The principal leader-writer of the South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register (est. 1836), Rev. John Henry Barrow (1817–74), became the founding editor of the Adelaide Advertiser, launched on 12 July 1858. He and Henry Ayers, G.C. Hawker, J. Hannah Kearn and Captain William Scott promoted the South Australian Advertiser and Weekly Chronicle Company Limited. Shares were offered to the public at £25 each, with a capitalisation of £10,000, and a public company was formed with Barrow as managing director and holding editorial control.
The first six years were particularly difficult, but with the company’s first capital issue, a steam printing machine was purchased and the battle for readers begun against the Register and the afternoon Daily Telegraph (1862–66). In May 1864, Barrow moved to have the company dissolved, in order to operate as a private company. In August 1864, all the assets of the Advertiser were put up for sale. Barrow and seven others who had formed a syndicate eventually bought them, and Barrow was engaged as editor for a further five years.
By August 1874, the paper’s finances had improved, and a year later, a new two-feeder press was bought. New premises were built on the corner of King William and Waymouth Streets.
Barrow’s Congregational faith and the appointment of men like William Harcus, Dr James Jefferis and Jefferson Stow clearly distinguished the paper from the Register. Barrow also trained John Langdon Bonython when he joined the paper in 1864. Bonython had to wait until 1880 to buy into the paper, his first attempt having been refused following Barrow’s death. By 1879, Frederick Britten Burden was admitted to a partnership. Both head accountant Thomas King and editor Jefferson Stow cut their ties with the paper, leaving Bonython free to assume the editorship, which continued for 45 years.
Bonython reduced the price of the paper to one penny, and by 1886 his company’s stable of three papers (the Chronicle, the Advertiser and the Adelaide Express) had all doubled the circulation of their rivals. Larger and better advertisements appeared. The paper remained at eight pages during the 1880s. There were few headings and even editorials did not proclaim what they were about to discuss. Type was small and copy was crowded.
During World War I, anti-German journalism had no place in the Advertiser. Bonython’s wife was of German descent and his daughters were loyal friends of German families. Always loyal to the British empire and all it stood for, the paper consistently carried news from ‘home’.
Bonython sold the Adelaide Express in 1923 to James Edward Davidson, who established the afternoon tabloid, the News. Upon Davidson’s early death, Sir Keith Murdoch acquired it. In 1926, a syndicate that included W.L. Baillieu and W.S. Robinson, together with Murdoch, bought the West Australian. In 1929, Bonython sold the Advertiser for £1.25 million; two years later, the Register was subsumed into its old rival. Murdoch became chairman of Advertiser Newspapers Ltd, appointing Sir Lloyd Dumas as managing editor. Throughout the Depression, Dumas’s relationship with Labor Premier Lionel Hill was very close.
The Advertiser established radio station 5AD (in 1930), as well as the television station ADS7 (1959); the small job-printing office at the Advertiser developed into the Griffin Press. From 1942, news replaced advertisements on the front page. The Sunday Advertiser appeared from 1953 to 1955, when it was merged with News Limited’s Sunday Mail.
When Dumas retired as chairman of Advertiser Newspapers in 1967, the issued capital had risen to £12 million, circulation to 208,000 and staff numbers to 1500.
On News Limited’s acquisition of the Herald and Weekly Times in 1987, it also acquired the remaining shares of the Advertiser. Due to media ownership restrictions, the News was sold; its closure in 1992 meant the Advertiser became Adelaide’s only daily newspaper. The Advertiser adopted a tabloid format in 1997, and in 2013 the weekday edition had a circulation of 155,635, with 208,624 on Saturdays.
REFs: P. Lord, One Hundred and Twenty Five Years of the Advertiser (1983); E.J. Prest, Sir John Langdon Bonython (2011).