Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

History revisited - pressed for change

One current exhibition at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum is called Technologies that Changed Our Minds. The display looks at some of the technologies that fundamentally changed our concept of who we are and our place in the universe.

That’s interesting in itself, but I was interested to discover that one exhibit had a uniquely Armidale connection. This is an Albion cast iron hand printing press manufactured by A Wilson & Sons, London, in 1850. Albion hand printing press, 1850 Expresd

While heavy, it’s not an especially large piece, with a height of 1.4m, a width of .87 metres and a depth of 1.8m. However, the story of that press is partly the story of Australia itself.

On 26 July 1839, Henry Parkes and his wife arrived in Sydney as assisted immigrants on board the Strathfieldsaye, along with a baby born just two days before. Parkes had limited formal education, but loved writing and began publishing poems and articles. He also developed an interest in politics and was attracted to the radical wing in colonial politics.

In April 1850, he joined with the Reverend John Dunmore Lang and J R Wilshire to establish the Australian League to work for universal suffrage and the transformation of the Australian colonies into a 'Great Federal Republic'.

Lang occupies an important place in New England history, for having campaigned successfully for self-government first for Port Phillip (Victoria) and then Moreton Bay (Queensland), he turned his attention to the achievement of self-government for Northern New South Wales. Here he failed, although the campaign would continue.

In the fluid politics of the time, Parkes began to shift his support to the liberals who, like the radicals, were opposed to the constitutional views of the conservatives led by William Charles Wentworth,

Late in 1850 Parkes found support to set up as editor-proprietor of the Empire, using the Albion printing press The paper began as a weekly, but quickly moved to a daily as it became the chief organ of nineteenth mid-century liberalism

Sadly, Parkes was no business man. Indeed, he spent much of his working life on the edge of bankruptcy to the sometimes distress of his family. By 1856, the Empire was in financial trouble. The Albion press had to be sold.

The purchasers were William Hipgrave and Walter Craigie who loaded their newly acquired printing press onto a bullock dray and set out from Maitland early in 1856 to found the Armidale Express,

The press remained in Armidale until 1929 when it was given to the Technological Museum by Armidale Newspapers Ltd. Now, all these years later, you can see this historic piece of machinery.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 2 October 2013. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013.

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