The Mercury first appeared on the morning of 5 July 1854, a four-page bi-weekly broadsheet published by emancipist John Davies and pastoralist Auber George Jones. Davies soon became the sole owner. The Davies family would guide the paper for a century.
Within six months, the paper became a tri-weekly and in February 1857 the title changed from Hobarton Mercury to the Hobart Town Mercury. A further name change in January 1858, to the Hobart Town Daily Mercury, celebrated the fact that it had become Tasmania’s first daily newspaper.
In August 1857, the Mercury took over the Colonial Times (est. 1825), one of the oldest journals in the colony. The Tasmanian Daily News (est. 1855) and the Courier (est. 1827) were absorbed in 1858 and 1859 respectively. The paper’s name was shortened to the Mercury in July 1860.
John Davies retired from the business in October 1871, handing over to his sons. He died less than a year later, on 11 June 1872, aged 58. His sons traded as ‘Davies Brothers’.
A weekly newspaper, the Tasmanian Mail (later the Illustrated Tasmanian Mail), was launched in 1877 and continued until 1935. In 1954, the debut of the Saturday Evening Mercury coincided with the centenary celebrations of the Mercury, and this weekend title continued until 1984 when it was superseded by the Sunday Tasmanian.
Expansion into suburban and regional areas began in 1966 with the acquisition of the Glenorchy Independent News (est. 1964) and its rebranding as Northside News to appear weekly as a tabloid liftout in copies of the Mercury delivered to Hobart’s northern suburbs. This was joined by Eastside News and Southside News in 1967. The three titles shared much copy and were occasionally rolled into a single Mercury Northside Southside Eastside until that arrangement became permanent in 1977, and was renamed the Mercury Suburban the following year. This was replaced by the broadsheet Community Express in 1985, published as part of the Mercury until 1994 when it was relaunched as a free tabloid delivered to 60,000 homes in Hobart and suburbs. In 1998, it was restored to its previous place in the Mercury until the final issue in early 1999.
From 1978–83, the Mercury published Northern Scene for the Launceston area, initially as an insert and then as a separate publication. From 1983–87, the Mercury partnered with the Examiner (Launceston) to produce the weekly Tasmanian Mail (est. 1978).
A fortnightly tabloid for the state’s west coast was launched in 1979. With a full-time journalist living in Queenstown, the Westerner moved to weekly publication, expanded to broadsheet and then returned to tabloid. It ceased publication in 1995. The 1980s saw the acquisition of the Derwent Valley Gazette (est. 1953) and its printing works in 1981, and Tasmanian Country (est. 1980) in 1983. Both titles continue as stand-alone newspapers.
The Mercury has been involved in a number of innovations. On 27 October 1919, copies were flown to Launceston in Tasmania’s first trial commercial air flight. In March 1928, the start of deliveries to Launceston by car enabled the Mercury to be in northern homes at breakfast.
The company had a role in the introduction of commercial radio and television to Tasmania. In December 1924 the Tasmanian Broadcasting Station (7ZL, later part of the ABC) was established at the Mercury office, while in 1960 the Mercury was part of Tasmanian Television Ltd, which secured a licence for what became TVT6.
Various printing technologies were used by the Mercury over the years, with four-colour printing introduced in 1993, heralding the conversion of all titles to tabloid. In 1941, the Mercury was one of the newspapers behind the establishment of Australian Newsprint Mills upriver from Hobart.
Ownership of the company started to shift from the Davies family in 1962 when the Herald and Weekly Times (HWT) purchased nearly 15 per cent of the shares in Davies Brothers Limited (DBL), increasing to 23 per cent in 1963 and 49 per cent in 1964. In 1988, DBL, through the HWT, became a wholly owned subsidiary of News Limited.
The Mercury was published from the same site in Macquarie St, Hobart, from 1854 to 2012. New offices were erected next to the original building in 1902, while a major reconstruction in 1939-40 saw the landmark art deco building completed in its present form. In 1953, a miniature replica of the Hobart office was built in Launceston to replace another destroyed by fire. In 2012, the newspaper relocated to Salamanca Square, Hobart, and the Macquarie Street premises were sold the next year. In 2013, the Mercury recorded a circulation of 37,419 Monday to Friday and 51,302 on Saturdays, while the Sunday Tasmanian’s circulation was 48,605.
The Mercury was founded on the principle that it was ‘the servant of one master … the public’. On the eve of the 160th anniversary in 2014, editor Matt Deighton said the Mercury remained unashamedly apolitical: ‘Our only political leaning is to make the government of the day accountable, regardless of left or right. We are respectful of all sides of politics but believe government should govern for all Tasmanians.’