Cultural Artefact: Publishing


Publishing (and printing) in Tasmania was initially undertaken by government, the first serial title being the Hobart Town Gazette (1816-24) produced by Andrew Bent. Bent also published the first work of general literature published in Australia - Michael Howe, the last and worst of the Bush Rangers of Van Diemen's Land, by Thomas Wells (1818) - and the convict writer Henry Savery's The Hermit in Van Diemen's Land (1829). Savery's Quintus Servinton, the first novel printed and published in Australia, was issued in 1830 by another Tasmanian publisher/editor, Henry Melville.

From 1824 to 1838, Bent, Melville, and James Ross (followed by William Elliston) issued a series of almanacs - which occasionally included narrative supplements, maps and engraved illustrations. Most of these men also issued newspapers, many of which were short-lived. Conversely, many early Tasmanian books were printed at newspaper offices. One notable publication was the pirating of Dickens' Pickwick Papers by the Launceston printer/publisher/bookseller Henry Dowling in 1838.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century some booksellers engaged in publishing, most notably J Walch & Sons of Hobart Town and AW Birchall of Launceston. Often the titles were imported stocks of English printings, but many originated locally. Walch's famous 'Red Book', The Tasmanian Almanac and Guide to Tasmania, first appeared in 1863 and thereafter annually until 1979-80. Their 'Shilling Series' of paperbacks - reprinting a small number of works on early colonial history - commenced in 1891 and issued new impressions until 1968, and the journal Walch's Literary Intelligencer published information on contemporary literature between 1859 and 1916.

In the absence of a major independent publishing house in Tasmania, this trend continued in the twentieth century. Oldham, Beddome & Meredith published titles of Tasmanian interest between 1932 and 1976. Fuller's Bookshop (WE Fuller), published several books in the 1920s, and re-entered the field in the 1960s when Cedric Pearce took over the business (from 1973 as Cat & Fiddle Press).

Several private imprints appeared towards the end of the twentieth century. Hobart antiquarian bookseller James Dally's Sullivan's Cove published the first of a long (and continuing) series of finely produced limited editions, largely dealing with Tasmanian historical material, in 1971. Peter Benson Walker's Melanie Publications issued seven finely produced facsimiles of nineteenth century Tasmaniana, and a few original titles, between 1978 and 1985. Blubber Head Press, founded by Dan Sprod in 1979 and still in operation, devoted eight titles to original works on Australian land exploration, but its major emphasis has been on Tasmanian history. Perhaps the most active publisher has been, and continues to be, the Tasmanian Historical Research Association.

Literary publishing has not been quite so prolific. Wattle Grove Press (Rolf Hennequel) issued some 37 enigmatic literary titles in hand-made formats between 1958 and 1973, including many of his own works (as 'Albin Eiger'), but also works by Dorothy Hewitt and Rodney Hall. Several small private presses have come and gone and a few, such as Montpelier Press, Walleah Press, and Cornford Press, remain. In both fiction and non-fiction, the small size of the Tasmanian market has been a serious hurdle to overcome.

Michael Sprod

Related Cultural Artefacts