Launceston’s historic newspaper
For 161 years the Launceston Examiner was produced from extensive premises at 71- 75 Paterson Street and for all but 18 of those years the newspaper was also printed on the site.
The Examiner is Australia’s third oldest newspaper, an enterprise that in 2016 has survived rival publications, economic downturn and dramatic technological changes for 174 years.
In 2015 the newspaper’s owner’s Fairfax Media sold the Examiner’s Paterson Street building and leased smaller offices in Cameron Street. It was only the fourth change of address for the newspaper. Printing of the newspaper had been removed to a purpose-built print centre at Rocherlea in 1997.
First published on the afternoon of Saturday 12 March 1842 as the Launceston Examiner Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser from offices in Brisbane Street, it has so far absorbed or outlived all other newspapers formed in Launceston. (1)
Only the Sydney Morning Herald and the Geelong Advertiser are older that the Examiner but it wasn’t Launceston’s first newspaper. That honour belongs to the Tasmanian and Port Dalrymple Advertiser which appeared in 1825. Its proprietor was George Terry Howe, son of the Government printer in Sydney, who was just 18 when he arrived in Van Diemens Land in 1824. (2)
Only 20 weekly issues of the Tasmanian and Port Dalrymple Advertiser were produced between 5 January and 18 May 1825 before Howe was persuaded by Governor George Arthur to relocate his press to Hobart to provide competition to former convict Andrew Bent, whose Hobart Town Gazette had become critical of the colonial government.
John Pascoe Fawkner started the Launceston Advertiser in 1829 and in 1835 it was joined by the Cornwall Chronicle. In the early 1840s Launceston was in the midst of a bitter newspaper war between these two publications. Former ship’s captain William Goodwin, who was editor and proprietor of the Cornwall Chronicle, became notorious for his outspoken editorials and sometimes libelous reporting. (3)
Henry Button, who would later own the Examiner, wrote of the dissatisfaction with the existing publications in his memoir Flotsam and Jetsam. “The community has long been terrorised by a licentious press; no one's character was safe; calumnies most false and brutal were broadcast, and he who had the hardihood to remonstrate became the next victim. After the establishment of the Examiner all that was at an end.”
The Examiner's founders were local businessmen, members of the Congregationalist Church, who had emigrated from Britain for new lives and opportunities in the colonies. In their first edition it was made clear they were attempting to elevate the quality of journalism in Launceston.
James Aikenhead was born in Scotland and received training in commerce and the law and Jonathan Stammers Waddell was a printer who had arrived in Van Diemens Land in 1833. Aikenhead had been in partnership with businessman Henry Dowling in a stationery business immediately before starting the Examiner.
Dowling had owned the Launceston Advertiser, which the Examiner acquired in 1846, but there were many other attempts to establish newspapers. Mastheads in this period included The Trifler, The Reporter, The Launceston Times, The Guardian and The Teetotal Advocate. Most were short-lived.
One of the driving forces in the establishment of the Examiner was Congregationalist minister the Reverend John West who arrived in Launceston in 1839. The Reverend West wrote the leading article in the first edition of the Examiner attacking convict transportation and its detrimental effect on building a respectable, sound and prosperous society.
This began the newspaper's influential role in the anti-transportation campaign which helped unite the Australian colonies and sowed the seeds of the Federation of the Australian states in 1901. John West continued writing leading articles and contributing to the Examiner until 1854 when he resigned as pastor of the St John's Square Chapel to accept the position of editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.
The Examiner moved to new, purpose build premises in Paterson Street in 1854 after a short period located in Charles Street. In 1860 the publishing time of the newspaper was changed from 2 pm to 6am, a decision which Henry Button wrote was popular. It gave “the good folk of Launceston the luxury of a morning paper, which they had never before enjoyed, and which they greatly appreciated.” It is still a morning newspaper.
From 10 April 1866, to 16 February 1867 the Examiner was published daily (Monday to Saturday) but according to Button “the experiment seemed to have been premature” and it reverted to Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday publishing for the next decade before permanently moving to daily production. After nearly 40 years of keen rivalry, the Examiner acquired the Cornwall Chronicle in 1880.
In the final edition of the Cornwall Chronicle on 30 August 1880, the last owner Thomas Just sadly outlined the financial decline of the newspaper and declared it had become an unprofitable business. It had been established, he said, to champion the “rights of the people” and was for many years was “the only liberally conducted journal” in Northern Tasmania. (4)
The next challenger to the Examiner was the Daily Telegraph which first appeared on 12 January 1882 as a bi-weekly. It was established by businessman James Brickhill who had completed a printing apprenticeship at the Examiner and later worked on the newspaper as a journalist and accountant.
After a few months Brickhill became the sole owner of the Daily Telegraph and was both its proprietor and at times editor until 1894 when he sold the business. The Daily Telegraph’s offices were across Paterson Street from the Examiner where it continued in operation until 1928.
It was, according to the leading article in its final edition on 28 March 1928, the first “penny newspaper” in Tasmania and “its liberal and progressive policy and enterprising journalism secured for it supporters in all parts of the island” and particularly concerned with the provision and maintenance of good government. The commercial printing section of the business continued as the Telegraph Printery. (5)
When Henry Button retired from the Examiner in 1898 ownership of the newspaper passed to local businessmen Alexander Young and William Rolph. Rolph became the sole owner in 1916 and members of his family ran the newspaper until 1989.
Seven day publication began in 1924 with the appearance of the Saturday Evening Express which was published until 1984 when it was replaced by The Sunday Examiner. The company established the radio station 7EX in 1938 and the television station TNT9 in 1962. In 1969 it became Examiner Northern Television Ltd (ENT).
The Examiner continued almost unchanged until 1939 when the declaration of World War II saw advertising on Page One replaced with for news for the first time. The Examiner became a tabloid-sized newspaper in 1948.
Under Edmund Rouse, son-in-law of Sir Gordon Rolph, ENT diversified into other businesses and became one of Tasmania’s biggest companies. In 1989, Rouse was jailed for three years for trying to bribe Labor politician Jim Cox to support the Government of Liberal Premier Robin Gray.
In August 1990, the Examiner was sold to NSW publisher Rural Press (60 per cent) and the Burnie Advocate (40 per cent). Rural Press became sole owner of the Examiner in 2004 when it bought the Advocate. Following the merger of Rural Press with Fairfax Media both the Examiner and Advocate became part of Fairfax Regional Media.
[The author was employed by The Examiner Newspaper for 45 years working in the Production, Editorial and Circulation Departments and as a Departmental Manager. His last appointment was as Associate Editor]
1. The Examiner website, About Us (Julian Burgess)
2. Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966.
3. The Usefulness of John West (Patricia Fitzgerald Ratcliff), 2003.
4. Cornwall Chronicle, 30 August 1880
5. Obituary, the Daily Telegraph, 11 July 1908.