The Mercury office, 1920 (AOT, PH30/1/5443b)

The first newspaper, Van Diemen's Land Gazette and General Advertiser, appeared in Hobart on 8 January 1810, under official aegis. Both it and a successor of 1814 soon died, but the Hobart Town Gazette, beginning 1 June 1816, has direct continuity with today's Tasmanian Government Gazette. This text notices but a selection of those that followed. Few populations could have had so many journals per head.

In 1825 Andrew Bent, erstwhile printer of the Gazette, broke from Lt-Governor Arthur's restraint to establish the Colonial Times. With the literary aid of RL Murray, this so scourged Arthur that he sought to impose censorship, only to be countermanded by the home government. Later journalist critics of Arthur included Henry Melville (continuing the Colonial Times), Gilbert Robertson (True Colonist), JP Fawkner (Launceston Advertiser) and WL Goodwin (Independent and Cornwall Chronicle). The latter items began the effective history of newspapers in Launceston. Through the remaining Vandemonian years the press continued varied and political. Notable was establishment in 1842 of the Launceston Examiner, leading the anti-transportation cause and central in the continuing self-definition of that city.

Hobart's enduring journal, the Mercury, dates from 1854, its founder John Davies. From 1877 the Mercury also issued the weekly Tasmanian Mail, rich in community-wide news and general reading. Increasingly conservative, the Mercury was challenged by more liberal competitors, notably the Tasmanian Tribune (187279) and the Tasmanian News (18841910). In Launceston the Daily Telegraph (18821928) and Tasmanian Democrat (189198) stood similarly to the Examiner. The Devon Herald (Latrobe, 187887) launched press activity in the north-west; the Burnie-based Advocate grew from the Wellington Times of 1890, in time to become Tasmania's third enduring daily, managed by the Harris family.

Development of mining in western Tasmania outstandingly evoked the Zeehan Herald (18901921). Of further regional note was the Huon Times (Franklin, 191042). All the while occasional ventures appealed to special groups, primarily those based on religion and economic interest. The Catholic Church's journals (variously Standard and Monitor, overall 18671971) led the former; chief among the latter was the labour-oriented Clipper (Hobart, 18931909), later merging into the Daily Post (190814). The Critic (Hobart, 190824), a general-interest weekly, specialised in historical reminiscence. In 1901 the Examiner began the Weekly Courier, similar to Hobart's Mail. Both presented superb photographs and general excellence, helping Tasmanian journalism to a golden age from around 1890.

Decline began as the Courier and Mail closed in 1935. Their glory echoed little in the Sunday newspapers established in 1984 by both Mercury and Examiner. The old order of management changed. Whereas the Davies and Harrises went from convict background to esteemed success, the latter-day heir of the Rolph family, controllers of the Examiner from 1897, was EA Rouse gaoled in 1990 for attempted bribery of a parliamentarian. In 1987 the Mercury joined Rupert Murdoch's empire; in 1990 the Examiner passed largely to the Harris /Advocate interest. Little survived outside the three dailies other than local news-sheets, usually sporadic. The triumvirate became more liberal in opinion, while offering simplistic entertainment rather than knowledge and uplift.

Further reading: E Morris Miller, Pressmen and governors, Sydney, 1952.

Michael Roe