Printing presses

A number of presses used by Bent or passing through his hands have now been identified. Some of the information is sketchy or confusing, and the list is possibly incomplete. A few documents survive, but most information comes from newspaper announcements or advertisements. Unfortunately Bent was often rather vague or inconsistent about details, so the evidence prior to 1830 is messy, and it is difficult to work out exactly how many presses Bent had, and of what make or size, during the expansionary period 1823-1830.


The only press then in the colony was a wooden hand press which had been brought out at first settlement by Lieutenant Governor Collins and was later described by Bent as very small, or foolscap size. It had been purchased probably second hand from London printer William Bensley. Bent returned this press to the government after he was sacked as Government Printer in 1825.

1821 New equipment ordered

In 1821 Governor Sorell commissioned William Kermode to bring out a supply of type and a printing press for the Gazette. Bent, after what appears to have been a bit of dithering, requested a demy size press, obviously a wooden one for which he allowed £30 in his costing, and asked that it be purchased from highly regarded printer’s joiner James Arding. (TAHO CSO1/1/198/4725 f.287-297).

Requisition for press etc 1821 Rules CSO 1 1 198 4725
Bent’s private instructions (one of two) for Kermode TAHO CSO1/1/198 4725. Note the imprint.


The best available information suggests the following presses passed into Bent’s possession, or through his hands:

Common wooden press (Fawkner’s). Museums Victoria. Photo Jon Augier.

1823 May: A NEW PATENT PRESS, per Thalia, size and make unspecified, for the use of the Hobart Town Gazette.

1823 July: At least one more press, probably the DEMY SIZE WOODEN PRESS requested in 1821, per Berwick. Arrived with Kermode and the new type, and an assortment of book binding tools and presses. In 1825 Bent offered for sale a demy sized press, nearly new.

In November 1823 Bent stated that the ‘new large press’ now used for printing the Gazette was DOUBLE CROWN SIZE. It is not clear whether this was the press received per Thalia or perhaps a third press. In July Bent, excitedly announcing the arrival of the new Caslon type, did not mention that another press had arrived, but Robert Howe knew all about it. Howe’s somewhat envious comment (Sydney Gazette 10 July 1823) probably referred to Bent’s now having three presses altogether, including the old government press, but could mean he had acquired three new ones. ‘By the Berwick our typographical ally in the sister Colony has met with a gratifying supply of type, and other printing materials. No less than three presses to our ONE!!!’

Columbian press ca 1822 St Brides
Columbian Press ca 1822. St. Bride’s Printing Museum, London.

1824 Oct: A COLUMBIAN IRON PRESS  per Deveron. Probably ROYAL SIZE. Possibly another unspecified smaller press as well.

Bent proudly described his new acquisition as ‘a Patent COLUMBIAN PRESS, a most powerful and magnificent Machine, lately invented in America by Mr. George Clymer, and now generally used in England.’ Clymer had moved to London and began manufacture under a patent in 1818. Robert Howe acquired a Columbian press at around the same time as Bent. The Columbian press became Bent’s favourite as it was reliable and very suited to newspaper work. The eagle is not purely decorative – it functions as a counterweight.


1827 March: (probably) a small RUTHVEN IRON PRESS  from Government Printer James Ross in exchange for type.

1827 Dec: An IMPROVED CROWN SIZE WOODEN PRESS with iron platen and plate (from Scotland) per North Britain. This had been modified by the manufacturer according to Bent’s ideas. Another RUTHVEN PRESS was purchased from the ship’s supercargo as a speculation. Both advertised for sale. At this time a DOUBLE ROYAL COLUMBIAN PRESS was expected very soon, but its arrival is not recorded.

1829 Jan: a large iron press (another one?) possibly on the way but may not have arrived prior to the sale of the Colonial Times. In Jan. 1829 sold a CROWN SIZE (Wooden) PRESS to John Pascoe Fawkner but it is not clear which one.

When the Colonial Times was advertised for sale in Dec. 1829 there were two PATENT IRON PRESSES, described, not very helpfully, as one large and one small. At least one, and possibly both, would have been Columbians.

1 July 1830: a DOUBLE ROYAL COLUMBIAN PRESS, per Genii. Arrived not long after Bent had disposed of the Colonial Times to Melville. Immediately advertised for sale. Ten months later he again advertised a Columbian press (possibly the same one although this time described as super royal size). Assume a buyer was found as a year later he appears to have started afresh with newly imported equipment.


Imperial press ca 1831
Imperial Press ca 1831

May 1832: two iron presses, a COLUMBIAN and an IMPERIAL per Henry. These were the last presses acquired by Bent while in Hobart. He took at least one of them to Sydney in 1839. The Imperial Press was made in London by Sherwin & Cope.

In Sydney

1839 May: announced he had just purchased two elegant PATENT IRON presses. If he was telling the truth these may have been purchased locally.

Apr-May 1840: Advertised himself in Sydney and Hobart newspapers as an agent for Clymer and Dixon’s Columbian Printing Presses, although this was unlikely to have been in any official capacity.

There is no evidence that Bent’s mix of presses in the 1820s included a  STANHOPE PRESS, and he definitely did not get one after 1830. The Walker-made Stanhope press in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery which for many years was assumed to have been Bent’s press dates from the mid to late eighteen-thirties and is therefore too young to have been used by him in Hobart. Continue reading

TAHO holds an illustration of a Columbian Press which is catalogued as Andrew Bent’s printing press. There is nothing to indicate that this item (which is a photocopy of an old photograph of an earlier drawing or engraving) is anything more than a generic representation of this make of press. The original photograph, which may have included some information about the source of the belief that it was Bent’s press, can no longer be found.