State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 88 December 2011


Peter Dowling
1861-62: seminal years in the publishing history of illustrated newspapers in colonial Australia

The Illuster-rated Post – ten splendid engravings, and Summ'ry for Ingland – all for sixpence!" "The 'Stralian News for sixpence – the 'Stralian Mail a shillin!" "Here you are – pen and ink and onwelope for nuthin! For the I-n-glish Mail – the Illuster-rated Post – take it, Sir – splendid number – all for sixpence? Now's your time!" "Here's the Illuster-rated News Letter, the fust established of the illusterrated papers for the mail, "Sneaking the Emu," beautiful pictur, and room to write to your sweetart and friends, all for sixpence? Now's your time – mail closes at four, Sir, now, Ma'am, – here's a boy as 'ill write the haddress for you like copperplate – and make you a present of it!
This Wonderful Quote,1 evoking the street patter of a newsboy vendor spruiking illustrated newspapers encapsulates the seminal period of 1861-62 in the publishing history of colonial Australian illustrated newspapers. Two of the papers, the 'Stralian Mail and Illuster-rated News Letter were survivors of the previous ten year trial and error quest for a successful format for the colonial market. Indeed, the News Letter was to be the circuit breaker by linking its publication with the monthly departure of the Royal Mail steamer for England. Yet both it and the Mail were to close by the end of the year, clearing the way for the Illuster-rated Post and 'Stralian News, which, having both been launched in the previous eighteen months, were to herald the forthcoming three decade era of success for colonial illustrated newspapers.
As for the source of the quote, it comes from the article accompanying a wood engraved news illustration, The English mail day, Melbourne, in the Illustrated Melbourne Post of August 1862. This marvellous scene depicts the flurry of activity that would occur outside the original Melbourne Post Office in Bourke Street – in the background the new GPO can be seen in the course of its construction – on the 25th of each month prior to the departure of the Royal Mail steamer. People are jostling to catch the mail before it closes at 4.00 pm, and this could include purchasing the latest issue of their preferred illustrated newspaper, or if buying the News Letter, writing a quick personal note on the three blank pages, and then in either case, addressing it to family, relatives or friends back in England.
It is this image-text relationship which defines illustration in all its forms: botanical illustration, imaginative fiction illustration, news illustration. In every case, it is the text, whether in the form of a title, caption, or accompanying article respectively, which serves to anchor the precise meaning of the image from a variety of possible meanings.2
With news illustrations it is not unusual for researchers to focus on the image, often it is suspected, at the expense of the accompanying article. Yet the 'text' of the

English Mail Day at the Post Office, Melbourne, c.1862

Watercolour painting by Nicholas Chevalier.


The English Mail Day, Melbourne

Wood engraving based on the painting by Nicholas Chevalier (reproduced on proceeding pages), Illustrated Melbourne Post, 23 August 1862.

article can often be a wonderful source of further information by supplementing the 'visual' of the image. Sometimes the accompanying article will be brief and quite dry, such as when describing a newly erected building, but in other cases, a seemingly prosaic image can be accompanied by a wonderfully evocative article that is overlooked.3 In the case of the illustration above, image and text are equally evocative in complementing one another.
This article will explore the publishing history of colonial Australian illustrated newspapers over the period, 1853-1896, from the launch of the first to the closing of the last, and particularly as it relates to Victoria, for with most titles emanating from here, it could be argued that the papers are one of the less-heralded legacies of the 1850s gold rushes. It will use the two years of 1861-62 as the lynch-pin of this 43 year time-span, coming as it does between the earlier 1853-61 period of trial and error in the search for a format suitable to the colonial Australian market, and the latter 1862-88 era of success, followed by their sudden demise, 1889-96.
Colonial Australian illustrated newspapers were part of an extraordinary explosion of imagery that occurred in nineteenth-century Europe, North America and Australia as marked by an expansion of oil and water-colour painting, the invention of photography and the development of a popular illustrated press, all catering to an ascendant middle class.4 What the Illustrated London News was to Great Britain, L'Illustration to France, and Harper's Weekly to the United States, the Illustrated Australian News, Illustrated
Sydney News
and Australasian Sketcher were to colonial Australia.
The defining feature of these papers was their illustrations, produced as wood engravings, this being the only printing technique available for the mass production of imagery in combination with letter-press. Furthermore, they occupied a fifty year hiatus in nineteenth-century visual culture between the invention of photography by Louis Daguerre in France and William Henry Fox Talbot in England in 1839,5 and the development of the photomechanical half-tone process in the late 1880s in the United States, whereby photographs could be reproduced in the press. Before this latter date, the only means by which sketches for illustrations, photographs and paintings could be reproduced in the press was as wood engravings.
This printing technique had been developed by Thomas Bewick in England at the turn of the nineteenth century. Unlike the much older woodcut technique, which involved engraving along the grain of a relatively soft wood, such as pear (a process best represented by Albrecht Durer during the Renaissance), Bewick pioneered a technique of engraving across the end grain of a very hard wood, such as boxwood. This allowed for much finer detail compared with the woodcut process.6 In the early 1830s, Bewick's technique was adapted by Charles Knight, founder of the Penny Magazine, for the mass production of images, since the extreme hardness of boxwood also allowed for tens of thousands of images to be printed from a single block without any significant deterioration in image quality. In terms of fineness of detail, these mass-produced magazine illustrations never matched the quality of Bewick's engravings, yet the Penny Magazine facilitated an exponential rise in quantity of images. Then in 1842, Herbert Ingram launched the Illustrated London News (closed 2003)7. For the first time in history, the majority of people had ready access to cheap, informative and visually realistic imagery of people, places and events.8
Across the English Channel, L'Illustration, the only major non-English language illustrated newspaper was launched the following year, in 1843 (closed 1957)9 Going the other way, across the Atlantic, in the following decade, Gleason's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion (later titled Ballou's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion) was published in Boston (1851-1859), Frank Lesley's Illustrated Newspaper was launched in 1855 (closed 1922), and two years later its better known competitor, Harper's Weekly, was launched in 1857 (closed 1916).10
What is remarkable is that colonial Australian illustrated newspapers can be favourably compared with these well-known titles. The earliest local title, the Illustrated Sydney News (first series, 1853-55), equates chronologically with its American peers. And secondly, with the advent of the successful papers the following decade – the lllustrated Australian News (1861-96), the Illustrated Melbourne Post (1862-68), and the Illustrated Sydney News (second series, 1864-94), and then the following decade, the Australasian Sketcher (1873-89) – production values in terms of layout, breadth of image subject matter, and quality of wood engraving, were entirely comparable with their international counterparts.

1853-1861: Trial and Error

With the discovery of gold in Australia in 1851, a new era was born that supplanted the convict image of the colonies. The value of produced gold soon exceeded the pastoral industry's production of wool. Within a decade the population grew 160% from 438,000 to 1,152,000.11
Focusing initially on New South Wales, since this was where the first illustrated newspaper was published, in 1851 its population was 177,000 including 39,000 living in Sydney. A decade later, the colony's population had almost doubled to 350,000 whilst Sydney's had increased by 45% to 56,000. Impressive though these figures seem, this population increase was always manageable, reflecting the orderly administration of the early gold rushes that provided the catalyst.12
It was in this relatively stable social environment that the Illustrated Sydney News was launched in October 1853. One of its four founders (eventually sole proprietor) and principal engraver was Walter Mason, who had arrived in Sydney the previous year, coming from England where he had worked on the Illustrated London News, Punch and other illustrated periodicals.13 Obviously modelled on the Illustrated London News, the Illustrated Sydney News ran for nearly two years as a weekly paper. Its relative success can be attributed to a broad image subject matter that catered for a wide readership, the quality of production and the later inclusion of serialised literature. It is a testament to its quality that the paper ran for as long as it did, relative to Sydney's small population and the difficulty of achieving distribution to the approximate four-fifths of the colony's population dispersed along the coast and inland.
The demographic circumstances of Victoria in the face of gold stand in stark contrast with New South Wales. In the decade 1851-61, its population experienced a seven-fold increase from 77,000 to 540,000. Melbourne's growth was not quite so dramatic, but it still quadrupled from 29,000 to 129,000. During this period, eight different illustrated newspapers were launched, seven of them closing again within just a few issues. The reasons in this period of trial and error were the lack of start-up capital, production problems, targeted readership, and regularity of issue.
Start-up capital was important in launching illustrated papers as they were expensive to produce, due to the engraving of woodblocks being a labour intensive and time consuming process. As the editor of the Illustrated Sydney News (first series) commented in its closing issue:
Our readers can have no idea of the expenses attendant upon the presentation of good illustrations, nor of the difficulties we have had in procuring, from time to time, good engraving talent, even at an exorbitant price.14
There were also journalists to be employed and the cost of printing equipment, materials and labour. Solid finance was also needed to sustain the paper during the difficult period of establishing a readership until becoming self-supporting.
Many of the early papers were independent publications, financed by either an
entrepreneurial proprietor, or by partners who were often directly involved in producing the papers, or a mix of both arrangements. In the case of the Illustrated Melbourne News, which ran for six weeks at the beginning of 1858, two of the three partners involved were Nicholas Chevalier, who was the principal illustrator, and Frederick Grosse, a wood engraver.15 When their paper closed, a brief article in a local monthly journal dissected the cause:
The Illustrated Melbourne News deserved better success that it has met with. It has fallen, through the general cause of such failures – the absence of capital to carry on during its first struggles. The illustrations were excellent, the literary matter good, and the general conduct able.16
The earlier papers in their usually even briefer publishing runs presumably also had little capital: Melbourne Illustrated News, two weekly issues in 1853; Cassell's Illustrated Family Paper and Melbourne Advertiser, eleven weekly issues in 1854; Melbourne Pictorial Times, two weekly issues, and Illustrated Melbourne Family News, four weekly issues, both in 1855; and Australian Home Companion and Weekly Illustrated Magazine, weekly for four months in 1856-7.17
Production problems were a contributing factor to the failure of the early papers. In 1854, Victoria had only been settled for twenty years, and despite a rapidly growing population, it was still a raw and under-resourced fledgling society. There were shortages in the required skilled labour – engravers, compositors, printers – as many potential employees were still trying their luck on the goldfields, inadequate machinery (the first steam press had arrived only two years earlier), and difficulties in ensuring a regular supply of materials: newsprint paper, ink and woodblocks.18 Regarding this last point, the prospectus of the Illustrated Melbourne Family News also bemoaned the dryness of the Australian climate, which increased the susceptibility of blocks to splitting.
Targeting a readership in 1850s Victoria raises the issue of its volatile population mix, as exemplified by the Eureka Stockade rebellion in December 1854. There were two almost mutually exclusive potential audiences for illustrated newspapers, divided over whether the production of wool or gold was the basis of true wealth. On one side were the squatters and their establishment cohorts, for whom property ownership, or at least possessing the lease, was sacrosanct; and on the other, the gold seekers. For the former, wool was the basis of wealth, law and order, and a hierarchical social structure in imitation of pre-Industrial Revolution England. Their vision of Victoria was one of a pastoral arcadia producing wool to supply the woollen factories in England.19 Central to this ideal was the virtue of rural work for the shepherds, shearers and other employees. And when these faithful swains had saved enough money to buy some land of their own, they could become self-sufficient yeoman farmers working in the fields whilst their women tended to home and hearth. This was an ideology fusing agrarianism with domesticity.20 The discovery of gold was to prove highly disruptive because it diverted the supply of labour to the gold fields so that instead of wealth, in the form of wool, accumulating in the hands of a few above the ground, wealth from below was now available to all.
In the eye of the ideologues of pastoralism, agrarianism and domesticity, gold seekers had confused true wealth with gold, and finding it was seen to be an exclusively male pursuit, conducive to a self-centred, anti-social, independence-seeking way of life.21 This was the antithesis of domesticity. The life of the gold seeker, leading an itinerant life rushing from one discovery to another, engaged in hard and dirty work, being exposed to the elements and living in a manner that was bereft of domestic comforts, was considered beyond the pale of civilization. Success at gold seeking was also seen to have overtones of the lottery, with a gambler's luck, rather than yeoman virtue, deciding the outcome. This implied that the gold seeker was avoiding the opportunity for moral improvement afforded by steady labour, especially agrarian labour. And in leisure time the gold seeker was led further astray by the cycle of dissipation and regret associated with exclusively masculine company; a life of alcohol, gambling and whoring. This was a way of life depicted with fascination by the well-known goldfields artist, S. T. Gill. And it was one which had little room for women to provide, in the privacy of the home, a moral haven where the husband could recuperate from the corrupting influences of the outside world.22
It was in this social context that four of the seven titles launched in this period targeted too narrow an audience by promoting themselves as respectable family papers. In three cases, the titles alone are indicative of their contents: Cassell's Illustrated Family Paper and Melbourne Advertiser, the Illustrated Melbourne Family News, and Australian Home Companion and Weekly Illustrated Magazine, whilst the fourth, the Melbourne Illustrated News, specifically stated in its first issue its intention of being a family paper. Furthermore, all four papers were founded in the 1853-57 period, when the goldfields population was at its greatest compared with that of Melbourne. None of these papers lasted longer than a few weeks. They may have appealed to readers whose wealth was connected with wool, given that they editorialized against gold and the values associated with it, but they had very little to offer the gold seekers.
By contrast, the most successful paper in this period was the Newsletter of Australasia, or Narrative of Events to send to Friends, which in running for over six years, 1856-62, actively catered to the needs of the diggers on the goldfields, as well as people living in Melbourne. The irony of this unusual publication was that it was primarily produced for a British readership. It was one of the most innovative publishing ventures in colonial Australia, being comprised of concise monthly summaries of colonial news under various sub-titles (Journal of Politics, Journal of Social Progress, Journal of Literature and Art), a frontispiece page carrying a single illustration, and three pages left blank for the purchaser to write personal news to the recipient.
The format of the Newsletter had several advantages over the other papers of the 1850s. In Its conception, the publishers were being particularly considerate of the needs of the hardworking colonists, both on the goldfields and in Melbourne, who could not afford the time to write lengthy letters about life in Victoria, hence the various news summaries, yet who needed some space to write their private news.26 Its small size and
light weight (having been printed on rice-paper) meant that it could be registered with postal authorities as a letter.23 As for the single illustration, these covered a wide variety of subjects directed at informing recipients back home about the strange and different aspects of life in the antipodes. In this respect, the paper was particularly well served by the little known illustrator, George Strafford, who in his choice of subjects (bayside picnics, gold seekers enjoying their leisure time out shooting, and bullockies pulled up at an overnight camp), manner of treatment, and quality of draughtsmanship, could have become one of colonial Victoria's most insightful illustrators. Unfortunately, he suffered from mental instability, and in late 1861 was admitted to Yarra Bend Lunatic Asylum, spending most of the rest of his life in different asylums, and eventually dying in 1896 completely forgotten.24 One of Strafford's few friends was the wood engraver, Samuel Calvert, who arrived in Melbourne in 1852, having initially emigrated to Adelaide in 1848. He was unquestionably the most prolific of all colonial engravers, his career encompassing the entire span of colonial wood engraved news illustration, as well as being an able illustrator.25 Finally, and most importantly of all, the Newsletter was published monthly to coincide with the departure of the Royal Mail vessel to England, meaning that when it arrived back 'Home', it was bringing the latest news from the colony.
The Newsletter also set an example for future illustrated newspapers in the way it adapted to the consumer dynamics of colonial Victoria in terms of the nexus of demographics, distribution and regularity of issue. It was in the decade of the 1850s that Melbourne's proportion of Victoria's population was at its lowest, averaging just over 20%. In terms of newspaper circulation, this increased the pressure on publishers to circulate on the goldfields and elsewhere, despite the lack of an adequate transport network. Not until the mid-1850s did the government initiate a co-ordinated road construction program linking Melbourne to regional towns, and whilst this aided distribution, the weight and bulk of newspapers added to costs. The light weight Newsletter, however, readily lent itself to distribution on the goldfields where the majority of the population lived, as evidenced by the number of towns where it had agents.27 The real key to its success, though, was regularity of issue. The model for colonial illustrated newspapers had been the Illustrated London News, which had been published weekly since being founded in 1842. From a first issue sale of 26,000 copies, circulation had increased to 130,000 in the late 1840s to 300,000 in 1863, when the population of England and Wales was approximately 20 million, including sixteen cities with over 100,000 people.28 There was also a rapidly expanding railway network serving a denser population. Despite Victoria's considerably smaller and scattered population, six of the eight papers from this period imitated the London model and published weekly. From a financial perspective, the logistics of weekly publication relative to production and distribution, and compounded by the lack of start-up capital, made their lack of viability inevitable.
The Newsletter of Australasia was to be the circuit-breaker in the trial and error
period by adopting monthly issue, which was much better suited to both its domestic purchasers in Victoria and overseas distribution to a British readership. It was this innovation that became the template for the successful papers of the following period.

1862-88: Success

By 1861, wool had reasserted itself to once more become colonial Australia's prime export revenue earning product. Gold was second.29 Yet this did nothing to diminish the image of Australia as a land of beckoning, for over the three decades of 1861-91, its population almost tripled, from 1.15 million to 3.17 million. Towards the end of this period, twothirds of the population lived in Victoria and New South Wales alone, the two colonies which also saw the emergence of a cosmopolitan urban culture: 'Marvellous' Melbourne, with its Heidelberg School of artists; and Sydney, with its Bulletin literary scene. The confident optimism of the 1880s also found succour in several celebrations of European settlement: Victoria and South Australia having their fiftieth jubilees in 1884 and 1886 respectively, then New South Wales, and by extension, the rest of Australia, having its centenary in 1888.
Victoria's ascendancy over the mother colony continued. At the beginning of this period its population was 539,000 which exceeded the 350,000 in New South Wales by over 50%. By 1891 they were just about equal, both with populations in excess of 1.1 million, but Melbourne's population at 474,000 was around 25% more than that of Sydney at 383,000. Whilst gold had been the catalyst, its ascendancy had been maintained by the adoption of a protectionist economic policy directed at encouraging the development of manufacturing, enabling it to both broaden its economic base and retain its population when the alluvial gold began to run out, and gold seekers were possibly tempted to move on rather than settle. Still, it was not until 1874 that gold ceased to be Victoria's leading export earner. By then manufacturing was sufficiently established and diversified to include food processing catering to an emerging agricultural sector due to the introduction of land selection policies, construction relative to both the building and transport infrastructure industries, and engineering servicing the needs of both the maritime industry and company-based, deep-lead quartz mining for gold, particularly at Walhalla, Stawell and Bendigo.30 It was the ongoing strength of gold and the development of land selection which also kept people in regional Victoria, this accounting for Melbourne's proportion of the population in 1861 being only 23%, although climbing by 1891 to 42%.
It was in this economic and demographic context that all three of Melbourne's daily newspapers launched illustrated newspapers, two of them appearing in the 1861-2 period and the third a decade later.
The first was the Australian News for Home Readers (title changed to Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers in 1867) launched by the Age (1854-) in about March 186131 as a fortnightly paper, with every alternate issue being printed to co-ordinate with the departure of the Royal Mail steamer on the 25th of each month.32 In August
1863 it changed to a monthly issue and stayed so until closing in 1896, producing an average of ten images per issue. The title itself is an interesting pun, since 'Home Readers' can be interpreted as referring both to readers back 'Home' in England, and to readers residing at home in Victoria. Next to be launched was the Illustrated Melbourne Post founded by the Herald (1840-1990) in January 1862. For the first six months this paper was a monthly, again being published to co-ordinate with the departure of the Royal Mail. Then from July 1862 until May 1863 it was published weekly, each issue carrying an average of only four illustrations, but with the monthly Royal Mail issue having a supplement reprinting most of the images from the previous three weekly issues. At the end of this period it reverted to monthly issue and remained so until closing at the end of 1868. The third and final paper was the Australasian Sketcher established in 1873 by the Argus (1846-1957) as a monthly, and closing in 1889.33 It also had an average of ten images per issue.
These three papers had several advantages in being founded by already established daily papers. One was the backing of greater start-up capital. In the case of the Illustrated Australian News, launched in about March 1861, it faced the challenges of both the independent Illustrated Australian Mail being launched in November, and the Illustrated Melbourne Post in January 1862. At the end of 1862 the Illustrated Australian Mail closed after fourteen issues, not having the financial backing to compete against two papers with stronger start-up capital. The Newsletter of Australasia also closed at this time; rendered obsolete by the newcomers with their more conventional format as illustrated newspapers, and carrying about ten illustrations per issue. By contrast, the Illustrated Melbourne Post, which also had the financial backing of a daily paper, was to run successfully for eight years.
For both papers secure start-up capital also meant the luxury of being able to experiment with regularity of issue. The Illustrated Australian News began as a fortnightly paper, but after eighteen months this was presumably not viable, and it changed to monthly issue. Likewise, the Illustrated Melbourne Post experimented with being weekly, after being launched as a monthly, then after ten months reverted to monthly issue. For both papers, monthly publication continued to be linked with departure of the Royal Mail steamer.
The concept of monthly issue was to also prove the most viable relative to colonial demographics. To recap, in 1861 Victoria's population was 539,000, climbing to 730,000 in 1871, with Melbourne's proportion being 25% at 192,000; then 862,000 in 1881, the capital's proportion climbing to 33% at 262,000; and finally, 1.1 million In 1891, with 42% (474,000) residing In Melbourne. In this context, effective distribution to the regional and rural population was critical, and achieved courtesy of a burgeoning railway network. Geelong had been connected to Melbourne in 1857, both Ballarat and Bendigo in 1862, and then over the next three decades the system expanded as far as Portland in the south-west, Dimboola to the west, Inglewood, Echuca and Wodonga in different directions to the north, and Sale to the east.34
Another advantage to having the financial backing of a daily paper was ready access to printing equipment, materials and labour. For the parent company, this meant a maximising of the return on the investment in equipment and labour, given that there would be less down time from a production point of view. For example, with David Syme and Co., the Age was the daily flagship paper; the Leader its weekly rural distribution paper; and the Illustrated Australian News its monthly illustrated paper.
From the perspective of the illustrated newspaper, the only real add-on cost was the production of the illustrations, requiring the employment or contracting of illustrators, photographers and wood engravers.35 To mention a few of the most notable, the three most outstanding illustrators were Albert Cooke, active from the late 1850s-early 1890s, and responsible for just about all of the superb birds-eye view panoramas of most capital cities and major regional towns – feats of draughtsmanship that never cease to amaze for their technical virtuosity; James Waltham Curtis, active 1870s and 1880s, who depicted the immense variety of the Australian landscape, and the human interaction with its elements; and John Macfarlane, active 1880s-mid 1890s, who worked in a similar vein, and on available knowledge, seems to have been content to operate just in the sphere of graphic journalism, with no pretensions to becoming a 'high' artist.36 As for the photographers, the only standout who moved beyond the usual repertoire of buildings and portraits was the unique Carl Walter. In the 1860s and '70s, this resourceful emigrant German embarked on several solo expeditions into the eastern and alpine regions of Victoria, carrying a 25-30kg pack containing camping equipment and a cumbersome and bulky wet-plate camera. He would have prepared, exposed and developed his glass plates in often difficult conditions before selling his photographs to the illustrated newspapers in Melbourne for reproduction as wood engravings.37
Of the wood engravers much less can be said, for in many respects they were anonymous, not in the sense of not being known by name (their signatures or initials can often be seen in the bottom left corner of the engravings) but because their trade required translating the illustrator's tonal sketch or photographer's black-and-white photograph into a skein of lines.38 Whilst there can be no denying their dexterity in reproducing an original image as a reverse mirror-image wood engraving, it also meant reducing the stylistic idiosyncrasies of the illustrators down to a bland uniformity.39 The photographers fared no better, for it takes a well trained eye to distinguish whether an engraving is after a photograph or a sketch, and even then, not always. After the aforementioned Samuel Calvert, the two most prolific engravers were R. Bruce, active mid-1860s to mid-1880s and F. A. Sleap, active mid-1870s to early 1890s.40 It is a shame that wood engraving for the illustrated newspapers was not a trade that allowed individual talent to shine through; it was sufficient that one had the skill to do it, a reflection of the fact that news illustration was about the mass production of imagery for a mass audience.
The final factor dictating the success of the papers in this period was the establishment of a wider readership due to the breakdown of the social divide between
gold and wool that had dominated the previous period. The gold seekers, now more politely known as prospectors, were no longer seen to be a threat to the social fabric. Nor could there be any denying that the 1850s gold rushes had been of enormous benefit to Victoria. They had brought an injection of people, which not only boosted population, but had resulted in Victoria having the most educated and skilled workforce of all Australian colonies.41 The capital raised from the proceeds of gold, was used to fund infrastructure projects such as a railway network, a telegraph system and improved port facilities such as the straightening of the Yarra River in the 1880s to allow the largest vessels access almost to the edge of Melbourne's central grid; an education system, implemented in the 1870s, which provided free, secular and compulsory schooling for its young; and cultural edifices such as a Public Library which went onto incorporate both an art gallery and museum. Finally, gold had brought leisure time, as it had been Victoria's buoyant labour market in the 1850s which brought about legislation for the eight hour day in 1856, and by extrapolation, this created the audiences for spectator events such as the Melbourne Cup, first run in 1861, international cricket matches, with the first English touring cricket team also arriving in 1861, and the nascent local version of football that became known as Australian Rules.
From the 1860s onwards, the targeted audience of all three papers was an urbanbased, middle-class readership, yet the papers also sought to be inclusive of both the colonial elite, as embodied at the apex of society by the Governor, and the prosperous working class as best represented by the land selector. In effect, the key to having a strong and loyal readership was having a wide range of subject matter. Between them, the Victorian papers and their sole New South Wales counterpart, the Illustrated Sydney News (second series, 1864-94),42 produced an estimated 8,000 – 10,000 images over the 1862-88 period. The range of subjects can be grouped under four themes. The Material Culture theme depicts the physical progress of European settlement in Australia from a perceived pre-contact wilderness to a recognizable western society. It comprises subjects such as buildings, streetscapes, panoramas of cities and towns, manufacturing and commerce, and infrastructure such as transport, maritime activity and communications; for example, the telegraph. The social dimension of colonial Australia is seen with the Civic Culture theme, comprising imagery of civic occasions (processions, balls, opening ceremonies, funerals), portraits, leisure (sports and outdoor relaxation activities such as picnics, the beach and mountain retreats), the arts (theatre, music, fine art), and the volunteer militia, which was a significant leisure time alternative to sport for men. Then there is the Frontier Culture theme, for whereas the previous two themes were mostly concerned with the urban experience, images in this theme depict frontier and rural interaction with the Australian landscape: landscapes, indigenous people, mining, rural life and natural disasters (fire, flood, drought and people lost in the bush). Finally, there is the Beyond Australia theme, with imagery relating to New Zealand, the Pacific Islands and International: Europe, Asia, North and South America, and Africa.43

1889-1896: Demise

In July 1888 the Illustrated Sydney News became the first newspaper in Australia to produce a half-tone reproduction of a photograph.44 This major advance in printing technology, developed in the USA, was to be the death warrant for the monthly illustrated newspaper. The Australasian Sketcher closed the following year, without even attempting to adapt to the new technology. The Illustrated Sydney News changed to a magazine format, and carried a multitude of half-tone images, but closed in 1894. As for the Illustrated Australian News, it also adopted the half-tone process, retained its illustrated newspaper format, and ran until 1896.
The role of the monthly illustrated newspaper in colonial Australia was superseded by their weekly stablemates, which had been launched by the parent daily papers back in the late 1850s and early 1860s as rural distribution papers, often with a focus on pastoralism and agriculture. In Victoria, the Age had the Leader (1856-1957), the Argus the Australasian (1864-1946), and the Herald the Weekly Times (1869-),45 whilst in New South Wales, the Sydney Morning Herald (1831-) had the Sydney Mail (1860-1938), and the Evening Mail (1867-1931) had the Australian Town and Country Journal (1870-1919). These weekly papers began carrying a few wood engraved illustrations in the late 1860s. More importantly, they were much better placed to take advantage of the introduction of the cheaper and faster half-tone process, as well as the introduction of the linotype machine that was introduced to Australia in 1894,46 to become lavishly illustrated weeklies with both an urban and rural distribution to complement their nonillustrated daily parent papers.
In 1861, there occurred four seminal events in the history of colonial Victoria; indeed, colonial Australia. In May, the National Gallery of Victoria opened; in November, there was the arrival in Melbourne of the news of the fate of Burke and Wills, and the running of the first Melbourne Cup; and in December, the landing in Melbourne of the first English cricket team. On hand to provide visual representation of these events to a wide audience were the four illustrated newspapers referred to in the opening quote, the Newsletter of Australasia, the Illustrated Australian Mail, the Illustrated Australian News, and the Illustrated Melbourne Post. Between them, these papers produced imagery relating to all four events.
In 2011 all four of these events have their 150th anniversaries. It is intriguing to consider the role played by the illustrated newspapers in giving ongoing visual media attention to these events and their subsequent evolution during the second half of the nineteenth century; and beyond: the National Gallery of Victoria becoming Australia's premier art gallery; Burke and Wills now seen as a farce combining celebrity and tragedy; the Melbourne Cup becoming known as the richest handicap race for stayers in the world, and celebrated with a public holiday; and the visit of the English cricket team eventually resulting in the Ashes rivalry, one of the oldest international sporting competitions in the world. Today, all four events possess iconographic status in the cultural landscape of twenty-first-century Australia.


'The English mail day, Melbourne', Illustrated Melbourne Post, 23 August 1862, p. 5.


Jeremy Mulvey, 'Pictures with words: a critique of Alain-Marie Bassy's approach', Information Design Journal, vol. 5, no. 2, 1988, pp. 141-158, p. 146.


This focus on the images in illustrated newspapers at the expense of the text has been accentuated by the advent of keyword searching for images on-line, using sites such as Picture Australia ( and its associated institutional libraries. The service will bring up the image but not the accompanying article. Unfortunately, users are either not aware of an associated text, or do not bother to look for it by going to the holding library and looking at the microfilm of the newspaper. For an alternative approach to searching for images, see Peter Dowling, Index to Imagery in Colonial Australian Illustrated Newspapers, (forthcoming in 2012).


Gerald Needham, 19th Century realist Art, New York: Harper & Row, 1988, p. 35.


Daguerre invented the daguerreoytpe process which produced just one negative image that could be viewed as a positive image. Fox Talbot invented the collotype process which allowed for multiple positive copies to be produced from a negative image, this being the forerunner of the wet-glass plate camera.


Needham, 19th Century Realist Art, pp. 18-19.


'Illustrated London News', Wikipedia, accessed 1 May 2011.


Needham, 19th Century Realist Art, pp. 18-19.


'L'Illustration', Wikipedia, accessed 1 May 2011.


F. L. Mott, History of American Magazines, 1741-1930, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 5 vols, 1930-68, vol. 2, 1865-1885, ch. 18, 'Gleason's/Ballou's Pictorial Drawing Room Companion', ch. 26, 'Lesley's Weekly', & ch. 28, 'Harper's Weekly'.


Australians: a historical library, 10 vols, Sydney: Fairfax, Syme and Weldon, 1987, vol. 10, Historical Statistics, pp. 26 & 41, for all population figures unless otherwise stated.


Beverly Kingston, A hHstory of New South Wales, South Melbourne, Vic.: CUP, 2006, pp. 53-5.


Joan Kerr, ed., The Dictionary of Australian Artists: painters, sketchers, photographers and engravers to 1870, Melbourne: OUP, 1992, pp. 521-2.


'Valedictory', Illustrated Sydney News, 30 June 1855, p. 341.


Kerr, Dictionary of Australian Artists, pp. 147-9 & 329 respectively. Both men arrived in 1854, Grosse, early in the year to initially spend time on the Bendigo goldfield, and Chevalier later in the year, going straight into illustration and cartooning.


Illustrated Journal of Australasia, vol. 4, no. 21, March 1858, p. 143.


Lurline Stuart, Australian Periodicals with Literary Content, 1821-1925: an annotated bibliography, Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2003, see individual entries. See also her Nineteenth Century Australian Periodicals: an annotated bibliography, Sydney, Hale and Iremonger, 1987.


Stuart, Australian periodicals with literary content, p. x. See also her Nineteenth century Australian periodicals, p. 2.


C. Lansbury, Arcady in Australia: the evocation of Australia in nineteenth-century English literature, Melbourne: MUP, 1970, ch. 6, 'The Caxtons'; and David Goodman, Gold Seeking: Victoria and California in the 1850s, St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1994, ch. 4, 'Agrarianism and pastoral'.


Goodman, Gold Seeking, ch. 5.


Goodman, Gold Seeking, p. 154.


Goodman, Gold Seeking, pp. xvii-xix & 115-8.


Don Garden, Victoria: a history, Melbourne: Nelson, 1984, p. 91. The voyage to England took three months, and in the early 1850s, even the Royal mail was unreliable, ceasing completely in the period, 1855-57, due to the Crimean War. Not until P. & O. assumed responsibility for the service in 1858 could colonists rely on the regular delivery and receipt of mail to and from England, and even then the mailing of letters was more secure than that of newspapers and parcels.


Kerr, Dictionary of Australian Artists, pp. 764-5. See also Goodman, Gold Seeking, ch. 6, 'Excitement', especially pp. 189-203, regarding how the goldrushes attracted a fair number of mentally unstable gold seekers and the consequent role of asylums.


Kerr, Dictionary of Australian Artists, pp. 127-9. Calvert was a son of Edward Calvert, one of the early second-quarter nineteenth-century artists who gathered loosely round William Blake, and were known as the Ancients.


Advertisement for Newsletter of Australasia, in Illustrated Melbourne News, 23 January, 1858, p. 51.


Newsletter of Australasia, December 1857 issue, lists agents in Ararat, Ballarat, Beechworth, Castlemaine, Dunnolly, Geelong, Maryborough, Sandhurst (Bendigo), and Warrnambool.


A. Lambert, Nineteenth Century Railway History through the Illustrated London News, Newton Abbot, Devonshire: David Charles, 1984, pp. 7-8.


Beverley Kingston, Glad, Confident Morning, 1860-1900, Melbourne: OUP, 1988 (vol. 3 of The Oxford history of Australia), p. 12.


Garden, Victoria, pp. 123, 126, 131-3, and Kingston, Glad, Confident Morning, pp. 29-31.


As surmised from pattern of publication discussed in endnote 32. The first known surviving issue is no. 27, 21 April 1862.


Unfortunately, only seven issues of the Illustrated Australian News survive for the period, 1861-63, however, from an analysis of issue sequencing relative to the dates of these issues, this pattern of publication has been established at a speculative level.


For the purpose of clarity, the names of the daily papers have been given rather than the name of the proprietary company.


Garden, Victoria, pp. 171-2.


Unfortunately, no records exist to be able to establish how the illustrated newspapers conducted their business with illustrators, photographers or engravers.


Kerr, Dictionary of Australian Artists, pp. 172-3, for Albert Cook, and Alan McCulloch et al, The New McCulloch's Encyclopaedia of Australian art, 4th ed., Melbourne: Miegunyah, 2006, pp. 360-1 & 643, for James Waltham Curtis and John Macfarlane respectively (both entries being brief and incomplete). See also the website,


Kerr, Dictionary of Australian Artists, pp. 834-5, & L. Gillbank, 'Charles Walter: collector of images and plants in east Gippsland', Gippsland Heritage Journal, no. 13, December 1992.


Kirsty Grant, In Relief: Australian wood engravings, woodcuts and linocuts, (exh. cat.), Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1997, pp. 18-19, for an image of a woodblock and the engraving printed from it. The NGV has a collection of about eight woodblocks, some engraved, and others with a gouache image painted onto it, but not engraved. They are the only surviving blocks of the thousands used to produce engravings in the papers.


Paul Hogarth, The Artist as Reporter, London, Studio Vista, 1967, p. 27, for illustrators' sketches being reduced to a bland uniformity by wood engravers.


No information about these two engravers is available.


Garden, Victoria, p. 80.


The Illustrated Sydney News (second series) was published independently by Gibbs, Shallard & Co., a printing and stationery firm in Sydney; it had no connection with any of Sydney's daily papers.


Peter Dowling, 'Chronicles of progress: The illustrated newspapers of colonial Australia, 1853-1896', PhD thesis, National Centre for Australian Studies, Monash University, 1997. This description summarises the thematic structure of the thesis.


The Sydney Mail has been cited as the first newspaper to produce a half-tone – 'The recent railway accident at Young' - in September 1888, but this is incorrect.


At the end of 1868, when the Herald (1840-1990) closed the Illustrated Melbourne Post, the parent daily changed from being a morning paper to an evening paper, beginning at the start of 1869. Later that same year, it took over the Weekly Times (1869-) which had been founded earlier in the year by the Daily Telegraph (1869-92). See 'Appendix: Publication dates and title changes of the major daily, weekly and monthly newspapers', in Peter Dowling, 'Catching up on the News: local, colonial and Australia-wide', Local Newspapers – Local identities: proceedings of the newspaper history conference, Chiltern, Victoria, 1-3 October 1999, Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand Bulletin, vol, 23, no. 4, 1999 /vol. 24, no. 1, 2000, pp. 241-48, pp. 246-48.


Comment by Rod Kirkpatrick in talkback at 'Local Newspapers – Local identities', Newspaper History Conference, Chiltern, Victoria, 1-3 October 1999.