Stanhope Press – invading words

No. 22

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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 – from government edicts to oppositional views. They were regarded as a tool of freedom. The printed word was also crucial in reinforcing the invasion of European culture into the island, overwhelming the oral Tasmanian Aboriginal culture.

This cast iron Stanhope printing press was manufactured in the 1830s, a time of great conflict between independent newspaper proprietors and Tasmania’s colonial government. Stanhope presses were invented by the British statesman and scientist, Charles, the 3rd Earl Stanhope (1753–1816) in 1803. They were a remarkable technological advance over the existing wooden presses, and resulted in sharper printing impressions and more efficient printing. Many Stanhope presses, including this one, were manufactured in London by Robert Walker and his descendants.

The museum acquired the press in 1931 after it had been found in the Hobart Gaol and exhibited in Launceston and Hobart. At that time and for many years hence it was thought to have been imported into the colony by Andrew Bent who arrived in Hobart Town as a convict in 1812 and established the Hobart Town Gazette in 1816. His career was marked by conflict with colonial authorities and innovation in publishing. He is sometimes called the founder of the free press in Australia.

Recent research, however, makes it highly unlikely that Bent ever owned this Stanhope press or printed a newspaper on it. Although its Tasmanian history remains shrouded in mystery it is a potent symbol of the importation of European culture and technology to Van Diemen’s Land. It is also emblematic of the dynamic nature of museum collections as continual research reshapes our understanding of both individual objects and the stories they tell.

Comments on this object

  • "The printed word was also critical in reinforcing the invasion of European culture into the island, overwhelming the oral Tasmanian Aboriginal culture." - an emotive and subjective statement which is completely unnecessary and out of place in this description. Stick to the facts. No one at that time thought of themselves as "invaders" and neither should we. They were settlers in an apparently empty land. No denying that they displaced the aboriginal population and committed many atrocities against them, but it wasn't an invasion. Mike Hurburgh
  • Thanks very much for taking the time to read the Shaping Tasmania site and make comment, Mike. In fact both the colonial government and many colonists were well aware that colonisation involved invasion. It was a subject of much discussion. David Burn arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1826 and purchased land near New Norfolk in 1830. A frontier landowner he nonetheless explicitly commented that "the reflecting portion of the community knew well that they were ‘invaders’ who had despoiled the original possessors of their hunting-fields" (Colonial Magazine and Commercial-Maritime Journal, volume 2, May-August 1840, p. 75). The surveyor James Erskine Calder wrote about Tasmanian Aboriginal resistance to colonisation in 1831 and asked, "Where is the man amongst ourselves who would not resist an invading enemy?" (in letter to the Launceston Advertiser, 26 September 1831, p. 299). In 1827 Andrew Bent published a detailed a justification of the colonisation of Tasmania in the Colonial Times. In particular he observed that "we have taken possession of their country, and driven them from the native land." Further on he added "where there are no laws to govern the human actions, the only right is vested in power, i.e. strength; by which one individual may be enabled to overcome another, who is weaker, and drive him from his possessions" (Colonial Times, 11 May 1827, p. 2). These are just three examples of contemporaneous descriptions of ‘settlement’ as ‘invasion’. There are many others. Curator of History
  • Ok, I'll amend my comments to align with the facts: Very few of the settlers thought of themselves as "invaders" in the same sense that we use the term "invasion" these days. Mike Hurburgh