Little Johnny Fawkner
On New Years Day 170 years ago, Melbourneï¿½s first newspaper was
Published ï¿½ not printed.
You see, every single copy was hand
written. Back then you needed a licence from the authorities to own and
operate a printing press. You didnï¿½t need a licence to own multiple
firearms but you needed one for a printing press. And quite right too!
Let someone have a printing press and pretty soon theyï¿½ll be publishing
a monthly newspaper with views that arenï¿½t always in line with those of
the authorities, then if that is allowed to go unchecked theyï¿½ll be
publishing a weekly newsletter with views that are capable of subtly
influencing the thinking of some of the populace and then . . . no! ï¿½
the implications are too horrible to contemplate. A licence to operate a
printing press should not be granted to John Fawkner. True, he had owned
a printing press and published a paper in Launceston, but just because the administrators of Van Diemen's Land had a lapse
of judgement didnï¿½t mean that the authorities in New South Wales should
grant a licence to this somewhat suspect character in the new settlement
of the Port Phillip Region.
When John Batman had returned to Launceston and boasted about the
land in the Port Phillip District which he had leased through a ï¿½treatyï¿½
with local Aborigines, he was not to know that the Launceston publican
and newspaper publisher would put together a party that would beat him
back there. Fawkner always claimed to be the ï¿½founder of Melbourneï¿½.
In a previous newsletter we retraced Fawkner's earliest movement in
the settlement by way of a self-guided tour starting at his original
land point and finishing at his second hotel. Fawkner placed an advertisement for this hotel on the
front page of the first newspaper that we mentioned above. In the 19th
century the front page of many newspapers was made up entirely of
advertisements with news squeezed in later on ï¿½ a model that has been
enthusiastically adopted by modern day commercial radio and television.
His advertisement read:
ï¿½FIRST ESTABLISHED HOTEL IN MELBOURNE. FAWKNER'S HOTEL Supplies to
The Traveller, and Sogourner All the usual requisites of a Boarding
House and Hotel of the very best Quality Being mostly laid in from the
First Mercantile House in Cornwall V D Land In addition to which there
will be found Mental Recreation of a High Order There are provided 7
English and 5 Colonial Weekly Newspapers Seven British Monthly Magazines
Three Quarterly British Reviews up to July and August 1837 A very choise
Siliction of Books encluding Novels Poetry Theology History Philosophy
Chemistry &c. N.B. A late Encylopidia The use of Any of these Works will
be free to the Lodgers at the Above Hotel.ï¿½
Little did Fawkner know that 170 years later the provision of
encyclopaedias in hotels would be replaced by trivia quizzes about
It was from this building the Fawkner published Melbourneï¿½s first
newspaper. He also later leased part of the building to a fledgling
organisation calling itself The Melbourne Club. They subsequently moved
further up the street to purpose built clubrooms.
Fawkner was eventually able to obtain a printing press and
enthusiastically pursued his simultaneous careers of publican,
publisher, editor, journalist, politician and general busybody. Fellow
journalist, Garryowen tells us of Fawkner:
ï¿½With an education of a very restricted kind, he was a voracious
reader - devouring, but not digesting.ï¿½
The original first handwritten
newspapers of Fawkner remain some of Melbourneï¿½s most important
historical icons. I believe that you can still see one in the library of
Parliament House and I think that the
State Library also owns a copy.
1851 when Victoria eventually achieved ï¿½separationï¿½ from New South Wales
and became a colony in its own right there were grand celebrations and
processions. Batman was long dead but Little Johnny revelled in his
reputation as the only surviving ï¿½founderï¿½ of the European settlement.
He had a float to himself in the grand procession. This little man who
had first set foot in Victoria at the age of 11 when his father and
other convicts were transported to an ill-fated and aborted attempt at a
penal settlement near Portsea which later moved on to Hobart, who had
later himself been convicted of helping convicts attempt to build a boat
to escape, was self-educated and alternately successful in business then
bankrupt several times over, who was a hypochondriac who wore a red
sleeping cap into parliament, who was belligerent but prepared to change
firmly held views (as in the case of the Eureka miners) if faced with
the evidence, who had championed separation from New South Wales and
opposed Victoria becoming a penal colony, and was now to parade through
the streets as an acknowledged pioneer of the now flourishing city ï¿½
what would he choose to place on his float to signify what he believed
His printing press!
Fawknerï¿½s printing press eventually became the property of Melbourne
Museum. In my lifetime I have never seen it displayed. There isnï¿½t room
due to important Melbourne historical displays such as the set of
Neighbours. I believe it has been passed on to Scienceworks. Possibly
some parts of it will someday appear in a conceptual artwork by a
passionate young artist with views on Melbourne history that have been
devoured but not digested. I prefer to think that it will be preserved
for a future generation through indifference. (Please note -
since this article was first published we are delighted to announce that
the printing press has now gone
on display at the Melbourne Museum.)
Perhaps we should leave the final words on Fawknerï¿½s journalistic
style to fellow journalist, Garryowen:
ï¿½The two great weaknesses, or perhaps rather strong points, in
Fawkner's composition (and he was a voluminous newspaper writer) were a
desire to "capitalize" immoderately, and rarely to put down the brake
from start to finish. As for colons, semi-colons, and such trifles he
would not condescend to notice them. At periods he was even reluctant to
make a stop, and skipped over them oftener than otherwise.ï¿½
The Melbourne Regatta and Blessing of the Fleet
is one of the few cities that can pin-point the time, date and the people
who first founded it. The Melbourne Regatta was first held on 30 August
1838, making it the first in Australia. In 2016 the Melbourne Passenger
Boating Association will deliver a magnificent waterside spectacle to
celebrate the connection between Melbourne and the sea.
Born out of a river settlement, developed through trade and immigration,
stabilised by gold and farming, the city owes much to the ships who made
that connection. The rivers and the great bay have been bountiful, providing
food, leisure, relaxation and a highway to the rest of the world. Discover
too, the land before it became Melbourne. Learn about the people and the
natural landscape that existed long before, and why this made Melbourne a
perfect place to build a village.
See a spectacle of cruising boats, dressed especially for the occasion.
Hop aboard free ferry cruises around Victoria Harbour, be part of a Welcome
to Country ceremony, and hear Father Bob bless the fleet.
You can also enjoy live entertainment with Normie Rowe, along with
reggae, calypso, and blues bands. Plus there'll be walking tours,
story-telling, roving entertainers, a mass choir and the Sunday market with
many food stalls and local cafes. Everyone is invited to join in the fun and
excitement and celebrate Melbourne's maritime and indigenous history.
Enterprize Day (Melbourne Day)
An annual event to mark the European settlement of the area that was to become the City of Melbourne.
Little Johnny Fawkner
No. 6 - Bruce Postle -