Melbourne's first newspaper

In 1838, John Pascoe Fawkner wrote and published the settlement's first newspaper, The Melbourne Advertiser. Far from what we know of newspapers today, the Advertiser began as a simple affair, handwritten by Fawkner himself because the colony didn't have a printing press:

The first Melbourne newspaper (as it must in courtesy be styled) was a miserable β€˜rag', a sheet of what was known as uncut foolscap, ruled and bi-columned, and presenting eight columns of very inferior reading manuscript matter.

– Garryowen

Finn, E 1888, The chronicles of early Melbourne, centennial edition, 1976, Vols 1–3, Heritage Publications, Melbourne Vic.

This quote illustrates how an author's opinions can affect their writing. Edmund Finn (aka Garryowen) knew Fawkner, but the two definitely weren't friends. As a result, Garryowen's Chronicles ridicule Fawkner's writing, publications and personality.

Its pages were filled with shipping news and reports from Sydney, as well as advertisements for Port Phillip's businesses. As Fawkner owned most of the advertised business, the pages often featured curt reminders to customers to pay outstanding debts:

Those of the subscribers [...] who took credit when they favoured this Establishment with their Support are most respectfully informed that it is usual to pay up all Arrears at the beginning of the year. J.P. Fawkner.

– The Melbourne Advertiser

Fawkner, J P 1838, Melbourne Advertiser, Manuscripts Collection, State Library of Victoria, MS13486, No.10b

The Melbourne Advertiser is one of many rare manuscripts from the State Library of Victoria's collections which has been digitised.

Fawkner was a firm believer in social equality, and had originally planned to give his newspaper away for free so that everyone in Melbourne could get the latest news. But he was, after all, a businessman. In the end he couldn't let an opportunity to make a profit pass him by, and began including the paper in the price of a counter meal at his pub.

Just as Fawkner began to write the 10th edition of the paper, a battered wooden press arrived from Launceston, along with a collection of discarded type letters. The Melbourne Advertiser thus became the first printed publication in Victoria's history.

Unfortunately, after only 17 editions, Fawkner was forced to stop publication because he didn't have a publishing license from the Colonial government. However, he was a battler at heart and barely a year had passed before he was back in business with a new newspaper, The Port Phillip Patriot.

Even after Fawkner ended his career in the newspaper business, he continued to publish letters in local newspapers, describing his often-unpopular ideas and commenting about people and life in the colony.

Fawkner understood the power of the media, and left us with a wealth of written material to help us understand his unique perspective of life in Melbourne.

Handwritten front cover of the Melbourne Advertiser newspaper.
Front cover of the Melbourne Advertiser newspaper.
Front cover of the first printed edition of the Melbourne Advertiser newspaper.
Fawkner's first printing office, off Collins Street West.