[Sorrento Printing Press]

An Early Printing Press
(** see note below)

In the early days printing presses were in short supply. This meant that the presses that had been imported were kept in use for much longer than would normally have been the case. And then when a press was able to be replaced, the old one was usually kept in reserve or sold to another firm. This makes it difficult to trace the full working life of individual presses, however the following references give some idea of the different presses that were used in the Port Phillip District.

The first printing press in what is now Victoria was located at Sullivan Bay, Sorrento and was first used on 16 October 1803 to print the 'General Orders' for the settlement established there by Lieutenant Governor David Collins. It was brought from England by them and taken with them to Van Diemens Land when they abandoned the settlement in 1804.

Victoria's second printing press was used to print the "Melbourne Advertiser" from 5 March 1838. This press was shipped from Van Diemens Land by John Pascoe Fawkner who had previously established a newspaper at Launceston. His Melbourne newspaper was closed down until he obtained the requisite government licence then recommenced as the "Port Phillip Patriot and Melbourne Advertiser." This press was moved to Geelong in 1840 and used to establish the "Geelong Advertiser" newspaper.

[Fawkner's Printing Press]

John Pascoe Fawkner's Printing Press

On 12 October 1838 George Arden and Thomas Strode arrived from Sydney on the "Denmark Hill" with their own press and started the "Port Phillip Gazette" on 27 October 1838. The printing of their first edition was delayed by four hours, for, as Thomas Strode later wrote that "as on pulling off the first proof it was found that the stone forming the table of the press - which by the by was a wooden one and of very ancient construction, and would have been at the present day a great curiosity had it been preserved and placed in the Museum - was hollow in the centre, consequently no impression was made on that part of the sheet, whilst on the other portion that was indented only about one half the letters in a word appeared." These problems were resolved and at noon their first newspapers were ready for circulation.

George Cavenagh started the "Port Phillip Herald" on 3 January 1840. He had arrived at Melbourne on 12 December 1839 from Sydney on the "Bright Planet" and probably brought a printing press with him though the cargo manifest simply lists '103 packages British merchandise, contents unknown.'

In September 1840 a 'Royal Printing Press' was advertised for sale in the "Port Phillip Gazette" then being run by George Arden and Thomas Strode. It was described as - 'one pull, with iron platin, &c. Price moderate. Apply at the Gazette Office.'

On 8 February 1841 the "Port Phillip Patriot" reported that a printing press and materials imported on the "Helen Thomson" from Adelaide had been sold by Mr. Purves at public auction the previous Thursday for 330. The purchaser was Mr. Lilly who was believed to have been acting for the projectors of a newspaper at Portland Bay.

On 9 October 1841 the "Port Phillip Patriot" ran an advertisement stating that by indenture dated 3 July 1841, James Shanley, printer, had sold to Thomas McCombie for 90 all of his printing presses, types, chases, cases, frames, moulds, implements, utensils, goods, chattels, effects, furniture and things in and upon his premises in Little Collins Street, Melbourne.

When the "Seahorse" sailed from Melbourne on 29 October 1841 bound for Sydney with the Governor, Sir George Gipps, the declared cargo included a printing press and 8 boxes of type.

On 10 March 1842 Melbourne Auctioneers, Forster and Davis, offered two printing presses for sale. Then on Monday, 28 March 1842 Mr. Henry Hutchinson Atkinson put up for public auction a double crown Stanhope press with excellent printing types, chases, cases, sticks, and jobbing letter, and other materials necessary for carrying on a complete printing office.

On 5 April 1842 the "Christina" arrived from Sydney with a printing press and types amongst her cargo. This may have been the printing press that was auctioned on 14 April 1842 by Messrs. Carfrae and Bland at their Auction Rooms in Collins Street, Melbourne.

In early August 1842 a Melbourne newspaper reported that the Sydney based "Australian" newspaper had had a new imperial press manufactured for them by a Mr. Crichton, of Clarence Street, Sydney and that it was believed that this was the first printing press to be manufactured in Australia. It was said to be a fair specimen of workmanship and to work exceeding well.

On 17 August 1842 the "Sally Ann" sailed from Melbourne for Portland Bay and Port Fairy with 36 packages containing a printing press and types amongst her cargo.

On 26 November 1842 the "Christina" arrived from Sydney with a printing press and type destined for Thomas Strode amongst her cargo. On 25 January 1843 Mr. Strode advertised his intention to recommence business as a job printer producing pamphlets, catalogues, circulars, cards, law forms, bill heads, labels, shop and hand bills, and every description of letterpress printing.

In November 1842 George Arden of the "Port Phillip Gazette" was facing insolvency proceedings and on 24 January 1843 his printing presses, types and other requisites were put up for sale as a going concern. A further notice appeared on 24 June 1843 listing for sale 'A complete Jobbing Office, with a sufficient quantity of type for a small-sized newspaper; together with a capital Columbian Press - royal (enlarged to double crown), with chases, furniture, rule, etc. Terms - about 200 or 250 cash, according to the quantity desired.'

The case of Bissell v. McCombie in the Supreme Court on 27 October 1845 related to the hire of a printing press by Thomas McCombie on 10 October 1844 for six months at 2/10/- per month. When the press was returned by McCombie it was found to have a damage table which required repairs costing 15. The issue to be decided was whether or not this damage occurred through fair wear and tear. It was a double demy Stanhope Press complete with table, roller, keys and points. Ryland John Howard gave evidence that he had previously owned this press which he had purchased from a Mr. O'Brien in Sydney. They had been making Stanhope Presses for about twenty years and this was an old one. In Sydney it had been used at the "Monitor" newspaper office in the late 1830s (where it had been known as 'Governor Darling's Press') before being brought to Melbourne and used for about a year and six months at the "Times" newspaper office of which he was joint proprietor. He gave details of problems he had had with the press but these had been remedied by Langlands and Fulton. The case was eventually decided in favour of the defendant.

On 4 September 1846 the "Ellen and Elizabeth" arrived at Melbourne from Portland and Port Fairy with a printing press for Dalgety & Co. amongst her cargo.

On 23 September 1846 George Sinclair Brodie auctioned at his Melbourne Rooms 'One superior printing press, with types, founts, etc., complete.'

On 4 January 1848 the "Geelong Advertiser" apologised for the singular appearance and diminished proportions of their edition due to the principal lever of their Columbian Press, (a bar of iron nine inches thick) having snapped in pieces like a tobacco pipe. They were thus forced to use their old wooden press - a venerable veteran of some fifty years standing to produce that day's edition. They were hopeful that the Geelong firm of Thompson & Son would have their usual press repaired in time for the next edition. On 7 June 1849 they again reported that their large printing press had met with an accident and that it was expected to take several days to repair.

On 23 July 1849 the "Elizabeth" arrived at Melbourne from Plymouth, England with a printing press and type for Samuel Goode amongst her cargo.

[Melbourne Daily News 11 January 1850]

"Melbourne Daily News" 11 January 1850

In January 1850 a new Double Crown Printing Press made by Sherwin, Cope, and Co. of London England was advertised for sale by J. B. Were & Co. This had recently arrived on the "Cornelia" or the "Bolton" from England.

During the Grand Separation cavalcade and opening of Princes Bridge procession in Melbourne on 15 November 1850 a Columbian Printing Press was mounted on a four-wheeled waggon and commemorative leaflets were printed and distributed to the onlookers. This waggon was beautifully decorated with ribbons and drawn by eight prancing chargers with a splendid banner depicting Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of moveable type, floating over the heads of the printers.

In January 1851 two printing presses were advertised for sale. The first one was 'a First Rate Albion Press, demy size with a variety of type from twenty line to non-pareil' with further particulars available at the "Argus" office. The second one was an "Iron Printing Press, constructed on the principle known as the 'Stanhope.' It was in good condition and would work an ordinary double demy sheet with further particulars available from Wilson and Johnston at the "Argus" office.

In March 1851 Henry Ginn, Colonial Architect accepted the tender of W. M. Tennant & Co. for the supply of an Albion Printing Press for 36/7/-.

( Contributed by Alexander Romanov-Hughes - PPPG Member No. 52 )

Source of Images:
Sorrento Press - State Library of Victoria website.
Fawkner Press - Museums Victoria website
11 January 1850 Advertisement - Trove website

Two readers of the above article provided some additional information:

I have read with some interest Alexander Romanov-Hughes's interesting article on Victoria's first printing presses in the recent PPPG newsletter. One wonders what they might have done if they arrived in Victoria in 2017.

Thomas Darragh published in 1990 a small book based on a paper he presented to the Victorian Printing Historical Society. Its title is "Engraving and Lithography in Melbourne to the Time of the Gold Rush." While it covers much of the same ground as the article, what is of interest is his focus on the printers of the day and in particular Thomas Ham. He in particular published maps and in 1849 printed the first Victorian issue postage stamps.

One of his rivals was my great-grandfather Theodore Hentschel who arrived from Poland in 1849. He set up his printing works in Swanston Street, though fairly quickly ran into some commercial difficulties and by 1854 had moved to Brunswick where he was a dairy farmer and later a grocer (refer Darragh page 28). Regrettably I have been unable to find any example of his workmanship.

I hope this additional information may be of interest to your readers. - John Bugg (Tel: 5258 1495)


I was interested to read the article in the PPPG newsletter about Victoria's first printing presses. Below is a link to an article my father, the late Don Charlwood wrote about the arrival of his family's printing press at Port Phillip for the "La Trobe Journal" (pages 4 to 10) in 2006.

I thought the author of the newsletter article might be interested to read this.

Cheers, Doreen Burge (PPPG Member No. 1441), Burgewood Books, P.O. Box 326, Warrandyte, Victoria, 3113.



Further research has revealed that the picture of a printing press shown above could not have been the one that was used in the settlement at Sorrento in 1803. Enquiries to the Perth Public Library resulted in a reply from their Cultural Heritage Officer, Stewart Alger, who advised that the photographed printing press is now housed in the Western Australian Museum. Stewart also contacted Geoff Moor of Vintage Services who provided the following information that he and Peter Marsh of Melbourne had researched:

The printing press was possibly made as early as 1815 or 1816 to a design that had been patented by John Ruthven of Edinburgh, Scotland about 1813. It was originally imported into Van Diemen's Land and later shipped to the Swan River Colony of Western Australia in 1831 by an ex-convict named William Stocker who was in business in Hobart. The press has the number 60 on its brass nameplate.

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