On March 5, 1803 convicted and transported shoplifter, printer, editor, publisher and poet George Howe began the publication of the first newspaper in Australia, the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser. The newspaper was printed on a small wooden printing press which had been brought to the colony by Captain Arthur Phillip in the First Fleet that founded the first European settlement in Australia.
In An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales Lieutenant Governor David Collins noted in November 1795 that a young printer, George Hughes, had used the press to print numerous government notices and orders. In a small printery behind Government House Hughes printed some 200 Government Orders, several broadsides and a few playbills; one of these was for The Recruiting Officer, in which he was a performer in March 1800. Next November when George Howe arrived and took over the press, Hughes returned to the obscurity from which he had emerged. Copies of some of the ephemera printed by Hughes are held in the Record Office, London (Ferguson, Foster & Green, The Howes and their Press  15).
George Howe had used the same press to print the colony’s first book, The New South Wales General Standing Orders (1802). Howe was also the editor of the Sydney Gazette, though the newspaper was under strict government censorship. The establishment of a weekly newspaper in the colony had been an initiative of Governor King, and the publication originally acted as a medium for broadcasting official information about such matters as government proclamations, new civil regulations and court news. The newspaper also recorded on a weekly basis all the recent maritime activity at Port Jackson, including shipping arrivals and departures and cargo information. Auctions of goods, sales of land, personal and business notices, and lists of newly pardoned or emancipated convicts were also features of each issue.
In its first year of publication, the Sydney Gazette was sold at sixpence per copy to 300 subscribers. The newspaper was printed by Howe until his death in 1821, and then by his son Robert. It continued to publish until 1842.
The newspaper’s first masthead, bore the imprimatur "Published by Authority," It's motto,"Thus We Hope to Prosper," framed a cameo woodcut image of Port Jackson. Although John William Lewin had produced some of his intaglio copper plate prints of natural history subjects as early as 1801, the primitive masthead of the first issue of the Sydney Gazette was the first printed woodcut in the colony: ‘The few buildings that made up Sydney Town in 1803 are silhouetted against the skyline; beside the cove a man ploughs a field; picks and spades in the foreground signify the transforming of the native earth; and a female figure is given a prominent position seated on some bales of produce. Together these elements were emblematic of the newspaper’s motto. . . ." (Butler, Printed Images in Colonial Australia 1801-1901, 91). The designer and cutter of the woodblock used for the masthead was, according to Butler, possibly another convict— an Irish forger named John Austin.
"[Howe's son] Robert helped in the printing office when the paper began and 'had the honour, even in those infant days, of gaining the smile and eliciting the astonishment of the King's Representative when he saw us perched on a stool'. According to Robert the old printing press was worth only £2 and they had to manage with a mere 20 lbs. (9 kg) of type; but Howe was an 'ingenious man' and managed in spite of the inadequate press, a chronic shortage of ink and paper, and the refusal or inability of many of his subscribers to pay their debts. He was conditionally pardoned in 1803, and fully emancipated in 1806" (http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/howe-george-1600, accessed 02-07-2013).
(This entry was last revised on 05-06-2014.)