State Library of Western Australia

The Challenge: Microfilming Pre-Federation Newspapers in Western Australia
Written by Margaret Hartnup September 1999

LISWA gratefully acknowledges the support of the Friends of Battye Library Inc. and the Lotteries Commission of Western Australia.


In January 1998 the project "Access to Western Australian Historical Newspapers 1833 - 1901" commenced. This project was the initiative of the Friends of Battye Library Inc., made possible by a grant of $169,000 from the Lotteries Commission of Western Australia. The Library and Information Service of Western Australia fully supported this initiative.

The major outcome of this project was to microfilm the two major Perth newspapers of the period - The West Australian and its predecessor The Perth Gazette; and the Inquirer and the Inquirer and Commercial News.

Background to the Project

Microfilming Technology

The West Australian and its predecessors, and the Inquirer and related titles, were originally filmed in the early 1950's. There were major problems with this old microfilm which library users, the Friends of Battye Library, and Battye Library staff acknowledged. Problems included:

Feasibility Study

Early in the 1980's, Battye Library received a Commonwealth Employment Project grant, part of which included a feasibility study of the original Perth Gazette/West Australian newspapers to determine if microfilming was still possible. Although the originals of the Perth Gazette were repaired and collated to current standards at that time, filming did not take place. The Battye Library copies could still be microfilmed successfully, but to compile the most complete set, outside copies were needed. The question was posed - should filming only be from the copies held by Battye Library, or should we try and find copies from outside sources such as the Public Record Office London, British Library, State Libraries of NSW, Victoria and South Australia, or the National Library Canberra. The difficulty - how far to go, and at what cost?

Given that the newspapers were continuing to deteriorate, and the limited availability of resources, there would be only 'one last shot' at filming.


The Public Record Office and the British Library could provide microfilm of their own holdings from which it would be possible for facsimiles to be produced. At that stage in 1984 the type of facsimile envisaged was the photographic reproduction, to tabloid or broadsheet size. At an in-house cost of approx. $15 per facsimile, a title with 1000 pages of facsimiles to reproduce would cost $15,000. This cost was prohibitive. By 1996 facsimiles produced by microfilm reader printers became a viable alternative. Facsimiles could be produced for less than 30 cents per page.

Best Copies Available

Short of reprinting each page, decisions needed to be made on what to accept as 'best copy available'. The decision was made in consultation with a group of regular library users who met in January 1998 ( Friends of Battye Library Newspaper Criteria Consultative Group). It was decided at this meeting that although an ideal page should have all text clearly legible, when the damaged area contained an advertisement printed elsewhere, or where missing text in a sentence could be easily understood, then the not-so-perfect page would be filmed. The number of facsimiles or replacements required was therefore reduced.

Composite Copies

Where two or more sets of original pages existed and all were damaged, photocopies were made from each set and the photocopies were cut and pasted to form a complete page. This 'composite' copy was used in filming.

Loan Copies

Preliminary enquiries showed that copies of the Perth Gazette and West Australian were available within Australia for significant periods. Most State Libraries were willing to make their copies available for use in any future microfilming.

Background to the Early Newspapers

The first recorded newspaper in Western Australia was a manuscript paper produced in 1829 - within the first year of the Swan River colony. The first printed paper the Fremantle Journal and General Advertiser appeared on 15 April 1831. It was published by W K Shenton and Charles Macfaull, but was very short lived.

The Perth Gazette / West Australian:

The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal (5 Jan 1833 - 25 Dec 1847) was the first paper to become firmly established in WA. Charles Macfaull was the editor, while at the same time he held the positions of Government printer and postmaster. There was some debate as to the Perth Gazette's independence from the Government.

The early years were very difficult. Paper shortages resulted in a variety of paper types being used to print the newspaper. The quality of paper varied from something almost akin to handmade card, to thin tissue paper. Equipment disruptions and illness caused some delays. For the period 15 February to 7 March 1840 we find a one page newspaper, The Advertiser, issued by the Gazette while the compositor was ill. In December 1846 Charles Macfaull died and his wife Elizabeth, with the help of Arthur Shenton, continued to publish the newspaper.

In January 1848, Arthur Shenton became proprietor and editor of the Gazette and changed the title to the Perth Gazette and Independent Journal of Politics and News (1 Jan 1848 - 20 Sept 1864). Arthur Shenton's new Perth Gazette was fiercely independent of the Government of the day.

The West Australian Times (1 Oct 1863 - 29 Sept 1864), edited by E W Lander, was the short-lived competitor of the Perth Gazette and was soon absorbed by its more successful rival. After the Perth Gazette absorbed the West Australian Times the name was changed to the Perth Gazette and WA Times (7 Oct 1864 - 26 June 1874). This paper continued under the editorship of Arthur Shenton but he was dogged by controversy, including his jailing for contempt of court. Arthur Shenton's death in March 1871 was attributed to the stresses of this court action. The Gazette continued to be published by his wife Mercy until it was sold to a syndicate of prominent settlers in July 1874.

The Perth Gazette and WA Times was renamed the Western Australian Times
(3 July 1874 -14 Nov 1879) and William Hullock became the editor. The original Perth Gazette had been so named because in 1833 there was no official Government Gazette, and the Government of the day published Government notices in the Perth Gazette. It was felt necessary to remove the word 'Gazette' from the title, since from 1836 there had been a Government Gazette published.

The Western Australian Times was sold to Charles Harper and Sir Thomas Cockburn-Campbell in 1879 and was renamed the West Australian (18 Nov 1879). In July 1896 the West Australian ownership became a limited liability company under the name of the West Australian Newspaper Company Ltd. The West continues today as Perth's only daily newspaper.

The Friends of Battye Library project filmed the West to the end of June 1900. The Battye Library does hold copies repatriated from the State Library of South Australia, but there are gaps in these holdings. This title requires replacement copies, perhaps from the State Library of Victoria. It will require filming of the issues well into the 21st century.

The Inquirer:

Francis Lochee and William Tanner began the Inquirer (5 August 1840 - 27 June 1855). In 1843 Tanner withdrew and Lochee became sole proprietor and editor until he left in 1846. Edmund Stirling, who had been the paper's compositor, became sole proprietor in May 1847. Stirling, like Shenton, clashed with the Government on a number of occasions.

The Commercial News and Shipping Gazette (15 Feb - 28 Jun 1855) was a short-lived title owned by J R Sholl. In July 1855 it was absorbed by the Inquirer.

The Inquirer was renamed the Inquirer and Commercial News (4 July 1855 - 28 June 1901) and J R Sholl became a part owner with Edmund Stirling until his withdrawal in 1873. In April 1873 the paper was produced by Stirling and Son. On Edmund's retirement in 1878 he handed the business on to his three sons John, Fred, & Horace who continued under the name of Stirling Bros. By July 1882 the Stirling Bros had launched a new daily newspaper the Daily News. In 1901 the Inquirer and Commercial News, a weekly newspaper, was itself incorporated into the Daily News.

The management of the Inquirer attempted a number of interesting initiatives during its period of publication. For almost two years (1888 - 1889) the Inquirer was published in two editions, usually on a Wednesday. One edition was twice as large and six times as expensive, at sixpence a copy, as the second edition which sold for a penny. Was this a commercial decision to sell more papers, or was the more expensive edition a summary of weekly events and intended for mailing to other colonies and England, or was this a sign of social distinction between classes? This we will leave for the historians to investigate, suffice to say, that for the preparation of the newspapers, all these copies needed careful attention. Although the Battye Library had two separate bound copies of these newspapers, the different editions were found in only one set of bound copies. No copies of both editions were to be found in copies of the Inquirer held elsewhere.

Another interesting period was 1893 - 1894. During this period the Inquirer changed from a broadsheet to a tabloid, and the emphasis changed from general news events to a beautifully illustrated magazine. The title varied slightly, becoming the Inquirer and Commercial News Illustrated. Initially the collators were puzzled as to why the newspaper started at page 3, until we discovered that the newspaper during this period had been published with a pale green coloured wraparound. Unfortunately most of the wraparounds, which contained advertisements, have been lost. Copies held by the State Library of South Australia no longer included the wraparound either. During this period of the illustrated magazine many sketches and photographs can be found, many of them related to people and events in Western Australia. Also included were lessons such as shorthand and the latest fashions for the well dressed lady.

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