Hobart Town, 1816

Presentation to the THRA on 10 May 2016 to mark the bicentenary of the Hobart Town Gazette

It is a wonderful privilege for Sally and I to return to [Hobart] – on the eve of the 200th anniversary of Andrew Bent’s first newspaper publication – and to share with you a small part of Bent’s story, within the wider context of Hobart Town in 1816. Our main contribution to the history of this period is to inject more research and knowledge about the life, role and perspective of Andrew Bent.

Collins, C & Bloomfield, S, ‘Hobart Town, 1816: Andrew Bent and fermenting change’, paper presented to a meeting of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association, Hobart, 10 May 2016 [Soundcloud Audio]

C Collins & S Bloomfield, ‘Hobart Town, 1816: Andrew Bent and fermenting change’, Tasmanian Historical Research Association: Papers & Proceedings, vol 64, no. 1, April 2017, pp. 32-57 [Full Text PDF]

10 May 1816

Extract, p. 33:

..It is a fair guess that on this evening Andrew Bent was at the government printing press nearby – within earshot of the festivities at government house – preparing the first issue of his new newspaper, the Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter. With a break in the clouds, the evening would have been lit by a full moon, perhaps with the snow-capped Table Mountain glistening through the muted darkness.

Table mountain (Craig)
Table Mountain, and part of the Harbour and Town of Hobart in Van Diemen’s Land, about 1815′ by W.H.Craig (State Library of New South Wales)

11 May 1816

On this date, the first number of the Hobart Town Gazette was published by Andrew Bent. This is an unusual newspaper, with only one known copy in existence.

This issue is devoted to promoting, or at least salvaging, the reputation of Lieutenant Jeffreys – the captain of the colonial brig, Kangaroo. While Jeffreys’ self-promoting article was censored from publication in the Sydney Gazette just weeks before, the only other available outlet was Bent’s small hand-press in Van Diemens’ Land, under the authority of Jeffrieys’ friend, Lieutenant-Governor Thomas Davey.

It is possible that Jeffreys’ arrival in Van Diemens’ Land on 28 April 1816 created the impetus for the first permanent newspaper on the Island. Alternatively, Bent – with his appointment as Government Printer in late 1815 – might have been well advanced with his own plans to begin a newspaper, with Jeffreys’ arrival and his need to publish his story merely an opportune occasion for having a ‘dry run’ with Bent’s new masthead.

Extract, pp. 42-3

…Several features of this first number are worth noting. It was printed on a single sheet of laid paper rather than on the china paper used by the Gazette from June 1816. This suggests that only a few copies of the May issue were struck off and that it was not a regular issue. The masthead has an official look and is virtually identical with subsequent issues. It includes the royal arms, the words ‘published by authority’…

…And the only apparent explanation for the extraordinary numbering – ‘Volume the Third…number 158′ – is that this was intended to create the impression that Jeffreys’ story was accepted and published by a well-established official newspaper.

5. HTG May 11 1816 ML
Hobart Town Gazette, 11 May 1816 (Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

In the Mitchell Library copy of the May Gazette the title word ‘Town’ is awkwardly placed above the royal arms, suggesting that it might have been overprinted some time later. It was at about this time that Macquarie directed the full form ‘Hobart Town’ should always be used rather than ‘Hobart’. Occurrences of the word ‘Hobart’ elsewhere in the issue were not changed. The English newspapers which reprinted Jeffreys’ article all cited the ‘Hobart Gazette’, so any copies taken away by Jeffrey’s remained unaltered…

…Reports of two recent lavish balls and a brief note on the forward state of the new gaol were probably designed to portray Hobart Town as a well-established, respectable and thriving settlement…

1 June 1816

The first ‘official’ number of the Hobart Town Gazette (Volume the First, Number 1) was published by Bent three weeks later on 1 June 1816.

6. HTG NLA June 1 1816
Hobart Town Gazette, 1 June 1816, with handwritten annotations and signature by Andrew Bent (National Library of Australia)

Extract, p. 44

This issue was printed on one side only of a sheet of china paper. There was much less content, with the type spread out more thinly across the page than for the May Gazette. The June issue included one government notice, one advertisement, some shipping news and a brief court report. A curious anecdote about Frederick of Prussia, obviously copied from some other source, was used to fill up space. The social news had been exhausted in the May issue and things had quietened down with the departure of the ‘Kangaroo’ to Sydney.

…Paper was costly and of poor quality. Bent annotated his own copy of the 1 June Gazette at the top: ‘This chit china paper cost 2 [guineas] per ream!!!’.

Fermenting Change

Extract, p. 33.

As our title suggests, we argue that 1816 was for Hobart Town a year of fermenting change. Fermentation is a process or state of agitation or turbulent change, a catalyst. We commonly use fermentation to describe the process of turning hops into beer by adding into the mix living organisms such as yeast.

While the arrival of Lieutenant-Governor Arthur in 1824 is commonly recognised as the major turning point in the early history of Van Diemen’s Land, the significance of 1816 is often overshadowed. Sitting at a hinge point in British history as the Napoleonic wars ended, the fate of Hobart Town was finely balanced between anarchy and progress. Swaggering bushrangers reduced the colony to a lawless frontier while, at the same time, Hobart Town’s new status as a free port invited direct trade and immigration. It was during this final year of Davey’s short-lived regime that Bent initiated the first permanent newspaper in the colony. This new power of publicity – given to both unbridled violence and untapped prosperity – stoked the policy tensions playing out in London. In this way, we contend that Hobart Town in 1816 started to bubble and surge, culminating with the coming of Arthur in 1824…

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