John Pascoe Fawkner and his press

Shining the light throw the resplendent light of Publicity upon all the affairs of this New Colony' was the proud boast of The Melbourne Advertiser when it was first published on 1 January 1838...

What it did not say was that the light would shine just as brightly on John Pascoe Fawkner, its publisher.

Portrait of J. P. Fawkner by William Strutt

Portrait of W. P. Fawkner Esq. by William Strutt, 1853.
Source: State Library of Victoria, La Trobe Picture Collection

Fawkner played a key role in the establishment of Melbourne and Victoria as a separate state.


The story of the first newspaper in Melbourne well illustrates Fawkner’s way of operating.

He had ordered a printing press from Tasmania, but he did not wait for its arrival to publish the first Melbourne newspaper. He wanted to beat the competition so The Advertiser's first nine weekly editions were handwritten.

The Fawkner Printing Press

The Fawkner Press
Photographer: Jon Augier, Source: Museum Victoria

The first printed edition appeared on 5 March 1838. The Press itself was nothing special; its chief characteristic was that it was the first one Fawkner could get hold of.

The newspaper was closed down on 23 April 1838 because Fawkner had not obtained a newspaper licence from Sydney!

He republished with a new title - The Port Phillip Patriot and Melbourne Advertiser - on 6 February 1839 after he had obtained a licence. The paper was first published daily on the15 May 1845.

First in everything

Why did Fawkner not wait for the printing press?

He could make money from subscriptions and advertising businesses including his own. He knew others wanted to be the first to publish a newspaper so he wanted to beat his competitors and gain a place in history.

Fawkner and Melbourne

Fawkner had been to Melbourne in 1803 as an eleven year old, living with his convict father in a colony established near present day Sorrento. When the colony was abandoned in 1804 due to lack of wood and fresh water, the Fawkners moved to Hobart in Tasmania.

Fawkner worked in his father’s bakery, timber business and brewery. In 1819, they moved to Launceston, where they set up a hotel, bakery, timber business, bookshop, nursery, orchard and a newspaper The Launceston Advertiser in 1829.

Fawkner’s second coming

In April 1835, Fawkner bought a ship, Enterprize, with the aim of returning to the mainland and establishing a settlement in the Port Phillip District.

In August 1835, the Enterprize, without Fawkner, tied up near William Street on the Yarra River. Land was cleared for growing crops and a store was built.

Fawkner came later in October 1835 and set himself up as a businessman, opening Melbourne’s first hotel on the corner of William Street and Flinders Lane and publishing the first newspaper.

Fawkner's first Printing Office, 1870

Fawkner's first Printing Office, 1870
Photographer: Unknown, Source: Royal Historical Society of Victoria

He was elected to the first Legislative Council of the Port Phillip District in 1851, and was elected in 1856 to the first Parliament of the colony of Victoria, as MLC for Central Province.

Fawkner had worked tirelessly for the separation of Victoria from New South Wales; this was achieved in 1851.

Fawkner’s impact on the early life Melbourne was great - 15,000 people watched his funeral procession, which consisted of over 200 carriages.

Fawkner was born in 1792 and died in 1869.

Visitor Information

The Fawkner Press and other objects are on display in the Melbourne Story Exhibition.

Comments (15)

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tom creed 2 December, 2009 09:27
Hi, I have the THE AGE FIRST EDITION 1854 with JOHN PASCOE FAWNKNER signature.But I dont known if it a copy or if it real . Would you no if there is a copy of this paper been signed by JOHN FAWNKNER can you please let me no thank you
Jude 4 March, 2013 11:50
I have a 1st edition age 17.10.1854 would like to know if the original is signed or not?
jude 19 March, 2013 08:59
hi Tom just wondering if you had any luck finding out more about first edition Age? would love to know
Patricia 22 March, 2013 22:38
Hello, I have a copy of The Age No.1Vol.1 Melbourne Tuesday October 17, 1854. After checking with the State Library they confirmed that this was republished on the Anniversary of Federation.
Discovery Centre 2 December, 2009 12:37

Hi Tom and thanks for your question. You might find the State Library of Victoria and their newspaper collection may assist you with establishing the authenticity of the newspaper that you have.

anna richardson 10 February, 2010 11:36
I have a copy of that Oct 17 1854 paper & the signature of John Pascoe looks real.
John Urquhart 13 May, 2011 16:15
I also have a first edition copy of The Age. Hand written "John Pascoe" appears immediately next to Vol 1 and "Fawkner" immediately after the date. The on back page "John Pascoe" and "Fawkner" either side of the header line.A couple of the letters are slightly blotched and the script "John" not as free flowing as the front page. Would be interested to know the positioning of the signature on any other first edition copies. Did Fawkner do a mass signing on the day of the first edition - just like a modern day author signing a book for the purchaser?
Jennifer 14 July, 2011 17:59
I also have what appears to be a signed copy of the first edition Age. Is the paper a valuable item even though it looks like they were all signed and printed on mass and are they individually numbered or all numbered No 1 - Vol 1.
paul 30 July, 2013 22:29
hi jennifer you would have the 1956 copy of the ist edition age
jassy 1 August, 2011 00:07
what about a first edition dated 1854 oct 17 without a signature is that a original first??
Discovery Centre 1 August, 2011 09:56
Hi Jassy and other enquirers. Please see our reply to Tom above.
r.k.seethapathi naidu 27 September, 2013 11:44
just tell me who printed the first currency?
Tim 16 February, 2014 20:22
I have a signed original, is it worth any thing
Colin Boucher 28 February, 2015 18:58
I have a copy in safe keeping of 'The Boon of the Separation of the Colony of Victoria from NSW 15 November 1850. The separation document. That has Fawkner's name upon it as the instigator of freedom of the press and the publishing of the document that was printed as I believe on his press and apaper copies throw to the crowd. The silk editions were given to VIPs.
Mick Morris 30 March, 2016 20:01
I am aware of the existance of a handwritten original paper.
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