develop strong reader loyalty, which enabled them to absorb competitors and withstand challenges. For example, the Advocate was able to hold off challenges from both the Examiner and, to a lesser extent, the Mercury, along the north-west coast, while the Examiner withstood attempts by the Mercury to establish a foothold in the north.
The Mercury was also able to withstand a challenge from the Southern Star and Advocate in the Hobart suburbs during the 1980s. Established in 1985 as a single suburban newspaper serving Hobart and its surrounds, the Southern Star evolved into a chain of area-specific papers published weekly by the Advocate. These included the Glenorchy Star, the Bay City Star, the Eastern Shore Star and the Kingborough Star, all published between 1994 and 1997. The Advocate’s financial interest in Star Suburban Newspapers, the parent company, increased as the printing bills mounted. In 1997, the company was restructured, with the individual titles being absorbed into a single publication—the Star—which eventually closed in July 1998.
There has been just one attempt to take on the major players since. In 2002, Hobart-based advisory firm Corporate Communications purchased a small monthly newspaper, the Eastern Shore Sun (1998– ). The company has since taken advantage of the internet to expand the stable to three other newspapers: the Glenorchy Gazette (1993– ), the Hobart Observer (2013– ) and Island Business (2013– ). All compete with the Mercury in its core distribution areas.
Ultimately, however, even the stalwarts of the Tasmanian media market succumbed to the realities of the newspaper business—Davies Brothers Limited (owner of the Mercury) became a wholly owned subsidiary of the News Limited empire in 1988, while the Examiner (in 1990) and the Advocate (2003) were ultimately swallowed by Rural Press Limited, which later merged with Fairfax Media.
Tasmania’s newspapers have been forthright, willing to speak out against the government of the day and even to take on major issues, such as the Examiner’s role in the formation of the Australasian Anti-Transportation League in the late 1840s under the influence of the author and editor Rev. John West. The tradition continues to the present day. For example, during the 1980s, the Mercury, the Examiner and the Advocate were all active in reporting on the Franklin Dam and Wesley Vale pulp mill environmental battles. This focus on the environment also manifested itself in their coverage of the forestry battles of the 1990s and the Gunns pulp mill dispute of the 2000s.
However, it was in their election reporting that the major newspapers revealed their true loyalties. Distinctly Tasmanian in focus when covering federal campaigns, they became highly parochial when covering state elections.
While the three major newspapers have dominated the media landscape, the smaller monthly and weekly newspapers have played an equally important role in the communities they have served. Notable publications include the Circular Head Chronicle (Smithton, 1906– ), the North-Eastern Advertiser (Scottsdale, 1909– ) and the various publications serving the Huon Valley and west coast, commencing in the 1800s. Tasmania had eight country papers that were published daily for some part of the 19th century (four in Launceston, and one each in Zeehan, Queenstown, Devonport and Burnie/Devonport), and only one new country daily in the 20th century, the North West Post (Devonport).
Research shows little evidence of an ethnic press in Tasmania. The state can, however, boast a strong heritage in the production of quality magazines, beginning with news magazines in the 1800s, through to glossy publications including Leatherwood (est. 1991, now 40° South), Tasmanian Life (1996– ), Tasmanian Style (2011– ), Tasmania Enjoy! (2011– ) and the literary magazine Island (1981– ). Publishers have also tapped into the popularity of sport with a range of publications covering fishing, lawn bowls and the AFL.
REFs: J. Moore-Robinson, Chronological List of Tasmanian Newspapers (from 1810–1933) (1933); E. Morris-Miller, ‘A Historical Summary of Tasmanian Newspapers (Part II)’, Tasmanian Historical Research Association Papers and Proceedings (March 1953) and Pressmen and Governors (1952); S.J. Tanner, ‘Regionalism and Newspapers in Tasmania’, Australian Journalism Review, 16(1) (1994).