[Editor: This untitled editorial was published in The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), 17 October 1854. It was the first editorial of The Age (printed in the first issue of that newspaper).]
Melbourne, Tuesday, 17 October 1854.
We present the public this day with the first number of a new political journal, and it will, doubtless, be expected that we should offer some detailed explanation of our design, and the place The Age is intended to occupy in the newspaper literature of the colony. The Press was one of the earliest public institutions that followed the settlement of Port Phillip. Throughout the brief eventful history of the province, it has exerted no inconsiderable influence on the course of public affairs, and in its present condition it is marked by features of maturity and vitality that enable it to contrast favorably with the political journalism of other colonies, and even of the mother country. But no one familiar with the newspaper literature of England will pretend that either of the existing Melbourne papers is entitled to take high rank as a member of the Fourth Estate; nor can any one conversant with the state of parties in Victoria deny that there is not only ample room, but imperative occasion, for an additional organ of public opinion — a journal decided in principle, but moderate and candid in spirit which, whilst advocating to the fullest extent compatible with order and the efficient administration of Government, the establishment of free institutions, and the concession of political rights to the people, shall yet recognise the importance of those great moral agencies by which the higher developments of society may be promoted, even more effectually than by the most perfect institutions of Government.
These few sentences will indicate the views that have led to the issue of The Age. We are desirous of producing in Melbourne, a newspaper that shall correspond in point of literary talent and general completeness and efficiency with the first-class journals of London. And we are anxious also to provide for a great and influential party, now wholly destitute of any representation in the Press, — an organ that shall record their proceedings, illustrate their principles, and lend a willing service to the great interests they seek to promote.
We enter upon our task with a deep sense of its importance and responsibility. The Newspaper has become the great teacher of the age. It exercises an influence more immediate, more extensive, and more powerful than that of the pulpit or the school. It directs public opinion. It gives permanent record to present history. It is the source on which society depends for reliable information on topics of current interest, and for elucidation of great principles of public polity. It is the safeguard of liberty against the excesses of power, and the support of Government against the caprices of popular excitement. It is the lever that moves society to simultaneous action, and gives real authority to the people. And its conductors fail to recognise the gravity of their functions, unless they summon to their aid the highest ability circumstances place at their command. It is to be regretted that the Press in this Colony has hitherto aimed far too low — that it has been content in many instances to become the vehicle of mere personal scurrility — has substituted venomous attacks upon the character and motives of public men, for the calm and temperate discussion of public principles, and in its treatment of important matters of social politics has seldom risen above the petty considerations of party. We aim at attaching to the journalism of Melbourne a higher character, and shall endeavour in our treatment of the social questions that will come under daily review, to discover in them higher aspects than those that affect the interest of faction.
A theory of journalism has been locally adopted which makes the newspaper too exclusively a medium for advertisements, and deals with everything pertaining to literary excellence as of secondary importance. Under the baneful influence of this theory — which, adopted by the leading journal of Victoria, has been tamely acquiesced in by others too timid to aim at an independent course of action — the masterly disquisitions, the elaborate reports, the talent, the promptness, the enterprise that distinguish the Daily Press of England have as yet been unknown in Melbourne. In truth, a “newspaper” in the sense in which the term may be applied to the Times, the Chronicle, and the Daily News, is a thing yet to be established here. And it may be considered we think that a period has been reached in the history of the Colony when this should be attempted. The feverish excitement engendered by the gold discoveries, and by the consequent rush of immigrants from the four quarters of the globe, has subsided. The new social system to which these heterogeneous elements have contributed is rapidly consolidating. The forms of an advanced civilization are developing themselves here as they have already done in older cities. Above all, a great political future under the regime of a responsible Government and popular institutions, is opening to us. All things point to the necessity of a public journal answering in its idea and in its resources, to the requirements of the times.
It will be obvious to every one thoughtful of the circumstances, that we have undertaken a great task under a complication of disadvantages. These have been chiefly of a material kind. The difficulty of obtaining a requisite supply of type, is one which the condition of the colonial market has rendered it impossible wholly to overcome, and we are reluctantly compelled therefore to wait for the arrival of several founts of letter, which are necessary to render the appearance of our journal consistent with its general pretensions. But we think ourselves entitled to plead indulgence for whatever imperfections may mark our earlier numbers — the more so as we have been induced almost at the eleventh hour by the strong representations made to us, so far to change our plans as to determine on a daily issue — an enterprise of greatly increased responsibility and demanding a corresponding increase of resources.
To this general statement of the principles on which The Age will be conducted, it may not be out of place to add some reference to the several departments of its management.
One of the most important of these will be its Reports of Public Proceedings. The Legislative Council, the Courts of Law, the Public Meeting, furnish abundant material for the pen of the ready writer. Full, accurate, and impartial records of these matters are at present a desideratum — burlesque and an awkward attempt at wit being too often substituted for the plain and truthful narrative of fact. Legal proceedings, the movements of the commercial world, and the meetings of public societies will receive in our columns an attention which has not hitherto been bestowed on them.
In mercantile matters no effort will be spared to make The Age a high authority. Shipping accommodation, Banking arrangements, the fluctuations of Markets, and the innumerable causes that affect the state of trade and public credit, will be found, we trust, to be competently dealt with, whilst commercial and maritime intelligence will be brought down to the latest possible moment prior to publication. Anxious to attach the highest character to this department of our journal, we have made our arrangements on a liberal and extensive scale, and feel justified in hoping that by a pursuance of this policy the requirements of the mercantile public will be fully met.
In the Political articles of The Age we stand already pledged to a courteous though decided tone. Our creed is not loosely held; we have a strong sense of popular rights; a strong conviction of the natural tendency of all governments to corruption and tyranny, unless closely watched by those who are the constitutional defenders of the public liberties. Our sympathies are all on the side of free elective institutions. But we have never learnt that the service of the people requires us to abandon fair and temperate arguments for the coarser weapons of personal invective.
Our columns will contain frequent contributions from the pens of able writers, of a character with which the newspaper reader of England is familiar, but which has hitherto been almost entirely excluded from the sphere of Melbourne journalism. Scientific and artistic writing has, hitherto, been scarcely attempted; but it will be our aim to create and foster a correct and refined appreciation of the beautiful, and a sensitive feeling of the importance of scientific research.
The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), 17 October 1854, p. 4 (columns 4-5)
caprice = a sudden, unpredictable, or whimsical change, such as of the weather or of someone’s mind; an impulsive and unpredictable change of attitude, behaviour, decision, or mood; a disposition or tendency of a person to change their mind without any apparent or adequate reason, as if on a whim or fancy, or to do things impulsively
desideratum = something which is desired or wanted (especially something which is considered to be essential or very much needed)
design = intention, plan; plot
disquisition = thorough investigation or research
eleventh hour = at the last moment, at the last minute (derived from a story told in Matthew 20, in the Bible, in which some workmen are hired at the 11th hour of a 12-hour working day); at a point in time (especially for an important occurrence) for which last-minute preparations may be too late
elucidation = explanation (to elucidate is to explain, to clarify, to make lucid, to make something easy to understand, to make something clear, or to throw light upon (especially regarding something which is difficult to understand, or obscure in meaning)
fount = a typographic font (can also refer to: a fountain; a source, an origin; a source of high quantity, e.g. someone who is a fount of knowledge)
Fourth Estate = newspapers, news media; the idea of the FE was an addition to the traditional European concept of the three estates of the realm (the three classes of social hierarchy), which were the clergy (the priests and the church) as the First Estate, the nobility (aristocrats) as the Second Estate, and the commoners (the peasants and bourgeoisie) as the Third Estate
See: 1) “Fourth Estate”, Wikipedia
2) “Estates of the realm”, Wikipedia
heterogeneous = consisting of dissimilar or diverse constituents, ingredients, or parts; consisting of many different kinds of people or types of things; a mixed or diverse group of people who are very different from each other; a group or collection which is diverse in character or content (technically, with regards to biology and pathology, “heterogenous” refers to a source or origin outside of an organism or body, i.e. something with a different or foreign origin)
hitherto = previously, before, up until now, up to now, up to this time, up to this point, heretofore
mother country = in an historical Australian context, Great Britain; may also refer to England specifically (may also be hyphenated, i.e. mother-country)
organ = a magazine, newsletter, or periodical; the official publication or periodical of a group or organisation
polity = regulations and rules laid down by an administration or government; the management of public affairs; can also refer to: a body politic, a political entity, a political unit; a city, nation, society, or state (as a political unit, including the administration and government); the governing body or government of a country, state, region, city, shire, church, corporation, social organisation, or other organisation; an organised body, community, or unit
Port Phillip = a reference to Melbourne (located on Port Phillip Bay, Victoria); a reference to Melbourne and the surrounding area; Port Phillip Bay (a bay located on the southern coast of Victoria; the cities of Geelong and Melbourne are situated on its shores); the Port Phillip District (essentially what is now the state of Victoria; at first it was a roughly-defined area, however, its area was later defined, although its borders were changed over time)
Press = the print-based media, especially newspapers (can be spelt with or without a capital letter: Press, press)
scurrility = scurrilous behaviour (in action or speech); the condition or quality of being scurrilous (being coarse, foul-mouthed, gross, obscene, or vulgar; being abusive or evil; being defamatory or slanderous, spreading accusations or rumours which are false, unfair, or untrue, with the intention of damaging the reputation of a person or group)
[Editor: Changed “Port Philip” to “Port Phillip”“higheste” to “highest”.]