Andrew Bent (1790–1851) was a London-born printer, publisher and newspaper proprietor who, convicted of burglary and sentenced to transportation, arrived in Hobart Town in 1812. Appointed as the official government printer in c.1816, Bent’s career was marked by conflict with colonial authorities and innovation in publishing. Most notably he imported the colony’s first all-metal printing press in 1823 and published Australia’s first independent newspaper soon after. Invented in approximately 1800 by British statesman and scientist, Charles the 3rd Earl of Stanhope (1753–1816), this massive cast-iron press, known as the Stanhope press, was formed in one piece, creating a machine that resulted in sharper printing impressions and more efficient printing.
The ability of the printed word to effect change cannot be underestimated. Those who owned and controlled the young colony’s printing presses wielded an unusual power. Newspapers provided a popular voice, allowing a wide variety of ideas to be published – particularly those in opposition to the government of the day. They were regarded as a tool of freedom. The printed word was also critical in reinforcing the invasion of European culture into the island, overwhelming the oral Tasmanian Aboriginal culture.
From 1825, Bent used the press to print the Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser – a rival newspaper to the official Hobart Town Gazette. The Colonial Times was virulently anti-government and attacked Governor Arthur incessantly. These attacks led to charges of libel against Bent, leading to periods of imprisonment.
Bent’s importance as Australia’s first independent newspaper proprietor and his technical skills as a printer are widely recognised. In 1881, his publishing was described as “superior to anything… produced at the present day in any Australian colony”.
Bent’s Stanhope press is exceptionally significant. As well as printing Australia’s first independent newspaper, it printed its first satirical sketches, The Hermit of Van Diemen’s Land (under Bent’s ownership in 1829) and first novel, Quintus Servinton (under Henry Melville’s ownership in 1830-31). Both works were anonymously penned by the convicted forger, Henry Savery. The press has a long lineage – today’s Hobart Mercury is a direct descendent of Bent’s Colonial Times.