This week on 2SER Breakfast, Dr Rachel Franks and host Tess Connery talked about the founders of one of Sydney’s earliest newspapers, Edward Smith Hall.
Newspapers have long been an important feature of Australian life. Since the publication of Sydney’s first newspaper, this type of media has influenced (or at least has tried very hard to influence) how Australians feel about the major issues of the day, how we think about important policies such as crime and punishment, and, have — since the Parliament of New South Wales was founded in 1824 — worked tirelessly to influence how we vote at elections.
Big personalities have always driven the machinery of mass communication. The Monitor was founded by Edward Smith Hall and Arthur Hill in Sydney in 1826. Hall was a particularly large character in colonial Sydney.
Born in London in 1786, Hall arrived in Sydney in 1811 and died in his adopted city in 1860. He was a banker, a coroner, a farmer, a merchant and, most memorably, he was a newspaper man. Hall’s most significant legacy for Sydneysiders is his founding, in 1813, of the New South Wales Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Benevolence, known today as the Benevolent Society.
Hall’s philanthropic attitude was seen in print, over a decade later, when he openly took up the causes of convicts and the poor (though his motivations were questioned and he was accused of publishing controversial material to court readers and make a profit). The newspaper he founded, The Monitor, was very popular with the criminal and working classes and it said that assigned servants would travel up to five miles to have access to the paper. Even if people could not read themselves, there were opportunities to be read to.
Hall fought hard for some of rights we take for granted today such as representative government and trial by jury (causes often associated today with men like William Charles Wentworth).
Fiercely political, he never entered politics but his opinions were numerous and loud and he irritated quite a few politicians as one of early Sydney’s longest serving newspaper editors. Examples of defamation can be found throughout colonial Sydney’s history. Slander, comments made that could negatively impact upon someone’s reputation or livelihood, were common and led to the odd scuffle and long-held grudge. Libel, putting defamatory comments into print was really serious and rarely ignored. Hall did not shy away from saying what he thought and he was the first man in the colony to be charged with libel in 1828. Over time Hall was prosecuted seven times for libel, but nothing stopped him, he wrote for The Monitor even if he was locked in a gaol cell.
The early media landscape in New South Wales was sparse. The first newspaper title appeared in 1803 (The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser) and the second in 1824 (The Australian). Hall’s newspaper was the third published in the young colony and was known as The Monitor from 1826 until it underwent a masthead change in August 1828 and was published as The Sydney Monitor. In October 1838 there was another masthead change (and an editorial change, Hall stepping aside for Francis O’Brien and Edwyn Henry Statham) which saw the paper published as the Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser, a title kept until the last issue came out at the end of 1841. These re-branding exercises were more common that you might think. For example, our oldest newspaper started out in 1831 as The Sydney Herald and only became the Sydney Morning Herald in 1842.
Like many early newspapers across the Australian colonies, production was erratic. Paper supplies, qualified labour shortages and the never-ending work of seeking subscriptions all took a toll on the men driving the early newspaper industry in Sydney. Cash flow was a consistent problem. Unlike today you could not go to the corner store, newsagent or supermarket and just buy a copy of the local paper. People subscribed to newspapers which were printed and delivered. Unfortunately, many subscribers (just like many advertisers) did not pay their fees making for many cash-strapped newsmen. Indeed, in The Monitor’s last issue it was lamented that:
Times alas! are not as they used to be, and the expenses of a publication three times a week, are such as printers only know. Subscriptions are fish which may be patiently angled for, but are with difficulty caught, and if our good friends are constantly behind in their payments it is no wonder that we consign them so frequently and with many a sigh to the ——* Devil!
The Monitor started as a weekly paper, coming out Fridays, just in time for weekend reading (and tried a Saturday publication day early in 1827). In June 1827 there was an effort to come out three times a week but this did not work and the following month the paper had settled for publishing twice a week (trialling different days, occasionally publishing extra issues and publishing tri-weekly when possible). Reach and saturation are essential components of any influencing strategy and so a regular tri-weekly schedule was attempted again in October 1836. An ambitious printing program saw the paper published daily (except Sundays) from July 1840 until December that same year, and it returned to a tri-weekly schedule for its final twelve months of operation.
This week it is the 193rd anniversary of the first issue of The Monitor, which was first offered to Sydney’s newspaper readers on Friday, 19 May 1826.
Dr Rachel Franks is the Coordinator, Education & Scholarship at the State Library of New South Wales and a Conjoint Fellow at the University of Newcastle. She holds a PhD in Australian crime fiction and her research on crime fiction, true crime, popular culture and information science has been presented at numerous conferences. An award-winning writer, her work can be found in a wide variety of books, journals and magazines as well as on social media. She’s appearing for the Dictionary today in a voluntary capacity. Thank you Rachel!
Anon 1841 ‘L’Envov’ The Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser 29 December 1841, p2 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/32191868/4262196 viewed 19 May 2019
Osbourne, Mike nd ‘Edward Smith Hall’ The Australian Media Hall of Fame, http://halloffame.melbournepressclub.com/article/edward-smith-hall viewed 21 May 2019
Ihde, Erin 2014 ‘Hall, Edward Smith (1786–1860)’ A Companion to the Australian Media Bridget Griffen-Foley (Ed) Kew: Australian Scholarly Publishing, p200
Prisk, Max 2014 ‘The Sydney Morning Herald’ A Companion to the Australian Media Bridget Griffen-Foley (Ed) Kew: Australian Scholarly Publishing, pp451–53
Walker, RB 1976 The Newspaper Press in New South Wales, 1803-1920 Sydney: Sydney University Press
Young, Sally 2019 Paper Emperors Sydney: NewSouth Books