Richard Jones (1816–92), a Sydney compositor, and Thomas William Tucker (1815–95), a Sydney reporter, launched the Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser on 7 January 1843. The timing was perfect: it was shortly before a general election that provided the advertising and printing revenue that helped the weekly Mercury survive its first year, whereas its predecessor, the Hunter River Gazette (1841–42), had closed after only six months.
In 1848, the Mercury, a bi-weekly since 1846, was described by Governor Sir Charles FitzRoy as one of the colony’s leading newspapers. Tucker, who left the partnership in March 1846, returned as a reporter in 1851. In 1854, Jones left Maitland because of illness, selling the Mercury to three employees—Tucker, Richard Cracknell and Alexander Falls—for £6000, three times its prevailing annual profit. They issued the paper tri-weekly from 1856. It had become the pre-eminent paper outside Sydney, reflecting Maitland’s role as the major commercial centre in northern New South Wales.
In 1860, the three proprietors valued the business at nearly £13,000, comprising £3735 for copyright (the average annual profit over the previous three years), £5662 for good book debts and £3394 for plant and stock. Falls became sole proprietor in 1862, although Tucker rejoined as a partner from 1864 to 1868. Falls died in 1870 and his widow Margaret, who assumed ownership, died in 1873. Tucker and two other Mercury employees, John Thompson and Christopher Eipper, bought the newspaper—described in advertisements as the ‘largest and most valuable of the New South Wales provincial newspapers’—at auction in 1874 for £10,150. Tucker was the principal until his death in 1895. The paper became a daily in January 1894, 27 years after the faster-growing Newcastle had spawned its first daily.
In October 1924, the proprietorship was incorporated through the Maitland Mercury Newspaper and Printing Co Ltd. In 1960, Sir Frank Packer’s Consolidated Press Holdings acquired a majority interest in the Mercury. It became the flagship of the Packer family’s expanding regional newspaper chain, named Regional Publishers Pty Ltd in 1979. A central figure from 1967 to 1997 was Daniel William Austin, editor of the Mercury between 1967 and 1974. He became general manager in 1974 and then was the chief executive of Regional Publishers. When Rural Press Limited acquired the group in 1987, Austin became the general manager and editor-in-chief of Rural Press’s regional titles throughout Australia. Fairfax Media now owns Rural Press.
The Mercury, which changed from afternoon to morning publication in 1989, has had a series of long-serving, sometimes distinguished editors: Richard Jones (1843–54), Thomas Thompson Ward (1862–74), Christopher Eipper (1874–1905), Michael Francis (Frank) Dixon (1930–33), Thomas Manning Woodlands (1937–49) and the first female editor, Lynette Farrelly (1981–89). Dixon became the first news editor of the ABC in 1936 and developed its independent news service. By 2010, the Mercury’s circulation had fallen to 4230, which was 3600 fewer than in 1980, as Newcastle’s urban sprawl swallowed Maitland.
REFs: R. Kirkpatrick, Country Conscience (2000); Maitland Mercury, 18 August 1983.