BENT, ANDREW (1790–1851)
Andrew Bent arrived in Hobart in February 1812 under a life sentence for burglary. He worked for George Clark, publisher of the colony’s first newspaper, the Derwent Star and Van Diemen’s Land Intelligencer (1810–12), before replacing Clark as Government Printer in 1815. The following year, Bent began the Hobart Town Gazette, and Southern Reporter, and two years later he printed and published the first general work of literature issued in the Australian colonies: Thomas E. Wells’ Michael Howe: The Last and the Worst of the Bushrangers of Van Diemen’s Land. Bent also compiled and published the Van Diemen’s Land Pocket Almanack for the Year of Our Lord from 1824 to 1830.
The Gazette was produced under the authority of the government, and Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell exercised some control over the content of its articles. However, in 1824 Bent was allowed to buy the operation, making him the first private newspaper owner in Australia. He marked the occasion with an editorial headed ‘The Press Set Free’, but this freedom was to prove troublesome. The new Lieutenant-Governor, (Sir) George Arthur, took strong exception to a number of articles by Evan Henry Thomas and Robert Lathrop Murray published in the Gazette in 1824 and 1825, and a charge of libel was brought against Bent. He was convicted, fined and imprisoned, and government work was withdrawn.
A new rival paper pirated the Gazette’s title and, after a short period during which the two duplicated issue and volume numbers, Bent changed his title to Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser. He continued to fight Arthur’s attempts to control the press after being denied a licence in 1827, but again fell foul of the law and was imprisoned in 1828. News of the disallowal of Arthur’s Licensing Act 1827 by the British government encouraged Bent to revive the Colonial Times, but he sold it in 1830 to the like-minded Henry Melville. There were two further libel actions against Bent before he left for New South Wales in 1839.
After briefly publishing a weekly, Bent’s News and New South Wales Advertiser, in Sydney, he moved to the Macleay River, where a series of misfortunes reduced him to penury. Bent died in the Sydney Benevolent Asylum, leaving a large family. While the quality of his work as a printer and publisher was arguably his finest achievement, he is chiefly remembered for his struggles for the freedom of the press.
REF: J. Woodberry, Andrew Bent and the Freedom of the Press in Van Diemen’s Land (1972).