Fremantle Stuff > newspapers > Fremantle Observer

Fremantle Observer

According to a page published by the WA Museum, the full name of this paper was The Fremantle Observer, Perth Gazette and Journal. Its first edition was printed 5 April 1831 on a Ruthven press which is still in the WA Museum's collection. The text of the Museum's article follows the image.

Manufactured by John Ruthven, Edinburgh, Scotland, c.1819-22.
This press was used to produce the first printed newspaper in Western Australia, The Fremantle Observer, Perth Gazette and Journal, on 5 April 1831. Since commercial printing ink was not available in Fremantle a substitute ink was made with soot and mutton fat and the rollers were dressed with treacle and glue. The maximum printing rate was 50 copies per hour.
The newspaper was printed in Colonel Latour’s horse/flour mill shed in Adelaide Street. After three weekly issues its proprietors, C. Macfaull and W.K. Shenton, fell out and Shenton gave his interest to Francis Lochee and Edmund Stirling. The new partners moved the press to a shed in Hamilton Hill and began to publish the Observer. This newspaper lasted less than two years before the press was seized for non-payment of hiring fees.
The press was purchased by a new group of partners and was then used to print The Western Australian and The Inquisitor. These newspapers were also ill-fated: two of the partners, W. Nairne Clark and G.F. Johnson, violently disagreed about political and social content and Clark shot Johnson dead in a duel in Fremantle.
The press was subsequently taken to Perth where Clark briefly used it to print the Swan River Guardian before it was again seized for non-payment. A new owner, Mr E. Stirling, briefly used it for printing The Western Australian Magazine before exchanging it with a larger model used by the Government.
The early history of this press was also colourful. Originally made in Scotland, it was taken to Tasmania in about 1822 by the Scottish missionary Rev. Archibald Macarthur. He sold it to the colonial administration in Hobart Town, which evidently found it too small and sold it to a former government printer. He in turn apparently sold it to Samuel Dowsett, who printed Launceston’s second newspaper, the Cornwall Press, in 1829. Within two years the press had been sold and taken to Fremantle [by John Weavell].

In December [1831] the colony's first printing press was landed from Van Diemen's Land, and from it was issued the Fremantle Observer, the first issues of which were printed by Charles Macfaull and W. K. Shenton. That little press and a copy of the paper may be seen to-day in the Perth Museum. Its history has been concisely expressed by Edmund Stirling, who subsequently owned it.
The libel that was the cause of the colony's only duel was printed on that press. The duel was fought in 1831 on the south bank of the river to the west of the present traffic bridge, the combatants being a Scotch lawyer named Clark and a merchant named Johnstone. The latter was fatally wounded and Clark was committed for trial, but acquitted, duelling being a venial offence in those days. The pair of duelling pistols used in the encounter are now in the police museum, in Perth. Hitchcock: 21-2.

A later historian, Allen Graham, writes that the men were in partnership in the newspaper called The Inquisitor, but that the duel was actually fought on 18 August 1832. He also says that the duel was fought at the rear of William Graham's home, Richmond House (which was, as Hitchcock writes, on the south bank of the river west of the traffic bridge). Allen Graham 2005, 'Early duels of Fremantle', Fremantle Studies, 4: 95-106.

(See my page for W.T. Graham for discussion as to the location of Richmond House.)

It appears that this newspaper has not (yet) been scanned for Trove, but there is an article in the (Hobart) Colonial Times (29 June 1831: 3) which reports on material from the Observer, as follows.

We have elsewhere inserted a letter from the Swan, contradicting some prejudicial statements made some time since in the Hobart Town Courier. If all was as the letter states we should be most happy, but unfortunately accounts differ very much. No one among us ever insinuated aught prejudicial to the respectability of the Swannies, but when they would fain look down upon us as being less pure than themselves, and at the same time most earnestly entreat the Home Government to render them a Penal Settlement, surely it betokens a feeling of inconsistency to say the least.
The accounts from Swan River on the whole, may be termed better than they have been. Provisions were plentiful, and the Agricultural accounts are far more satisfactory. Scurvy had been troubling the inhabitants, and had in many cases, been dreadful in its ravages. Great complaint is still being made, as to the insecurity of property, and the want of power to enforce the laws, which indeed were little heeded. The latter speculations of our fellow townsmen have turned out favourably. The Nimrod, it is said, will bring 70 passengers from the Swan.
Winter has at length commenced, hitherto the weather has been more than usually serene and delightful - the first symptoms of the winter were perceptible yesterday. At this period last year we had had nearly three months of continued wet. The farmers have in many places hitherto not been able to plough their land owing to the continued drought, but the bountiful showers which are now falling will enable them to proceed rapidly with their out-door work.
The town has had its walls ornamented for the last day or two with placards of the astonishing "beauty of the beast," belonging to Mr. OAKES, of Redlands. The animal is well worthy the inspection of the curious, both as to its condition and the beauty of its symmetry.
We are sorry to have to communicate the death of a man employed on Capt. M'Dermot's grant on the Canning River. An affray had taken place with the Natives, who threw eight spears into him, and wounded a lad in two places, but by swimming the river he escaped. We are informed the deceased, who was known as Colonial George, had often fired at the Natives ; if so, it but corroborates our previously expressed opinion, that all affairs of this nature, have originated in improper treatment of the Aborigines, rather than from a natural disposition to ferocity on their part.—Fremantle Observer.

Garry Gillard | New: 10 October, 2017 | Now: 10 May, 2020