The Melbourne Punch (MP) was a quarto-sized, originally eight-page sixpenny weekly first issued on 2 August 1855. It became one of the most successful colonial imitations of the London Punch (est. 1841).
MP was started by Edgar Ray, publisher of the Auction Mart Advertiser, and Frederick Sinnett, a London journalist and MP’s first editor. MP copied the format and presentation of the London Punch, but had no direct link with it. However, the unpaid contributor (Sir) William à Beckett, later Chief Justice of New South Wales, was the elder brother of Gilbert à Beckett of the London Punch. Sinnett gathered a circle of talented contributors, including (Sir) Charles Gavan Duffy, R.H. Horne, Henry Kendall, (Sir) Archibald Michie and Charles Whitehead.
Sinnett was succeeded as editor by James Smith (1857–63) and Charles Bright (1863–66). Despite its similarities to the London Punch, MP did not begin as a radical paper, but represented the interests of the independent citizen and played an important role in the development of Australian political caricature. After the first issue, Nicholas Chevalier took over as illustrator. Many of the early cartoons maintained a local focus, frequently aimed at local politicians, the terrible state of Melbourne’s streets and drains, and the Melbourne larrikin. Literary contributions were a consistent feature in the first decades, along with often excoriating editorials on Victorian politics.
Under the full control of long-serving proprietor Alexander McKinley from 1881, MP commenced a sustained shift in content following the incorporation of the Melbourne Bulletin (also owned by McKinley) in 1886. Cartoons remained, but poetry and serialised stories declined to make room for expansive columns on theatre, society balls and the local undertakings of the well-connected. Editorially, MP displayed consistent opposition to unions and campaigns for the female franchise, but welcomed the collective military endeavours at Gallipoli.
McKinley’s departure in 1920 heralded a new masthead featuring Mr Punch’s Australian son dressed as a stockman, and the continued slow decline of a journal by now reflecting the spirit of changed times with regular features on ‘Modern Transport’ and photography. The sting of the cartoonist’s pen and the columnist’s prose long since lost, MP was incorporated in Table Talk in 1925.
REFs: M.L. Shannon, Dickens, Reynolds, and Mayhew on Wellington Street (2015); S. Sleight, Young People and the Shaping of Public Space in Melbourne, 1870–1914 (2013).
MARY L. SHANNON and SIMON SLEIGHT