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Battye:

The Press of Western Australia

The genesis of journalism in Western Australia is an interesting chapter not only of the history of the Press, but also of the many striking personalities who formed the "Fourth Estate" of the infant Swan River settlement.

Much of the following summary is abstracted from a work by Mr. Edward Stirling, afterwards identified with one of the largest journalistic enterprises in the State. In this little work, A Brief History of Western Australia, we have facts placed before us by one who was contemporaneous with the situations he depicts, and in many respects the work partakes of the nature of an autobiography.

We also learn from a diary kept by Mr. George Fletcher Moore that within a few months of the foundation of the settlement that a copy of a manuscript paper was issued This paper was published by a man named Gardiner, but its existence seems to have been brief and troubled. This was followed by another manuscript journal published by W K. Shenton at the Gazette office, Fremantle, and published at 3s. per copy. A copy of this sheet is at present in the library of the British Museum.

In May, 1832, Charles Macfaull in conjunction with W. K. Shenton printed a small news-sheet called The Fremantle Observer, but the partnership was not of long duration.

The story of the first newspaper is a somewhat humorous resume of the history of the "Fourth Estate" in Western Australia. The publishing house was a shed owned by Colonel Latour in Fremantle, and whilst in one corner was printed the first newspaper of the settlement in the other was the mill which ground the first bushel of wheat in the colony.

The partnership existing between Messrs. Macfaull and Shenton was not of very lengthy duration owing to the vagaries of a contributor, and Mr. Macfaull continued the sheet for a time after the dissolution of the partnership.

The paper, however, became defunct after twelve months' existence owing to the financial embarrassment of the publisher, who could not afford the weekly rent required for the hire of the plant.

The owner of the plant, Mr. Weasel, soon after established a paper called The Inquisitor, which led to a sad contretemps, with a still sadder ending. The contributors or staff of this journal were Captain Graham, formerly Governor of Sierra Leone, whose bickerings with the Colonial authorities were public knowledge; Mr. Yule, afterwards police magistrate of Perth; a Mr. Johnstone, who was engaged in mercantile pursuits; and a Scotch lawyer named Clarke. The policy of the paper on Government affairs led to many disagreements between the staff, who held on many questions of public interest strongly divergent views. A disagreement of a more than usually passionate and acrimonious nature led to the statement by Johnstone that Clarke was "no gentleman," and a duel was the result. Johnstone was mortally wounded by Clarke's fire, and died in twelve hours. Thus the first year's publication ended in murder-a significant travesty on that freedom which should be the keynote of all true journalism.

In 1833 The Perth Gazette made its appearance, under the leadership of Mr. Macfaull, whose second venture in the realms of journalism was fairly successful-at least for a few years. This was the progenitor of The West Australian of to-day [1912].

In 1835 Mr. Waylen published a letter in this newssheet in criticism of the captain and crew of a vessel named the Skerne, which had been wrecked between Carnac and Garden Island. The letter accused the captain of drunkenness, and he sued the paper for £500 damages for libel. The solicitor for the plaintiff was Mr Nairn Clarke, already notorious as the slayer of Johnstone, who put in an ingenious plea, that as the captain only wanted to protect his character any damages the jury liked to assess would be given to the poor of Perth. On the evening of the first day of the trial Clarke had an interview with the foreman of the jury - a most unrighteous proceeding - and promised him the sum of £5 for a jollification if the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff. This they did, assessing damages at £75. The "spree" eventuated, but Macfaull never recovered from the financial embarrassment caused by this unjust verdict.

In 1835 Clarke, so notorious previously in journalism, became the publisher of a second journal named The Guardian, which had a brief existence of twelve months.

Having outlined the early efforts of journalism in this State, let us pass on to a history of those particular journals whose policies and literature have become part and parcel of the life of the people. J.S. Battye, Cyclopedia, vol. 1, p. 578.

Fremantle Journal

The colony's first newspaper, the Fremantle Journal, appeared in February 1830. It was hand-written, and sold at 3/6 a copy. Hitchcock: 16.

Fremantle Observer

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, says that the duel was actually fought on 18 August 1832, and that the newspaper in question was called The Inquisitor. He also writes that the duel was fought at the rear of William Graham's home, Richmond House. Allen Graham 2005, 'Early duels of Fremantle', Fremantle Studies, 4: 95-106.

The Herald [1] 1867-1886

The Fremantle Herald was established in 1867, and for many years [ - 1886] it was regarded as the leading organ of public opinion in the colony. It was founded by James Pearce and William Beresford, associated with whom were James Roe and A. H. K. Cole. Beresford had at one time been Anglican Dean at Cork and Roe had been an Anglican clergyman. The ripe scholarship of those two men, combined with the journalistic ability of Pearce and Cole, placed the paper in a leading position. Beresford's scholarly articles, together with his clever pungent facetia under the heading of 'Chips by a Sandalwood Cutter' were the literary sensation of the time, making the Herald a power in the land and a paper to be conjured with. The Herald always advocated a progressive policy and persistently stressed the need for harbour works in Fremantle, the construction of railways and the introduction of responsible government.
An incident in the early history of the Herald is worth recalling. In one of its earlier issues some miscreant, actuated no doubt by a desire to bring about the downfall of the paper, secured the insertion of some original poetry. As a metrical composition it was of a high order of merit, but both the editor and the printer failed to notice that it was an acrostic, the first letters of the lines, read downwards, forming a sentence of an obscene nature. That was detected by an early morning reader (D. B. Francisco), who at once apprised the editor, who immediately took prompt measures to collect the paper, and those who did not notice the sinister nature of the poem made all sorts of conjectures as to why the paper was called in. Some ascribed the editor's action to a fear on his part that some criticism of Governor Hampton's methods of dealing with the notorious bushranger, ”Moondyne Joe,” by confining him to an iron cage, might lead to trouble. Eventually the secret leaked out, and when it did there were some who would have given a pretty good price for a copy of that particular issue of the Herald. Many people in high places quailed before the pungent and fearless criticisms of the Herald, and one of those, it was thought, was responsible for ringing in the poetical contribution that might have landed the editor in gaol. The managers were shrewd men and were rarely caught napping. When Edmund Stirling and Arthur Shenton, editors respectively of the Inquirer and the WA Times, were imprisoned for libelling judge Burt, the Herald hit that functionary just as hard but evaded the meshes of the law in a clever manner. After a few words of caustic comment it proceeded somewhat like this:-
"In view of the law of libel we leave to our readers to surmise what further comments we would have made, if we dared, in the blank space below."
The remainder of the column was left blank. Hitchcock: 51-2.

James Pearce founded the original Herald in February 1867, publishing weekly. It was pitched at a more working-class audience than its counterparts in Perth at the time, and featured verse, short stories and serials. Pearce was joined by two co-proprietors, William Beresford and James Elphinstone Roe, both of whom, like Pearce, were ex-convicts. The Herald supported social reform and opposed the convict system. Beresford wrote a weekly column, "Chips by a Sandalwood Cutter", which used a fictional character to challenge the morality of the social elite.
In 2013 the Fremantle Local History Collection funded the digitisation of the entire extant collection of the Herald of 1867–1886. The digitisation was carried out by the National Library of Australia, and the scanned archives made available via their Trove search engine. Wikipedia.

Fremantle Herald [2] 1913-1919

In 1913 a new workers' weekly was established, with William Carpenter serving as editor. He lasted less than a year, and subsequently the newspaper became 'less friendly' to the labour movement. Wikipedia.

Fremantle Herald [3] 1989-present

The current paper is free, relying on advertising, published weekly on the Saturday;s date, and is delivered to letterboxes, as well as being available online in both facsimile and 'interactive' formats.

In 1989, local resident Andrew Smith launched a new Fremantle Herald from a weatherboard house, employing an editor and small team of journalists, production and advertising staff based at East Fremantle. In 1992 the operation was moved to the corner of Cliff and Croke Streets, Fremantle. It now also publishes three titles in other parts of the Perth Metropolitan Area: the Melville City Herald, the Cockburn City Herald, and the Perth Voice, all of which are letterbox-distributed weeklies. A two-year trial of a paid-for version of the Fremantle Herald failed to gain support from readers and was abandoned in 2005. Wikipedia.

The Era

In 1868 another newspaper was launched in Fremantle under the name of the Era. That paper was owned and published by the versatile George Barrow. In the day time he acted as accountant for L. Samson & Son, and in the evenings he occupied his time in the production of his newspaper. The novelty of that quaint little journal lay in the fact that it was set up and printed by the lithographic process in the same manner that cheque forms are done. To secure that result the whole paper - news, leading article and advertisements - was written out in a free copperplate hand, involving considerable labour, the only return for which was a limited sale at 6d. per copy. Needless to say the career of that artistic production was of short duration. While it lasted Fremantle had two papers, as at present [1929]. In the course of the century Fremantle has seen the birth of many newspapers, but none of them have died of old age. Hitchcock: 52.

The Sentinel

In 1936 this was owned by J.A. Hicks.

References and Links

Battye J.S. 1912, Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol. 1.

Reece, Bob 2010, 'Fremantle's first voice: The Herald (1867-1886)', Fremantle Studies, 6: 43-65.

Website of the current Fremantle Herald.


Garry Gillard | New: 9 August, 2015 | Now: 27 March, 2019