The 2018 conference of the Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand – Marginalia: Bibliography at the Margins – highlighted handwritten annotations as a fertile field of study. Early Australian newspapers are full of anonymous, cryptic and metaphorical allusions so shifting our research focus to the margins enriches our understanding of those lives and times. A handwritten marginal key by Andrew Bent even allows us to identify individuals in a satirical account of a meeting to congratulate Governor Arthur on the ‘success’ of the Black Line, which appeared in Henry Melville’s Colonial Times in January 1831. I had planned to speak on Bent’s marginalia at the BSANZ conference, but unfortunately had to withdraw. This blog presents some of the material I had hoped to include.

Bent was a newspaper printer in Van Diemen’s Land for over twenty years. Newspaper volumes once owned by him are rich with markings in his own hand and often tell ‘the story behind the story’. They give fascinating glimpses into the way he conducted his newspapers, who his writers were, and the things which interested him.

Apart from surviving copies of his own newspapers – the Hobart Town Gazette and the Colonial Times – which Bent kept for his files (more details below), some volumes of other contemporary newspapers which once belonged to Bent contain markings in his hand. These include

  • Tasmanian and Port Dalrymple Advertiser for 1825 (George Terry Howe’s short-lived Launceston newspaper. This is on Trove)
  • Fawkner’s Launceston Advertiser for 1829 (in British Library)
  • The official Ross/Howe Hobart Town Gazette for 1825 (in private collection) and 1826 (National Library of Australia)
  • Murray’s Austral-Asiatic Review April 1828 (Dixson Collection, State Library of NSW)
  • Colonial Times 1830 (part) and 1831 published by Henry Melville (Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office)
1826 & 1827 bindings
Hobart Town Gazette 1826 (Ross/Howe) and 1827 (Ross). Bent’s volumes. NLA N F649. Only the 1826 volume is marked up.

The markings in the Tasmanian, Launceston Advertiser and official Gazette volumes are mostly just routine shipping announcements and government notices marked up for reprinting in his own papers. One note of greater significance identifies  R. L. Murray as Hobart correspondent for the Tasmanian at the very time he was fomenting trouble by his ‘Colonist’ letters in Bent’s Gazette.

Tasmanian 23 Mar 1825 RLM
Tasmanian and Port Dalrymple Advertiser 23 Mar 1825 (on Trove)

A supportive wife

In the official Gazette for 1826 there is a little gem, written while Bent was serving a six-month prison term for libels on the local administration. This reveals much about how his newspaper was conducted at that time.

Mrs Bent
HTG (Ross/Howe) 6 May 1826 NLA   ‘Set the long order in the small Burgeois, which may be tied up, and given to Mrs Bent to be locked[?] up, in case it is wanted for the Almanack.’ (click to enlarge)

R. L. Murray, who was by then Bent’s editor, was obviously too busy with political grandstanding and personal vendettas to concern himself with such mundane matters as government notices and advertising. In this single line we have a picture of Bent in prison, perusing the government paper, selecting material for inclusion in his own, looking ahead to the 1827 Almanack, and leaving the management of the printing office in the capable hands of his wife, Mary whose name, for some weeks around this time, appeared on the Colonial Times as its printer.

Printer/editor at work: Murray’s Review

AAR tp 2
Murray’s Austral-Asiatic Review Apr. 1828 (Bent’s copy). Dixson Library, State Library of NSW 82/160

Murray began his bimonthly Review in February 1828. In March Bent commenced his monthly Colonial Advocate.  Both were trying to evade the newspaper licencing act of 1827. This presentation copy of Murray’s Review soon became a working tool for Bent rather than a cherished addition to his library. It is extensively marked up by him, giving a wonderful insight into his journalistic practice. All newspapers at this time made frequent extracts from contemporaries, but Bent, largely self-educated and often unable to find suitable editors, relied more heavily on cut and paste techniques than most. Filling up each 50-page issue of the Advocate was a real challenge and Murray’s long lucubrations provided many pages of handy minimal-effort copy.

Bent was at this time assisted by a convict writer, F. E. D. Browne. He later stated that Browne had been editor of the Advocate and equally categorically, on another occasion, declared that he wasn’t – that responsibility devolving upon the proprietor, Mr. Bent. Most of the markings are in Bent’s hand although a couple look like Browne’s. They demonstrate that while Bent may have been no great scholar, he was by no means an illiterate man unable to understand the meaning of what he printed, as his defence counsel Gellibrand opined in 1826. He is obviously reading these long articles, selecting from them, writing comments, although not very sophisticated ones, in the margin – ‘this is excellent and will come in admirably!’ – and making judicious decisions about what to leave out. As a tool in Murray’s hands, Bent had already been gaoled for libels against the government. The possibility of being brought up for judgment for another two (one of which was merely copied from the Australian newspaper) was still hanging over his head. He wisely omitted Murray’s comments on magistrate Humphrey (shown below) and a longer attack on W. H. Hamilton later in the same article. The comments on p. 131, which I have not been able completely to decipher, were probably not intended for publication. They reflect the constant problem Bent faced with subscribers who were dilatory in paying their accounts.

LG court & Humphrey

Bent was not without vanity, and cannily decided NOT to reprint Murray’s favourable remarks about the first issue of the Advocate until he also had in hand anticipated reviews from Sydney.

AAR rev of CA

Browne was soon in deep trouble for assisting Bent with the Advocate, and was removed from Hobart. The trigger, as identified by Bent’s note in the NLA volume of the Advocate, was an article in the May issue headed ‘Bribery.’ Bent, or possibly some later owner, obviously had second thoughts about what has been written here.

Col Adv Bribery 2
Colonial Advocate May 1828, p. 132. National Library of Australia N F1181 (on Trove)

‘Alluding to Mr. Humphrey, a Magistrate, upon which the author, Browne, a crown prisoner, was sent to Oyster Bay.’

Bent’s bound volumes of his own newspapers

CT 1828 binding
Bent’s Colonial Times  1828 (TAHO) in original binding

Bent sold his set of the Hobart Town Gazette and Colonial Times to the Van Diemen’s Land government in 1849. Some of these fifteen volumes (1829 was not included) have since become scattered but most survive – 1816-18 are in the National Library of Australia;  1819, 1821-23, 1825-6, 1828 and 1830-31 remain in Hobart and 1824 is in the Mitchell Library. The annotated issues of the Gazette for 1825 and Colonial Times for 1825-6 and 1828 can be viewed on Trove. A note in Bent’s hand in the 1828 volume can be seen on the microfilm version, but is not viewable on Trove

CT1828 mem
Note on flyleaf of Bent’s Colonial Times volume for 1828 (TAHO)

The first seven years of the Gazette are quite heavily annotated but few of the markings are in Bent’s hand. Most are probably by James Erskine Calder. Bent’s own extensive annotations in the volumes for 1824 onwards may have been made at various times, and possibly over many years.

Bent’s note on the first official issue of his Gazette about the high cost of printing paper was probably written in Sydney in 1849 after he had agreed to sell his volumes. He has signed his name, also in blue ink, at the foot of the page.

HTG 1st issue 1816 NLA (2)
Hobart Town Gazette 1 June 1816 (Bent’s volume) NLA N F649

One of the most significant annotations is not in Bent’s hand at all, but in that of the clerk of the Supreme Court, William Sorell junior. This Gazette of 8 October 1824, containing the article which used the mysterious  but obviously offensive phrase ‘Gideonite of tyranny,’ was produced as evidence at Bent’s libel trial on 15 April 1826.

Hobart Town Gazette 8 Oct. 1824 (Bent’s volume) Mitchell Library F351.73/1

Mark-ups for reprinting

Bent was a great re-cycler and many of the scribbles are obviously printer’s mark-ups.

The leading article of 1 July 1825 (shown below, left) was written at a time of crisis when emotions were obviously running high. Bent had just been sacked from his position as Government Printer and the new official Gazette appeared emblazoned with Bent’s title and numbering!  Probably already aware that two informations for criminal libel were about to be filed in the Supreme Court, Bent altered what his then editor, E. H. Thomas, had written. They quarreled and in the confusion the article ended up, in Morris Miller’s words, ‘a hotchpotch of violence and mollification.’ Bent sacked Thomas, who then denied all responsibility for what was printed. In 1837 Bent rather foolishly re-agitated his claim to the copyright of the Gazette. He reprinted this article exactly as marked up on the original, divesting it of much incendiary and nonsensical drivel.

BN 17 Mar 1837
Bent’s News 17 March 1837 (Trove)
HTG 1 Jul 1825
Hobart Town Gazette 1 July 1825 (Bent’s volume) TAHO view on Trove

Bent’s writers

From other marginalia we learn that letters on agricultural topics signed ‘Clod-Hopper’ and ‘Rusticus’ (1824) were written by one G. R. (probably Gilbert Robertson) and that a much quoted article on the Tasmanian Aborigines was, as Francis Browne also tells us, written by former Attorney-General J. T. Gellibrand. This article also has a few printer’s mark-ups and was re-used at least twice by Bent.

Colonial Times 1 Dec. 1826 (Bent’s volume) TAHO. View entire article on Trove

The leading article in the first issue of the Colonial Times is helpfully annotated ‘All these leading articles were written by Mr. R. L. Murray.’

RLM leading articles
Colonial Times 19 Aug 1825 (Bent’s volume) TAHO (view on Trove)

We also learn that Bent wrote a letter to his own paper in 1824 (signed, rather transparently, A. B. – OPYT) and several under the pen-name Observer to the Colonial Times after he sold that paper to Henry Melville in 1830. He also seems to have contributed a few short articles and news items to the Times after he relinquished proprietorship. He seemed to want to indicate (for his family or perhaps posterity) that he had written them although they are of no great importance. It was a Eureka moment, however, when I found evidence of his connection with the Public Ledger and its late editor in the Colonial Times of 7 Jan. 1831. (read more)

IMG_0910 (3)


A large number of poems have  been marked, presumably by Bent himself, with crosses in black ink, although I have not been able to ascertain if they were ever reprinted. Perhaps he contemplated publishing an anthology which never eventuated.  A couple have slight changes to the words made in his pen-writing, possibly during his Sydney years. Some have themes of marriage and family life. One is entitled ‘To Mary.’

Colonial Times 23 July 1830 (Bent’s volume TAHO)

Things that mattered

In the issues spanning 1824-1831 whole swathes of text have been underlined, mostly in red ink. While some relate directly to Bent’s own affairs, others are connected with people he knew, or events that he was interested in or had strong feelings about. While it is just possible that these markings were made by some later user of the newspapers, my feeling is that they were Bent’s own.  It is not clear whether they were made at the time the marked articles first appeared or in moments of later reflection. Nor is it at all clear whether he ever intended them to be read by others. Either way they provide important clues to his thinking. These are just two examples:

Hobart Town Gazette 30 Apr. 1824. On 11 June 1824 George Meredith and others were found guilty of criminal libel on R. L. Murray for this advertisement.
Glorious 23 May
Colonial Times 15 June 1831. Section from Melville’s report of the public meeting which became known as the ‘glorious 23rd of May’

Help for the modern reader

In January 1831 Melville’s Colonial Times carried an anonymous satirical account of a public meeting held at the metaphorical Bolliboo, capital of Mallicollowo. This obviously referenced the Hobart meeting held to congratulate Arthur on the ‘success’ of the Black Line. Bent has written a marginal key to the participants, identifying, among other well known identities, R. L. Murray (Korrie-hu-hu), Joseph Hone (Boo Boo the learned) and Anthony Fenn Kemp (the veteran chief of the Torri-hue tribe)

Colonial Times 21 Jan 1831. (Bent’s volume) TAHO  Read article on Trove


The newspaper volumes Bent took with him to New South Wales had experienced, like their owner, a life of vicissitudes. In asserting that they were quite complete and in perfect preservation, he was being a little loose with the truth. The early volumes in particular are battered, stained and torn (sometimes at critical places). From 1824 they had been much scribbled upon, not to mention at least one mishap with a cup of tea or coffee.

Hobart Town Gazette 17 Dec. 1824 (Bent’s volume) Mitchell Library


Bent has also wielded the scissors with some enthusiasm, and in some cases torn items out. The excised items can mostly be identified by consulting the relevant issue on Trove. Most of pages 3-4 of the first issue of the 1828 Colonial Times has been cut off (it is not evident from Trove that these pages ever existed) and the entire second issue is completely missing (a loose photostat has been inserted later). These cover the ongoing saga of trying to obtain a licence for the Colonial Times.

Many of the clipped items were doubtless intended for Bent’s scrapbooks. In 1844, according to his Appeal pamphlet, he still had in his possession four large scrapbooks detailing his whole journalistic career. Unfortunately these appear not to have survived. The cuttings include poems (‘Life’s Arithmetic’ torn out from the 1825 volume obviously resonated), advertisements for the Colonial Advocate, and an argumentative exchange about letters written by Bent and which Melville quibbled about publishing in the Colonial Times.

Two items have been clipped from the issue for 30 November 1831 – a long account of the London performance of Van Diemen’s Land (featuring bush-ranger Michael Howe in its cast of characters) and an amusing little letter signed ‘Bow Wow.’

Bow Wow

bow wow 2

The most significant mutilation of all occurs in the Hobart Town Gazette for 7 September 1816. This provides compelling evidence of Bent’s desire to literally blot out his convict past. The fifth name in the list of pardons, as can be seen by referring to the same issue on Trove, was his own.

Conditional pardon 7 Sep 1816 AB copy
Hobart Town Gazette 7 Sep 1816 (Bent’s copy) NLA N F649

I have been unable so far to locate Bent’s own volumes of the Colonial Times for 1827 (containing the famous ‘mourning’ issue) and 1829 (which includes Henry Savery’s ‘Hermit’ sketches). I do wonder what might be found scribbled on these if they ever turn up!


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