A Moment in Time…

From this date, 4 June 1824, Andrew Bent’s Hobart Town Gazette threw off the shackles of official censorship – a position which was sustained and defended over subsequent weeks, months and years despite Lt Governor Arthur’s best efforts to subjugate the press. On this day and by his conduct, the printer effectively sacked the government-appointed editor, Henry Emmett, to the alarm and surprise of Arthur.

Letter from Henry Emmett to Lt Governor George Arthur (4 June 1824):

…It has been customary for the Printer to apply to me as Editor of the Paper, frequently in the course of the Week to look over Papers the Printer had received addressed to the Editor and I have invariably decided as to their insertion – This week he has not been to me, nor sent any communications which he might have received.

On Friday morning as early as possible the Printer has been accustomed to bring to me the Proofs of the Paper, for my final observation preparatory to my submitting the Proof Sheets to the Secretary – to this hour (20 minutes before 2) I have not had them brought to me – altho the Man assigned to the Printer (as Book Binder) nearly two hours ago informed me that two Proofs had been already struck off, and that the Printer was correcting them.

I conceive that ample time has elapsed for that process and I have no doubt that the Proofs are purposely withheld…

[Source: Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office (TAHO), CSO1/1/198/4725, pp. 247-8]

This act made good Bent’s threat of two days earlier. By his letter of 2 June 1824, Bent told Emmett that:

…as you never performed, nor until now by your own confession understood the duties of an Editor of the Hobart Town Gazette, you will not by me either be expected to attempt, or paid for continuing to neglect them.

Bent’s withering tone must have jarred with Arthur, no less than for Emmett. It was part of Arthur’s mission to clip the wings of upstart emancipists. As Arthur observed to his secretary, ‘Mr Bent seems to forget the situation of life in which he came to this Colony’. This was no way for an ex-convict to address a gentleman, but what could Arthur do about it?

Bent proceeded to appoint his own editor, Evan Henry Thomas, who re-set the editorial tone for the Gazette two weeks later, on 18 June 1824. In this bold, risky and surprising move, Bent struck a blow for a free press – which has continued in Australia ever since…