The Fawkner Press

A technology and its jargon

The Fawkner Press, 18th Century

The first newspaper in Melbourne, the Melbourne Advertiser, was printed on this press in 1838; however, there is no record of when and how the press came to Australia. It can be roughly dated as it is an example of an English Common Press.

The Fawkner Printing Press

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

Many parts have been missing since the 19th century. In the 1970s, parts infested with borer were replaced. It is too fragile to be used.

The press itself

The wooden press consisted of a standing frame of two pillars, known as cheeks, and a horizontal carriage, along which a plank was moved by means of a girth strap attached to a central rounce.

On the plank was a wooden frame, called a coffin, to the end of which was hinged a tympan and to the tympan a frisket. The coffin held a stone to provide a solid surface for placing the type forme on for impression.

Between the cheeks were cross beams holding a vertical screw, to which was attached a wooden platen. A hand lever was used to lower the platen onto the type.

Setting the type

Type was held in a case on top of a sloped cabinet called a frame.

The type was set line for line in a setting stick and then transferred to a metal forme on a composing stone.

When the pages were complete they were locked up in the forme and proofed for corrections.

When corrected, the forme was placed on the press ready for inking and printing. Setting up the pages in a forme is called imposition, and the type is held in place by pieces of wood called furniture and locked with metal wedges called quoins.

Operating the Press

The press was operated by a pressman assisted by another person, usually a boy.

The pressman inked the forme using ink balls or, in later times, a roller called a brayer.

The assistant placed a sheet of paper on the tympan, folded the frisket over the tympan, which was then lowered over the type.

The pressman then wound the whole under the platen and took an impression by pulling the hand lever. It took two impressions to print a two page newspaper, one page at a time.

The coffin was then wound out and the assistant took off the printed sheet.

Quote from the first printed edition of the Melbourne Advertiser

We earnestly beg the public to excuse this our first appearance, in the absence of the compositor, who was engaged. We were under the necessity of trusting our first number to a Van Diemonian youth of eighteen, and this lad only worked at his business about a year, from his tenth to his eleventh, 1830 to 1831. Next the honest printer, from whom the type was bought, has swept up all his old waste letter and called it type, and we at present labour under many wants: we even have not as much as Pearl Ash to clean the Dirty Type.

Further Reading

Hubber, Brian. (1996). The Fawkner Printing Press, Latrobe Library Journal No. 57, Autumn 1996, State Library of Victoria.

Comments (1)

sort by
Ann 25 December, 2009 00:42
From 1870 there are numerous references to the press so we can assume that it was on display in this early period. We have seen above that several printers who worked with the press give accounts in letters published in the 1880s and 1890s. To these might be added the following sonnet from the Australian Printers Keepsake of 1885 which I have found at search engine . Relique of bygone years, when I behold Thy framework so uncouth and primitive, Thy tiny platen, and thy ribs so old And carriage shod with tin, as I do live! I think not of the patriarchal John, Nor of the early pressmen of this clime Who must, while working thee with puff and groan, Have bann'd thy creaky crankness all the time. No, no! my thoughts revert to scenes afar, For thou couldst ne'er be fashioned in this age; Wynkyn de Worde hath pulled thy glossy bar, Or Caxton's self, our typographic sage. The first chase placed on thee, my fancy tells, Contained ‘Ye Boke of Chesse’ — or something else.
Write your comment below All fields are required

We love receiving comments, but can’t always respond.