The Atlas, a weekly newspaper published in Sydney, was largely devoted to reporting and commenting on the political activities of the New South Wales colony, and advancing the political agenda of its editors. Detailed reports were included on the debates and decisions of the Legislative Council and opinion pieces criticised and satirised the main political protagonists. (The Atlas was particularly strident in its denunciation of Governor George Gipps's administration.) In the issue of 23 August 1845, the editors declared: 'All along it has been our aim to speak of public measures and of public men with an honest, fearless independence, and to show the people of this colony what a free press really is ... our independent tone may have given offence to some parties, but ... we shall have no cause to regret the line of conduct which we have adopted.' (1.39 (1845): 466)
The activities of the courts and the conflicts within the Anglican Church (largely over Puseyism) were covered extensively. Columns announcing 'Births, Deaths and Marriages' and shipping movements were regular features, together with occasional sections on theatricals and musical entertainments. Advertising columns were included and featured promotions for drapers, tailors, wine merchants, stock and station agencies, and other small businesses.
In an editorial column headed 'Literature', in the first issue of the Atlas, the editors declared their resolve 'to reserve one green and pleasant spot, where the turbulence, the virulence, the personality of politics shall not come; where the mind shall be able, without toil or labour, to turn from the converse of factious controversy, and saunter through the instructive paths of science, and over the widespread and flower-spangled fields of literature! Here we will elevate our readers above the vapours and the storms which deform and disturb the political hemisphere.' The column notes that, 'in looking about us for the materials to begin our course', little has yet been found of a suitable nature from Australian sources. Because of this, 'we must for the present content ourselves with looking to Europe for the materials for the main department of the Literary Atlas, and with proffering a quiet niche for the offerings of such of our colonial friends as may occasionally wander from the cold realms of utilitarianism to the warm regions of the emotional and the imaginative.'
Early in the Atlas's publication life, sales agents outside Sydney were established in Bathurst, Melbourne and London. Additional agents were soon found in Berrima, Wollongong, the Clarence River, Singleton, Maitland, Gundagai, Jerry's Plains, Parramatta, Windsor and Yass. In early 1846, an agent for Hobart and Launceston (the bookseller U. B. Barfoot) was added.
The Atlas ceased publication in December 1848. The proprietors announced the decision in the 16 December issue, stating: 'we now find it impossible to obtain from our subscribers that measure of justice so long withheld from us, the payment of their accounts, amounting now nearly to the sum of [pounds]1,000, much of it very long standing'. Rather than 'throw away our time and labour for such an unworthy return', they decided to 'withdraw the publication altogether' (4.212 (16 December 1848): 613) and 'suspend our labours at the end of the present year'. (4.214 (30 December 1848: 629)
Victor Crittenden in 'The Three Editors of The Atlas, a Sydney Journal 1844 - 1849', Margin 75 (July/August 2008): 4-7, lists the names and dates of the three editors of The Atlas, Richard Thompson, James Martin and Angus Mackay. Crittenden writes that although Richard Thompson was the official editor of the journal, Robert Lowe (q.v.) 'certainly influenced its policy in its early years and is believed to have written many of its editorials.' (5).
(Robert Lowe is acknowledged as the first editor of the Atlas in issue 1.27 (31 May 1845): 316.)