The Fremantle Observer, Perth Gazette & Western Australian Journal

The State Library holds thousands of newspapers, but this week we focus on early West Australian newspapers, predominantly focusing on the first commercially printed West Australian newspaper, with the ungainly masthead of The Fremantle Observer, Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, published for the first time in April 1831.

Charles Macfaull and William Kernot Shenton were the men responsible for publishing the first newspaper in the Swan River Colony to be printed on an industrial printing press, but this illustrious publication is predated by an earlier effort. Macfaull and Shenton were also responsible for The Western Australian Chronicle and Perth Gazette, a hand-written manuscript newspaper written in ink in two columns on both sides of two sheets of foolscap paper.

It was published weekly on Saturdays and carried official notices as well as news and advertisements. Macfaull invited farmers to send the paper information about their successful crops and farming methods so that they could be shared with other readers.

The Western Australian Chronicle and Perth Gazette

Two months later, on 16 April, the paper announced that a printing press had arrived in the colony. It was installed in Colonel Peter Latour’s horse stable and flour mill shed in Adelaide Street, Fremantle. On February 25, the first printed edition, under the masthead Fremantle Observer, Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, appeared with a cover price of one shilling and sixpence. It offered advertisements for three shillings and sixpence up to six lines and then threepence a line.

The Fremantle Observer, Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal

Macfaull and Shenton would soon have a falling out over editorial content, with Shenton relinquishing his interest in the venture. Macfaull continued publishing the newspaper, but times were tough and selling subscriptions was difficult – it wasn’t long before Macfaull had to cancel his lease on the press and revert to the handwritten version. However, in 1832 a new press arrived in the colony, and Macfaull was contracted to print a new publication featuring government notices and forms. The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal began in 1833 published first by Charles Macfaull, then his wife Elizabeth, and after three changes in ownership and name, became The West Australian in 1879.

Search the catalogue for early West Australian newspapers and to see the other photographs and stories online. 

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Recorded live on ABC Radio Perth on 20 October 2020.

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