• John Pascoe Fawkner - portrait by William Strutt
    John Pascoe Fawkner
  • Fawkner's printing press - currently on display at the Melbourne Museum
    Fawkner's printing press
  • The Melbourne Advertsier - edition 2 - every copy hand-written
    The Melbourne Advertsier
  • Fawkner's first printing office in Collins Street
    Fawkner's printing office
Subscribe to our FREE Newsletter 'Great Things to do in Melbourne - the White Hat guide'

Submit an event, attraction or venue to be considered for listing on this website.

 

Little Johnny Fawkner

On New Years Day 170 years ago, Melbourne’s first newspaper was published.

Published – not printed.

You see, every single copy was hand written. Back then you needed a licence from the authorities to own and operate a printing press. You didn’t need a licence to own multiple firearms but you needed one for a printing press. And quite right too! Let someone have a printing press and pretty soon they’ll be publishing a monthly newspaper with views that aren’t always in line with those of the authorities, then if that is allowed to go unchecked they’ll be publishing a weekly newsletter with views that are capable of subtly influencing the thinking of some of the populace and then . . . no! – the implications are too horrible to contemplate. A licence to operate a printing press should not be granted to John Fawkner. True, he had owned a printing press and published a paper in Launceston, but just because the administrators of Van Diemen's Land had a lapse of judgement didn’t mean that the authorities in New South Wales should grant a licence to this somewhat suspect character in the new settlement of the Port Phillip Region.

When John Batman had returned to Launceston and boasted about the land in the Port Phillip District which he had leased through a ‘treaty’ with local Aborigines, he was not to know that the Launceston publican and newspaper publisher would put together a party that would beat him back there. Fawkner always claimed to be the ‘founder of Melbourne’.

In a previous newsletter we retraced Fawkner's earliest movement in the settlement by way of a self-guided tour starting at his original land point and finishing at his second hotel. Fawkner placed an advertisement for this hotel on the front page of the first newspaper that we mentioned above. In the 19th century the front page of many newspapers was made up entirely of advertisements with news squeezed in later on – a model that has been enthusiastically adopted by modern day commercial radio and television. His advertisement read:

“FIRST ESTABLISHED HOTEL IN MELBOURNE. FAWKNER'S HOTEL Supplies to The Traveller, and Sogourner All the usual requisites of a Boarding House and Hotel of the very best Quality Being mostly laid in from the First Mercantile House in Cornwall V D Land In addition to which there will be found Mental Recreation of a High Order There are provided 7 English and 5 Colonial Weekly Newspapers Seven British Monthly Magazines Three Quarterly British Reviews up to July and August 1837 A very choise Siliction of Books encluding Novels Poetry Theology History Philosophy Chemistry &c. N.B. A late Encylopidia The use of Any of these Works will be free to the Lodgers at the Above Hotel.”

Little did Fawkner know that 170 years later the provision of encyclopaedias in hotels would be replaced by trivia quizzes about ephemera.

It was from this building the Fawkner published Melbourne’s first newspaper. He also later leased part of the building to a fledgling organisation calling itself The Melbourne Club. They subsequently moved further up the street to purpose built clubrooms.

Fawkner was eventually able to obtain a printing press and enthusiastically pursued his simultaneous careers of publican, publisher, editor, journalist, politician and general busybody. Fellow journalist, Garryowen tells us of Fawkner:

“With an education of a very restricted kind, he was a voracious reader - devouring, but not digesting.”

The original first handwritten newspapers of Fawkner remain some of Melbourne’s most important historical icons. I believe that you can still see one in the library of Parliament House and I think that the State Library also owns a copy.

In 1851 when Victoria eventually achieved ‘separation’ from New South Wales and became a colony in its own right there were grand celebrations and processions. Batman was long dead but Little Johnny revelled in his reputation as the only surviving ‘founder’ of the European settlement. He had a float to himself in the grand procession. This little man who had first set foot in Victoria at the age of 11 when his father and other convicts were transported to an ill-fated and aborted attempt at a penal settlement near Portsea which later moved on to Hobart, who had later himself been convicted of helping convicts attempt to build a boat to escape, was self-educated and alternately successful in business then bankrupt several times over, who was a hypochondriac who wore a red sleeping cap into parliament, who was belligerent but prepared to change firmly held views (as in the case of the Eureka miners) if faced with the evidence, who had championed separation from New South Wales and opposed Victoria becoming a penal colony, and was now to parade through the streets as an acknowledged pioneer of the now flourishing city – what would he choose to place on his float to signify what he believed was important?

His printing press!

Fawkner’s printing press eventually became the property of Melbourne Museum. In my lifetime I have never seen it displayed. There isn’t room due to important Melbourne historical displays such as the set of Neighbours. I believe it has been passed on to Scienceworks. Possibly some parts of it will someday appear in a conceptual artwork by a passionate young artist with views on Melbourne history that have been devoured but not digested. I prefer to think that it will be preserved for a future generation through indifference. (Please note - since this article was first published we are delighted to announce that the printing press has now gone on display at the Melbourne Museum.)

Perhaps we should leave the final words on Fawkner’s journalistic style to fellow journalist, Garryowen:

“The two great weaknesses, or perhaps rather strong points, in Fawkner's composition (and he was a voluminous newspaper writer) were a desire to "capitalize" immoderately, and rarely to put down the brake from start to finish. As for colons, semi-colons, and such trifles he would not condescend to notice them. At periods he was even reluctant to make a stop, and skipped over them oftener than otherwise.”

Some related events:

The Melbourne Regatta and Blessing of the Fleet

Melbourne is one of the few cities that can pin-point the time, date and the people who first founded it. The Melbourne Regatta was first held on 30 August 1838, making it the first in Australia. In 2016 the Melbourne Passenger Boating Association will deliver a magnificent waterside spectacle to celebrate the connection between Melbourne and the sea.

Born out of a river settlement, developed through trade and immigration, stabilised by gold and farming, the city owes much to the ships who made that connection. The rivers and the great bay have been bountiful, providing food, leisure, relaxation and a highway to the rest of the world. Discover too, the land before it became Melbourne. Learn about the people and the natural landscape that existed long before, and why this made Melbourne a perfect place to build a village.

See a spectacle of cruising boats, dressed especially for the occasion. Hop aboard free ferry cruises around Victoria Harbour, be part of a Welcome to Country ceremony, and hear Father Bob bless the fleet.

You can also enjoy live entertainment with Normie Rowe, along with reggae, calypso, and blues bands. Plus there'll be walking tours, story-telling, roving entertainers, a mass choir and the Sunday market with many food stalls and local cafes. Everyone is invited to join in the fun and excitement and celebrate Melbourne's maritime and indigenous history.




___________________  White Hat  ___________________

Seven Journalists of Melbourne - overview