The grazier and part-time journalist Edward Wilson bought the Melbourne Argus newspaper from William Kerr in 1848, transforming it from a struggling newspaper to a highly successful one in five years. In 1852 he increased the size and dropped the price from threepence to twopence. So successful was this strategy that by late 1853 the circulation had expanded to twenty thousand, attracting many readers in Melbourne and the surrounding gold-fields.
In 1856 Wilson appointed George Higinbotham as editor. Higinbotham's term lasted for just three years before an eight-year period of unstable editorship followed. This instability concluded when F. W. Haddon began his thirty-one year term as editor, initiating, according to Geoffrey Serle, the Argus's 'ninety year run of unmitigated Toryism'.
The Argus is best-known for this period because of the employment of several significant Australian writers. Marcus Clarke was employed as a theatre critic by the Argus, but he was sent to Tasmania in 1870 to research Australia's convict past, resulting in His Natural Life. Other contributors at this time included Rolf Boldrewood, Frederick Sinnett and Catherine Helen Spence who was the Adelaide correspondent. Such was the newspaper's reputation at this time, that in 1883 a visiting critic suggested that the Argus was 'the best daily paper published out of England'.
The Argus developed a strong reputation as a literary voice by using significant critics in its literary pages. In 1899 Walter Murdoch attracted attention with an article critical of Australian poets, initiating a strong debate with writers such as Edward Dyson, Rolf Boldrewood and A. G. Stephens. Murdoch stayed with the Argus, contributing the 'Books and Men' column for almost thirty years (1905-13 & 1919-38).
The Argus remained a significant forum for the literary community and writers such as John Shaw Neilson and Henry Handel Richardson valued the attention reviews and advertising provided for their work. Nettie Palmer was a regular contributor during the 1920s and 1930s, but she sometimes complained of low wages for freeleancers and editorial intervention in her work and others, arguing that the Argus (and the Age) 'omit and smother' promising writers.
By the 1930s, the number of book reviews had declined. In late 1937, with falling circulation, the Argus was recast with a new look. The changes spurred Walter Murdoch's decision to end his association with the newspaper in 1938, partly because he did not want his contributions surrounded by comic illustrations. The Argus continued to decline and was sold in the late 1940s, the new owners attempting to save it with what has been characterised as a 'wild last fling as an ultra-popular journal'.
Nevertheless, the Argus made a final contribution to Australian literature in its last decade by including a literary section as part of its weekend review. The Argus ceased operation dramatically on 19 January 1957, leaving many workers unemployed. While commentators acknowledged the poor quality of recent years, they commended the traditions upheld by the Argus and the training it had provided for generations of journalists.
'George Higinbotham’s extreme and uncompromising radical views and mesmerizing oratory have made him an iconic figure in Victoria’s colonial history – the darling of the liberals and the left. John Bennett has written a major re-assessment of this giant who was a dominating figure from the 1850s until his death in 1892.
'Higinbotham was successively a gold digger who found no gold; a barrister who found few briefs; a crusading editor of Melbourne’s Argus; an independent member of Parliament who opposed political parties and ferociously attacked the “squatter” dominated Legislative Council and the Colonial Office; an overtly democratic Attorney-General who advocated government without supply; and Chief Justice of Victoria when his political dreams all foundered.
'Yet he drew others to him as a Pied Piper. He was a mass of contradictions. Extraordinarily charitable to beggars, he treated his family miserably. A failure in achievement, he retained an enormous popularity which has endured for over a century.' (Publication summary)
Darvell, who has been living in Australia for thirty-five years, visits London, and accompanies his friend Sir George Lonchester to a night club. His encounter there with a young actress called Daisy Hemming and a man called Peter Ringard sets the scene for unexpected trouble.
Erle Cox's science-fiction novel adapted (apparently by Cox himself) as a comic strip, which ran simultaneously in at least three major Australian newspapers.
The strip appeared in the same form each week: three to four (most usually four) panels of black-and-white line drawings, each with their own small block of text beneath.