1792 - 1869 | VIC | Publisher
Fawkner published the first newspaper in Victoria, the Melbourne Advertiser, on 1 January, 1838. The first nine editions were hand-written and distributed at Melbourne's first pub, also established by this pioneer settler from England via Tasmania. The Advertiser eventually became part of The Argus, which was published until 1957. Fawkner also established the Launceston Advertiser and the Geelong Advertiser, the oldest surviving paper in Victoria.
In keeping with an historic nexus between Australian newspaper journalism and the brewer’s craft, it seems appropriate that John Pascoe Fawkner launched Victoria’s first newspaper from the fledgling colony’s first pub – his own, on the corner of William Street and Flinders Lane. The Melbourne Advertiser’s edition Number 1, handwritten in ink, appeared less than three years after Fawkner arrived from Launceston with wife Eliza, accompanied by two cows, two calves and two horses. The free paper consisted of four pages, beginning with a thundering declaration: “We do opine that Melbourne cannot reasonably remain longer marked on the chart of advancing civilization without its Advertiser. Such being our imperial fiat, we do intend ... to throw the resplendent light of publicity upon all affairs of this new colony ...”
Fawkner painstakingly penned his new journal for nine weekly editions then shipped a wooden press and type in from Launceston, hired an 18-year-old with rudimentary composing skills and produced a printed version with two typeset columns on each page. It did not last long – Fawkner had no publishing licence and when Captain William Lonsdale, superintendent of the colony, learnt that Fawkner had begun selling the paper, thus bringing it under the control of the Newspaper Act, he ordered publication to stop.
It must have stuck in the craw of the fiercely independent Fawkner that such licences were available only from Sydney but he obtained one and launched again on 6 February 1839 with the rather clumsily titled ‘Port Phillip Patriot and Melbourne Advertiser’. It was a journal that evolved eventually into The Argus, a Melbourne morning paper that grew into a major metropolitan title before, plagued by financial problems, it closed in 1957.
What sort of man was Melbourne’s pioneer newspaper proprietor? Enterprising, certainly. Back in Launceston he had launched the first newspaper there, a crusading publication called the Launceston Advertiser. Among other governmental follies, it exposed the waste of 30,000 pounds on a failed attempt to round up and incarcerate all the Aboriginals on the island. Fawkner was also energetic. At age 18 in Hobart he had been apprentice to a builder and a sawyer and, drawing on those skills in the new Victorian settlement, he had built a four-bedroom wooden house and brick chimney within a month of arriving. He later established an accommodation house near what was known as the “market reserve”, hired out horses and acted as a bush lawyer. When land became available for purchase he bought large tracts, paying 32 pounds for one lot on the eastern corner of Flinders and King Streets. On another block, corner of Collins and Market Streets, he built a hotel which was one of the first brick buildings in the settlement. Advertisements for the pub boasted of the literary attractions – a store of the latest English and colonial newspapers, novels and books of poetry, theology and history. Said The Argus: “No other man in the colonies, perhaps in the whole world, ever showed such solicitude for the intellectual improvement of the frequenters of his tap and parlour.”
Colonial historian Garryowen painted a less flattering portrait, calling Fawkner a ‘‘sort of spoiled child’’ but nevertheless acknowledging his status as a co-founder of Melbourne, a claim that granted him ‘‘a large latitude’’ with his fellow citizens. His rival co-founder John Batman died young at 38, which gave the canny and ambitious Fawkner a lot of time to push for the prestigious title as his own, and he did so with gusto.
Fawkner had no children and died at his home in Smith Street, Collingwood, on 4 September 1869. At the time, his age was recorded publicly as 77, with the date of his birth in London given as 20 August 1792, but records now have him born on 20 October 1792, making him 76. During his lifetime Fawkner had dabbled in most of the workings of the new colony, eventually becoming a Member of the Legislative Council, representing the counties of Dalhousie, Anglesea and Talbot. The papers he left behind reflect the broad sweep of Victorians with whom he dealt as MP, newspaperman and businessman: letters from the likes of William Lonsdale, judge Sir Redmond Barry and Tasmanian governor Sir John Franklin as well as colonials from trades, business and social circles. In an obituary, The Argus reported that Fawkner’s “system just seem to have completely worn itself out. He however retained his faculties to the last.” More than 200 carriages carried mourners to his funeral on 8 September 1869 and 15,000 people lined the streets as the cortege travelled to Melbourne cemetery. His bluestone grave, with gate and canopy, states categorically: “Founded the City of Melbourne August 29th 1835”. The Fawkner tomb gets his birth date right (“October 20th 1792”) but his age wrong (“77 years”). Not a good look for Melbourne’s first newspaper man.
Lawrence Money has spent 30 years as a journalist at The Age and The Herald and has twice won the Melbourne Press Club Quill Award as columnist of the year.
J. P. Fawkner, Esq., M.L.C. by William Strutt, 1853. Courtesy of State Library of Victoria
Front page of the first edition of Fawkner's Melbourne Advertiser, 1838
Fawkner's first printing office, c. 1870. Courtesy of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria.
‘Fawkner, John Pascoe (1792–1869)’, Hugh Anderson, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press.
Melbourne’s Missing Chronicle, John Pascoe Fawkner, 1982, Quartet Books.
Life and Times of John Pascoe Fawkner, C.P. Billot, 1987, International Specialized Book Service Inc.
Out of the Shadow: The Career of John Pascoe Fawkner, Hugh Anderson, 1962, Cheshire.