TRIALS OF GEORGE HOWE PIONEER OF AUSTRALIAN PRINTING. George Howe, the first Australian printer, was born on the island of St. Kitts, in the West Indies (writes Gordon Leckie in the Melbourne "Argus"). He was educated in Eng- land, and for some years he printed a London paper. In 1800 he came to Sydney, and three years later he founded Australia's first newspaper, the "Gazette." Those were war years. The price of paper was ex- tortionate and supplies were ir- regular. So scarce was paper in the Colony, that it was usual for women when shopping to take stockings in which to receive their purchases. In August, 1805, the shortage became so acute that Howe had perforce to an- nounce that "as we have no certainty of an immediate supply of paper we cannot promise a publication next week." Shortly afterwards limited supplies were made available, and he was able to inform his readers that, "under the assurance of a further temporary supply of paper, I have been en- abled to provide an exact sufficiency for this scanty publication." It con- sisted of two foolscap pages; the price was sixpence. An anonymous wit called the paper "The Snakey Gazette," because, after hibernat- ing, it usually reappeared on paper of a different colour, size and tex- ture. Howe regretted this instabil- ity, but, as no two consignments of paper were alike, it was beyond his control. On the occasion of one such reappearance he gracefully apo- logised for the defect. "We have," he wrote, "once more the satisfac- tion of rendering service to the pub- lic. We have repeatedly to lament the necessity of vieing with the cha- meleon in its change of colour. To necessity we cannot dictate. A sup- ply of paper guarantees the pro- mise of continuance of this publica- tion until other rivals may take its
place, or until unrelenting fate should put an end to our vicissi- tudes." Printing on Rice Paper. The poor quality rice paper im- ported from China proved to be an- other trial. "We are reduced to the necessity," lamented Howe, "of printing the 'Gazette' on China paper. Of all evils this is one most wished to be avoided, more particu- larly as it increases our difficulties twofold." The absorbent nature of the rice paper would permit of printing on one side only. But paper was not Howe's only prob- lem. Worn type and the necessity for manufacturing his own ink when supplies were not forthcoming added to his difficulties. To subscribers who complained of the faulty print- ing he replied, "Modesty is our best attire; but we cannot help saying, as opportunity now favours, that it is the 'means' we are now de- ficient in, and not, exactly 'ability'." This did not satisfy subscribers, and new type was repeatedly promised. Finally the "Gazette" was able proudly to announce "The type has arrived." But a week later it dejectedly explained, "The new type has reached us but we lament to say it is of small utility, being from its minuteness almost imperceptible to the eye." The old type was again pressed into service, and its shortcomings, together with a particularly poor ink, rendered the issue of the "Gazette" practical- ly illegible. The complaints of the subscribers evoked yet another apo- logy: "We have to apologise," Howe said, "for the illegibility of last week's 'Gazette.' Many of them were scarcely readable; and this was a fault that appeared without remedy, in consequence of two failures hav- ing occurred in making experiments upon manufacturing ink. It is one of the most difficult and disagreeable tasks that can possibly devolve to the printer of a paper, to make his own ink." Despite the progress of printing, little has been done to eliminate Howe's greatest trouble. No machine has yet been devised that will collect debts. Describing his father's enterprise, George Howe's son said: "He bought his paper at a very dear price; he distributed his type; he invented and obtained new matter without any auxiliary as- sistance; he worked the paper off at press; and he afterwards carried it out, that is to say, delivered it to the Sydney subscribers. A paper in England with a circulation of fewer than 700 is sensibly a losing con- cern; and what must be a paper within half that number, and half of that unpaid for!" Though him- self hard pressed Howe was a patient and courteous creditor. In April, 1805, he besought subscribers to pay their arrears, on the grounds that the subscription was very rea- sonable and his necessity was very great. Payment would be accepted in copper coin, grain, or bills. Appeals to Subscribers. Apparently the response was not favourable, for every subsequent issue assured readers that payments in cash or kind would "be most thankfully received." Finally, ren- dered desperate by his own creditors he announced that, though "dread- ing the necessity of a peregrination through the extensive Hawkesbury settlement, he was compelled to form a resolution of once more encounter- ing the fatigues certain upon so dis- tressing a journey; under a hope that persons in arrears of subscrip- tian will liquidate their accounts." Thereupon Howe set out on a weary round through virgin bush in an en- deavour to collect his dues from widely scattered homesteads. The weight of copper coin with which he was mostly paid, the oppressive heat, and the ever-present dread of bushrangers made his task far from enviable. The results afforded but temporary relief, for in December, 1809, Howe bitterly announced that he could no longer publish the "Gazette". The Governor of the Colony, realising the inestimable worth of a newspaper to the community, called Howe to him, and subsequently is- sued the following document by his secretary:— "As it is his Honour's wish to strengthen as much as possible the prospect of its uninterrupted con- tinuance, he is further pleased to re- commend punctuality in the dis- charge of subscriptions, etc. . . ." "By command of his Honour the Lieutenant-Governor. "James Finacane, Secretary." Howe reconsidered his decision, and the "Gazette" appeared once more. Gradually subscribers became lax in their payments. In 1819 he
again appealed through his columns: "Generous subscribers," he implored, "do not let your faithful publisher take his whity-brown locks with sorrow to the grave, when it is so happily in your power to pay the servant who is ever at your service." On May 11, 1821, George Howe died, and his son, Robert, who con- tinued the "Gazette," until his own death in 1829, erected a marble tab- let, bearing the following inscrip- tion, in the office of the "Gazette":— "In memory of George Howe, a creole of St. Kitts, born 1769, died May 11, 1821, aged 52. He intro- duced into Australia the art of printing, and established the Syd- ney 'Gazette,' and was the first Go- vernment printer, besides which his charity knew no bounds." Fittingly, George Howe was buried in the new cemetery in Devonshire-street, then known as the Sandy Hills, for which he had long agitated in his paper. The publication of the first "Government Gazette" in 1832, resulted in the withdrawal of the grant of £60 a year which Howe had received for publishing Government notices. For some years after this the "Gazette" struggled on, sometimes as a daily and sometimes as a weekly, until in 1841 it finally announced its in- ability to continue.