The reproduction of written history in Australia began with the arrival of Governor Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet in 1788. A modest woodscrew printing press, together with a limited range of typefaces and sizes, were listed in the ships’ manifest. According to David Collins’ Account of the English Colony of New South Wales (1798), ‘a small printing press ... was found very useful … a very decent young man … George Hughes … [was] found equal to conducting the whole business of the press’.
Hughes thus became the first Australian printer. The first known example of his work is a 1796 broadsheet, Instructions for Constables of the Country Districts. The press was little more than a glorified cheese press and Hughes could only manage about 50 impressions per hour. However, he managed to compose and print 200 official documents plus other ephemera. He left the colony in 1800 and was succeeded by George Howe, widely regarded as the father of Australian printing.
At 21, Howe served his apprenticeship as a compositor in the British West Indies then travelled to England where he worked on several London newspapers, including the Times. He was transported to Australia for shoplifting in 1800 and was emancipated six years later. In 1802, he printed the first book in Australia, New South Wales Standing Orders. He also initiated the first Australian newspaper, the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (1803–42).
A new penal settlement at Port Phillip and an Admiralty commission enabled Lieutenant- Governor David Collins of the Royal Marines to set sail from Portsmouth in April 1803. Of the 300 people in Collins’ party, three were printers. One of these, Robert Walsh, printed a series of General and Garrison Orders on a small hand press set up beneath a crude shelter on a beach at Sullivan Bay, near Sorrento. The first of these orders, dated 16 October 1803, became the first printed item to be issued in what would become the state of Victoria. In December 1803, Collins moved his group to Hobart Town.
When a new settlement was established on the banks of the Yarra River in 1835, one of the co-founders was John Pascoe Fawkner, who had lived at the earlier settlement at Sullivan Bay. Upon his return to Port Phillip, Fawkner published his first newspaper, the Melbourne Advertiser, nine of the 17 issues handwritten, from January 1838. Fawkner’s renamed Port Phillip Patriot and Melbourne Advertiser was published in February1839, followed in 1840 by George Cavanagh’s Port Phillip Herald (now the Herald Sun); the Argus was begun in 1846 and the Age in 1854. Many early commercial printers began trading around the time of the gold rush, including Sands & Kenny (1853), Walker, May and Co. (1855) and Sands & McDougall (1862). The gold rush created enormous wealth, and the printing industry flourished in central Melbourne.
The spread of printing in the Australian colonies widened when newly established commercial and agricultural interests made the supply of paper, materials, trade and professional services possible for growth and self-sufficiency.
Paper that had not been ruined by seawater was often dampened with fresh water and pressed to improve the impression of inked metal type on paper. The first mass-produced Australian paper was produced by Samuel Ramsden’s mill (later Australian Paper Manufacturers, now Amcor Limited) at Southbank in Melbourne in 1868. Ink was first produced in Melbourne by Fred Wimble (later F.T. Wimble & Co.) in the same year.
Production of early Australian printing was nevertheless slow and laborious on wood and iron hand presses from well-worn type fonts. Colonial printers were plagued with difficulties caused by the harsh climate, and the acute shortage of paper, ink, type, tools and machinery imported from the United Kingdom and later from Europe and North America. Printers were also required to register newspapers and publications with colonial administrations in accordance with British government regulations.
The insatiable thirst for news and printed information from Britain and continental Europe in the Australian colonies encouraged the publication of local newspapers and the start-up of commercial printing offices in the principal towns. This provided work opportunities for journalists, compositors, printers and importers of British newspapers such as Gordon and Gotch.
Collins and his party re-established their settlement and printing press after their arrival at Hobart Town in 1803. On 20 February 1804, the first printed item in Van Diemen’s Land, entitled A General Order Fixing the Price of Pork and Other Comestibles, was set up and printed by Robert Walsh.
Andrew Bent started the Derwent Star and Van Diemen’s Land Intelligencia (1810–12), Hobart’s first newspaper, and later published the Hobart Town Gazette, and Southern Reporter. Bent imported a new iron Albion press in 1828 and sold the old wooden press to John Pascoe Fawkner, who used it to start his own newspaper, the Launceston Advertiser (1829–46). In 1831, Fawkner sold the Advertiser and the old press to Henry Darling. What became another famous Tasmanian masthead, the Hobart Mercury, first appeared on 5 July 1854.
William Shenton and Charles Macfaull formed a partnership to produce handwritten copies of their Western Australian Chronicle and Perth Gazette in February 1831. John Weavell imported a small iron Ruthven press and leased it to Shenton and Macfaull in Fremantle for two guineas a week rental. Together they published the first issue of the Fremantle Observer, Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal on 25 April 1831.
Robert Thomas and George Stevenson imported the first press, an iron Stanhope, into South Australia from England. This press reproduced one of South Australia’s earliest printed items, Governor (Sir) John Hindmarsh’s Proclamations of the Province, on 25 December 1836. On 18 June that year, Robert Thomas published South Australia’s first newspaper, the South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register.
Arthur Sidney Lyon and James Swan set up a small press and published Queensland’s first newspaper, the Moreton Bay Courier, on 20 June 1846. This newspaper continues today as the Brisbane Courier-Mail. Attempts to publish a rival to the Courier failed, but on 1 October 1872, the Telegraph ran its first edition, with 200 copies printed on a Wharfedale press.
The first half of the 20th century found the majority of the world’s metropolitan newspapers printed from hot metal, linotype-set pages and curved stereos on single colour rotary letterpress equipment with spot-colour and pre-printed tabloid and broadsheet colour inserts. Newspaper ROP (run of press) colour on rotary letterpress equipment was pioneered in the early 1950s by the Argus with financial support from the London Daily Mirror. The high cost of this world-first innovation was said to have caused the demise of this popular daily in January 1957.
High-volume colour magazines, journals and commercial printing were, for a time, printed rotogravure, but more recently have been printed on heat-set web-offset and multi-colour sheetfed offset equipment, with artwork produced on photo-composing terminals with text merged from writers’ terminals.
Today, the digital revolution and ‘desktop publishing’ have overwhelmed the 550 year world history of hand and machine composition and printing from ‘hot metal’ type. Personal computers now enable authors to keyboard their own manuscript for digital output in typeset form. This information can be manipulated to interface with not only high- and low-end compatible printing machines, but also with home, office and commercial instant printing devices.
The electronic transfer of digital material to the printing media was so rapid that by the end of the 1980s, hot metal typesetting and letterpress printing remained the realm of only a few small suburban and rural printers. At the end of the decade, the craft was almost a curiosity and most of the equipment became scrap metal or museum pieces. Printing in Australia today is inextricably connected to the electronic movement and incorporation of formatted text, images and multimedia.
Only the internet could claim a more universal method for mass communication than Gutenberg’s printing from movable type. During the 1990s, this incredible information superhighway grew to become a worldwide phenomenon. Existing lithographic, digital and as yet undiscovered developments will be central to the continuance of a viable Australian printing industry.
The speed of change for many large and medium Australian newspaper and journal publishers, caught in a new age electronic and digital web, was swift and unforgiving. Investment strategies were hurriedly refocused to reduce paper, machinery and distribution costs to enable both traditional paper and digital editions and to protect advertising and sales revenues.
The advent of self-publishing, e-book and social networking could further diminish the size and scope of this once-powerful medium.
REFs: T.A. Darragh, Printer and Newspaper Registrations in Victoria, 1838–1924 (1997); D. Hauser, Printers of the Streets and Lanes of Melbourne (1837–1975) (2006); H.A. Hunt, The Master Printers of Sydney (1976).