The Empire was established by Henry Parkes in December 1850, and for much of its life was probably Sydney's second major newspaper, after the more conservative Sydney Morning Herald. It was initially published once a week, but soon afterward appeared as a daily. A weekly version intended for country readers was published from October 1860, through until late 1869.
The Empire commenced publication right at the end of the penal colony era, when New South Wales was entering a period of significant political and social transformation. Under Parkes, the Empire was initially quite a radical publication and in its early period it continued the radical press tradition which briefly flourished in early to mid-19th century Sydney. However, from about the time Parkes entered politics in May 1854, he increasingly used the newspaper to promote his own political career, and it became essentially a mouthpiece of Parkes the politician.
Parkes's connection with the Empire ended abruptly in August 1858, when he became insolvent. The newspaper then ceased publication for some nine months until revived by printers Samuel Bennett and William Hanson in May 1859. Under the new proprietors, the Empire became a far more staid affair, and whilst it continued as a trenchant critic of the old order, it adopted what was in effect a mid-19th century liberal position, advocating moderate political and social reform rather than utopia.
In July 1867, Hanson was forced to relinquish his interest in the Empire by the newspaper's major creditor, after which Bennett became the sole proprietor. Whether Hanson had become a victim of Bennett's own publishing ambitions is unclear, but within weeks of Hanson's departure, Bennett moved to expand his newspaper stable by launching the Evening News, which subsequently became his flagship. From about this point the Empire became a second string publication, cut to four pages and pruned of much of its once formidable editorial and literary content.
By the time Bennett launched his weekly Australian Town and Country Journal in January 1870, the Empire's fate was probably sealed, although it lingered on until February 1875, when Bennett eventually shut it down during a compositors' strike. Presumably by this point the Empire was no longer profitable.
‘Throughout 1868 The Empire periodically published selected anecdotal pars from overseas sources. Pars were sometimes published with a source attribution. The editor's actual source for the pars is not always clear. The attributed international sources for pars in The Empire include:
Once a Week (London, England) (see for example, 'Editorial Troubles', 30 January 1868: 8)
Fun (London, England) (see for example, 'Mrs. Brown and the Coals', 7 March 1868: 2)
The Cleveland Morning Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) (see for example, 'Buried Alive and Shot as a Ghost', 7 March 1868: 3)
The Argosy (London) (see for example 'The Original Jest Book', 25 April 1868: 2)
A series of witty, satirical sketches involving fictional 'transactions' of 'the Great Australian Society'. The sketches are presented as if they were the transactions (reports) of a mid-19th century learned society, and they range from the natural sciences to literature and the arts. The 'transactions' involving the 'belle-lettres' [sic] include lengthy discussions of 'literary productions' by the fictional authors 'Timothy Scrubb' and his poet uncle 'Jeremiah Scrubb'.
This critical work by Charles Harpur on aesthetics is based around nine poems in his series 'The Beautiful' and two titled poem extensions.