The name behind the Colonial Observer, but absent from the publication details, is that of John Dunmore Lang (q.v.) Presbyterian minister, politician, educationist, poet and journalist ' - Gentlemen you are all well aware that the Colonial Observer Newspaper was established by me two years ago ... despite the incongruity of a clergyman's having any connection with the publish press ... I have no hesitation whatever in openly avowing such a connection ...' (John Dunmore Lang, 'Exeunt Omnes : To the Friends and Supporters of the Colonial Observer', The Colonial Observer, 30 September, 1843.) Lang was very aware of the power of the press '... in common with many enlightened ministers of religion of all communions in the Mother-Country, and ... the United States, I am decidedly of opinion, that ... the press is an engine of by far too great influence and moral power for the clergy of any country to leave entirely neglected ...' (ibid.). The Colonial Observer was one of three Sydney papers, including the Colonist (1835 - 1840) and the Press (1851) started by Lang.
Lang's editorial of 30 September, 1843, announced the discontinuation of the paper and the sale of the copyright (first mentioned 26 October, 1842 by J. H. Baillie). A 'continuation' of the Colonial Observer, the Sydney Record, was advertised in preceding issues and in the 30 September, 1843, issue.
However the Sydney Record failed to carry the torch dropped by the Colonial Observer. In an unattributed editorial (possibly written by Lang) the reasons for the Colonial Observer's re-emergence are detailed; 'Nay, no sooner had we laid aside our own pen in connection with the editorial department of the Journal than there arose ... a worthless paper called the Sydney Record ...' ('Ourselves', The Colonial Observer, 4 April, 1844) Recent attacks on Lang by 'Horatius' in the Herald and Australian newspapers also contributed to the revival of the Colonial Observer.
The Colonial Observer continued to the end of 1844 when in the final issue of 26 December, 1844, it reported its own demise: 'Although it is not usual for people who depart this life to record their own dissolution, we beg to inform our readers that the Colonial Observer died this morning at six o'clock ... ' ('The Colonial Observer', The Colonial Observer, 26 December, 1844)
The final issue is typical of the newspaper during its life. It included the editorial (in this final issue advocating the separation of Port Phillip (Victoria) from New South Wales); an anti James Macarthur (q.v.) article on the political representation of Camden, New South Wales; 'A pettion [sic.] to the Queen for the Separation of Port Phillip'; an article on 'Puseyism and Popery', reprinted from the Morning Chronicle, 14 August ; an article from the Times (London) about National education; articles from various overseas papers on the Presbyterian Church; articles on foreign politics; extracts from the Port Phillip papers; a report on the latest sitting of the New South Wales Legislative Council (18 December, 1844); local news items and a satiric column on local politics: 'The Last New Farce. - The second act of the new farce, called Tom in Trouble; or, Who threw the Tumbler?' Also included are current prices of goods in New South Wales and advertisements and notices, including the notice of the cessation of the Observer and an advertisement for a new paper the Sentinel.
Most issues of the Observer printed at least one creative piece. The last issue was no exception and contains The Union Bank Columns, a poem first published in the Port Phillip Gazette. The Observer published poetry by Australian writers such as James Brotherston Laughton (q.v.) and the penultimate issue contains a poem that may have been written by Lang himself, On the Death of a Child. However the majority of works published during the life of the newspaper were poems by Scottish, English, American or Irish writers - predominately Presbyterian - and reprinted (though not always attributed either to author or source) from overseas annuals, magazines, newspapers and hymnals. The poems are about subjects that would interest the Colonial Observer's readers - religious faith, exile and memories of 'home'.
D. W. A. Baker in his biography of Lang writes that Lang used his newspapers, the Colonist, the Colonial Observer and the Press, 'to protect himself and [his] Australian College from newspaper attacks [from the 'convict and emancipist press'] and to improve colonial morality.' (D. W. A. Baker, 'Lang, John Dunmore (1799 - 1878)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, Melbourne University Press, 1967, pp 76-83). But Lang also used the pages of his papers, including the Colonial Observer, to argue for free immigration, the separation of Victoria from New South Wales, responsible and democratic government, land reform and a National education. D. W. Baker comments that 'his was undoubtedly one of the most powerful voices extolling the virtues of liberal and secular values ... His writings, though repetitious and egotistical, are nevertheless always vigorous and informative and often tinged with powerful sarcasm ... ' (ibid.) Lang's voice is certainly present in each issue of the Colonial Observer.
In 1842 the Attorney General charged Edward Alcock, printer and publisher of the Colonial Observer newspaper, with publishing a libel against the administration of justice in the colony. The libel appeared in an article 'The Late Executions for Piracy' published in the Colonial Observer (30 November, 1842): 641.
The case was first tried in January 1843 and the defendant was found guilty of publishing without malice or seditious intent. A second trial followed and took place in April 1843 where the defendant was again found guilty but without any seditious intention.
Parts of the charges were whether the defendant (Edward Alcock) was actually the printer and publisher of the Colonial Observer. During the trials, the Observer was careful to keep the name of John Dunmore Lang separate from the ownership or publishing functions of the newspaper.
The trials were reported in the Sydney newspapers of the time, including the Colonial Observer, in articles and letters.
Not all columns and correspondence on the two trials are indexed separately in AustLit.
Not all columns and correspondence on the two trials either in the Colonial Observer or in other newspapers are indexed separately in AustLit.
Weekly on a Thursday to 20 January, 1842, then every Wednesday.
Twice weekly on Wednesday and Saturday from 13 July, 1842.
Weekly on a Thursday from 4 April, 1844.
Terms of subscription: Thursday, 23 December 1841: 'Six shillings and sixpence per quarter, in Sydney - and eight shillings in the country...'
Terms of subscription: [Wednesday], 3 August, 1842: '10s. per quarter if paid in advance; if not paid in advance 12s. will be charged.'
Terms of subcription: Thursday 4 April, 1844: 'Yearly subscription (in advance) 1pound 6 s. Half-yearly, (in advance) 13 s. Quarterly (in advance) 6s. 6 d. Yearly subscription (on credit) 1pound 8 s. Half-yearly (on credit) 14 s. Quarterly (on credit) 7s'