[Editor: An article about George Howe, publisher of Australia’s first newspaper. Published in The Moreton Bay Courier, 11 August 1860.]
First Australian newspaper.
The first newspaper in Australia was printed by Mr. George Howe. He was born at St. Kitts (West Indies), where his father and brother were printers. While yet a young man Mr. Howe went to London, where for some time he worked as a printer, and was employed in the office of the Times newspaper.
He arrived with his family in the colony of New South Wales, in the year 1800. Young as the settlement then was, and absorbed as were its inhabitants in pursuits far different from those of literature, the spirit of his art was still brisk within him, and to establish the press upon these antipodean shores was the object of his constant ambition.
Fortunately for him and the colony, Governor King, then at the head of the executive, readily fell in with Mr. Howe’s wishes, foreseeing the salutary effects which the press, wisely conducted, could not fail to exert upon the crude elements of which the population was composed. A small supply of materials was accordingly procured from London, and on the 5th March, 1803, being only fifteen years after the establishment of the colony, appeared the first number of the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser.
At the outset, and for many years afterwards, the Gazette was chiefly occupied with the official orders and notifications of government. This circumstance at once stamped it with a degree of respectability, and secured for it as wide a circulation as the country could support. But, although thus patronised by authority, the ingenious publisher had to contend with many difficulties, and was often driven to straits from which nothing but his own determined activity and perseverance could have extracted him.
In those early times, the intercourse between Sydney and London was extremely tardy and precarious. Arrivals, like angels’ visits, were ‘few and far between.’ A ship or two per annum was the only link which connected the mother country and her distant daughter; and then the passage was tedious beyond endurance, generally occupying the whole of the twelve-month. Nor was there anything like a regularly established trade or commerce. Now and then some solitary adventurer would bless the inhabitants with an ‘investment’ — i.e., a melange of ill-sorted goods banished from the lumber-rooms of London, for the express accommodation of the good folk at Botany Bay, for whom, in sooth, ‘anything was good enough!’
To none was this poverty-stricken market a cause of greater embarrassment than to our worthy father of types. His press, his letters, his ink, his paper, and all the appurtenances thereunto belonging, were ever and anon in woeful need of being recruited. But he had nothing but chance, and his dexterous contrivances to trust to. Many an anecdote we have heard from his son and successor, of the predicaments and hair-breadth escapes that long chequered his career, and of the adroitness with which he made the best of such up-and-down circumstances. He struggled bravely with them — and he mastered them.
For eighteen years he continued to tug at the oar, till the last enemy of our race dismissed him from his toils. But the evils and casualties here enumerated were not the only annoyances poor George Howe was exposed to. His paper, the idol of his heart, and the support of himself and family, was subjected to an absolute censorship; and the censors appointed by the Governor seem to have exercised their authority with great rigour and harshness. Proofs were sent back to him so corrected that frequently the editor could scarcely recognise his own sentences or detect a shadow of their original meaning. Paragraphs, essential to the proper understanding of the subjects he was treating, were mercilessly erased; and sometimes whole columns were annihilated at a blow. To the end of his life he used to speak with horror, and often with tears rolling down his cheeks, of the hardships he had endured in this way.
In the Gazette office there is a tablet of white marble, erected by filial affection, bearing the following inscription:—
“In memory of George Howe, a creole of St. Kitt’s, born 1766 — died May 11, 1821, aged LII. He introduced into Australia the art of printing; instituted the Sydney Gazette; and was the first government printer; besides which his charity knew no bounds.”
If we have read this man’s history aright, he is entitled not merely to a tablet in a printing office, but to a public memorial in the best church in Sydney, or in any other place where the young colony might delight to honor its benefactors.
He was succeeded by his son, who also is since dead. This young man did his work well. His first three years were comparatively calm. He had no competition to contend with, there being no press but his own in the colony. Politics did not run high, for there was but one newspaper, and that fettered with a censorship: free discussion was therefore unknown. The Gazette continued to be merely the vehicle of government orders, advertisements, extracts from English publications, and scraps of local intelligence.
In 1823, however, Sir Thomas Brisbane, who was then governor, informed Mr. Howe that the columns of the Gazette might be thrown open to public discussion of all matters of history concerning the colony and its government. Unused as the people had been to the exercise of this almost forgotten right, there were not wanting men of sense and spirit to embrace it. We look back to this stirring incident with delight, for it was, in truth, the first dawn of Australian freedom: and in little more than a year afterwards, the censorship was no more.
At the beginning of 1824, Mr. G. T. Howe published his journal in a much improved and enlarged shape, which was indeed equal to the usual dimensions of the English newspapers. From the same year the Sydney Gazette was edited by the Rev. Ralph Mansfield, then by the Rev. H. Carmichael, and afterwards conducted by Edward O’Shaughnessy and a person named Watt, and published three times a week.
— From Timperley’s History of Printing, 1839.
The Moreton Bay Courier (Brisbane, Qld.), 11 August 1860, p. 6
anon = soon, shortly (it may also mean: at another time, later; an archaic meaning is: at once, immediately)
appurtenances = instruments; apparatus; accessory objects; items which are a subordinate part of, or adjunct to, a greater item
aright = in the correct way; correctly, properly, rightly
creole = someone born in South America or the West Indies of ethnic European descent (usually Spanish); someone born in the Gulf States of the USA (i.e. those states bordering the Gulf of Mexico), of ethnic French or Spanish descent, who preserves their culture and language; someone who is of mixed African and European descent (usually French or Spanish), who speaks a creolized version of French or Spanish (a pidgin or linguistically-mixed form of the language) (“Creole” is usually, but not always, capitalized)
filial = of, or relating to, a son or daughter
the last enemy of our race = Death
strait = a difficult situation; a situation of distress, need, perplexity, or trouble (commonly used in plural, e.g. “the company was in dire straits”)
[Editor: Changed “Arrivals like” to “Arrivals, like” (added a comma); “their is a tablet” to “there is a tablet”. Removed italics from the word “From” in the last sentence.]
[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]