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EARLY STRUGGLES OF THE AUSTRALIAN PRESS.
conviction of a publisher of a seditious libel, to order the seizure of all copies of the libel in his possession, and to punish him on a second conviction with fine, imprisonment, banishment, or transportation. By a third, the newspaper stamp duty was imposed for pamphlets and other papers containing news or observations on public affairs; and recognizances were required from the publishers of newspapers and pamphlets for the payment of any penalty. By a fourth, no meeting of more than fifty persons was permitted to be held without six days' notice being give by seven house-holders to a justice of the peace. The others related to arms in possession.
Publishers were held liable till Lord Campbell's Libel Act of 1843. It was in 1802 that Napoleon Bonaparte demanded a restriction of the Press liberty in England, as our writers had stung severely. Lord Hawkesbury sent back this reply to our Paris agent: "His Majesty neither can nor will, in consequence of any representation or menace from a foreign power, make any concession which may be in the smallest degree dangerous to the liberty of the Press."
The failure of Government to stop Cobbert in 1831 led to freedom. May observes: "Prosecutions for libel, like the Censorship, have fallen out of our constitutional system. When the Press errs, it is by the Press itself that the errors are left to be corrected."
In 1833, the advertisement duty was reduced from 3s. 6d. to ls. 6d. The stamp duty was reduced from fourpence to one penny. Cobden truly said: "So long as the penny lasts, there can be no daily press for the middle or working class. The Dissenters have no daily organ for the same reason." An association for promoting the repeal of all taxes on knowledge arose in 1849.
An attempt was made in 1850 to remove the advertisement tax. In 1853 Gladstone opposed its removal, while Cobden, Bright and Disraeli were for the relief. Subsequently, Gladstone reduced it to sixpence; but before the end of 1853, the tax was no more. The paper duty was reduced in 1836, but not abolished till June 12th, 1861, when the Penny Daily could be issued. The newspaper stamp duty ceased by law June 15th, 1855.
A few words may be added as to Press liberty in other lands.
The United States Constitution of 1776 declared against restriction of the rights of freedom of speech and of the Press. In 1873, however, the printing of obscene literature was prohibited. In France, the law of 1559 decreed death for printing without authority; and in 1626 the same penalty was inflicted for a book against State or Faith. In 1819, sureties replaced the Censorship. The liberty of the Press was suspended July 1830; and many papers were suppressed by the laws of 1835, 1852, 1858, and 1866. By the law of October 27th, 1870, Press offences were to be submitted to a jury.
Germany had its Censor by the Diet of Spires, 1529; but paper licenses and police supervision, in 1819. No Censorship now exists there, though the law of 1874 requires the name of the editor to be printed. Holland has had a free Press since 1815; Belgium, since 1831; Sweden, since 1814; and Switzerland, from 1848. Portugal had the freedom closed when the inquisition arose.
Austria had severe laws in 1808, when all private printing presses were forbidden. Two Censors were appointed in 1810, but this power ceased in 1863. Denmark condemned the State libeller to prison for life in 1683, but has had no Censor since 1849. The Italian law of 1848 requires the place and name of a printing office. Press offences are tried by a jury of twelve. Russia's law of 1863 removed the Censor in St. Petersburg or Moscow, if the publication did not exceed a certain number of pages. The Censor returned in 1881. There are many annoying and destructive regulations effecting newspapers there, and Government forwards secret instructions, when it is thought necessary, or as warnings, to any of the editors.
EARLY PRESS STRUGGLES IN NEW SOUTH WALES.
Although, in 1787, the first fleet bound for the Australian shores carried a printing press, with all needful appliances for a printing office, no use was made of this valuable convenience during the government of Captain Phillip. The reason was sufficiently obvious: there was not an individual in the colony who could make use of the type.
Among the civil and military officials, no one had assumed, even as an amateur, the rôle of a printer. Among the sailors there mas the same ignorance of the Black Art. In the early years of New South Wales, no printer had the folly or misfortune to be conveyed thither in penal servitude. It was not until the reign of Captain Hunter, nearly ten years after the foundation of Sydney, that an erring member of an English "chapel" was discovered, and set to work upon the "composing stick."
His duty was to frame the Government Orders and Proclamations in orthodox type, by which a large and readable number of them could be distributed, to the advantage of many who had pored in vain over the manuscript information affixed to trees and posts. Yet even Governor Hunter dreamed not of an ordinary Newspaper appearing in the Kangaroo Land. This only made its appearance under the rule of Governor King.
"THE SYDNEY GAZETTE."
The first Paper came out on Saturday, March 5th, 1803, more than fifteen years after the rise of the colony. For a description of that remarkable paper, the reader must pardon citation from the writer's previous colonial publications:—
"When I saw (in Sydney) the first issue, dated March 5th, 1803, I could not but regard it as a faithful historical exponent of the early times. it was very badly printed on four pages of foolscap paper. It bore, at the top of the first page, its name, the Sydney Gazette, and New South Wales Advertiser, with a very rude little wood engraving, representing a ship with a Union Jack, and an allegorical female figure seated on the shore. It gave the date of the commencement of the colony, 1788. Around the picture these words were written, 'Thus we Hope to Prosper.'"
It was declared to be published by authority, by George Howe. The address of the printing editor was as follows:—
"Innumerable as the obstacles were which threatened to oppose our undertaking, yet we are happy to affirm that they were not insurmountable. The utility of a Paper in the Colony, as it must open a source of solid information, will, we hope, be universally seen and acknowledged. We have courted the assistance of the Ingenious and Intelligent. . . We open no channel to political discussion or personal animadversion. Information is our only Purpose; that acknowledged, we shall consider that we have done our duty, in an exertion to merit the Approbation of the Public, and to ensure a liberal Patronage to the Sydney Gazette."