South Australia's very first journalists, editors, and newspaper owners, were two men: George Stevenson and Robert Thomas. The pair met in London and decided to throw in their lot (and that of their families) with the group who were to be the nucleus of the new experimental British colony of South Australia. They planned to establish a newspaper in the colony. Stevenson had worked on the Globe, a newspaper owned by Colonization Commissioner Robert Torrens, and was married the previous editor's daughter. Thomas was a seller of law books in Fleet Street. Together they established the South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register (the Register)in 1836.
The first woman to be involved with the press could be said to be Miss Mary Hindmarsh who edited a hand produced news sheet on board the Buffalo, during the journey to South Australia. This was titled the Buffalo telegraph, unfortunately no copies have survived.
There was major dissension over newspaper matters from early in the history of the South Australian press, with some consternation being expressed over the fact that Stevenson was not only editor of the colony's only newspaper, but also private secretary to the governor, Sir John Hindmarsh. The Register, it was felt, was therefore biased in its reporting. Charles Mann and others organised for the Tasmanian printer, Archibald MacDougall, to come to South Australia with a printing press, and South Australia's second newspaper, the Southern Australian, was established in 1838. In 1839 George Milner Stephen, the crown solicitor, founded a third newspaper, the Adelaide guardian.
From this time the number of individuals involved in the South Australian press spiralled upwards as the number of newspapers in production rose. By the 1870s there were 27 newspapers being published in Adelaide alone, as well as a growing number of country newspapers.
Would-be members of parliament and ministers of religion were for some reason attracted to newspaper production. The Advertiser was founded by the Rev. John Henry Barrow - a former Register journalist and Congregational minister. James Allen, a Baptist minister nick-named 'Dismal Jimmy', was proprietor of the Register and other Adelaide newspapers in the 1840s and 1850s. Newspaper proprietors who would become members of the South Australian Parliament included: Anthony Forster, Frederick Holder, John Barrow, Ebenezer Ward, FS Carroll, EH Derrington, JL Bonython, MP Basedow, David Bews, Paddy Glynn, EA Roberts and Douglas Bardolph.
There was much healthy competition between the 19th century newspapers. The letters of Langdon Bonython, editor and owner of the Advertiser for 35 years, are full of references to his attempts to outdo his rivals at the Register. The cartoon and poem from Quiz (17 December 1896, p. 9) depicting JH Finlayson and JL Bonython is typical of how the satirical press for many years sent up the open rivalry between the editors of Adelaide's two dailies.
Nineteenth century columnists such as 'Geoffrey Crabthorne', 'Lady Kitty', 'Ab-Original', 'Rufus' and 'Vox' gave way from the 1920s to the use of actual names, with journalists such as Des Colquhoun, Jeff Pash, Max Fatchen, Des Ryan and Bill King becoming household names. Today only the shadowy 'Ray Light' of the City messenger carries on the tradition of anonymity.
Despite the early work of Mary Hindmarsh with her news sheet, as in many spheres, women had little involvement in the world of newspaper production until the end of the 19th century. Despite this, the earliest known female published cartoonist in Australia was Margaret Little in the pages of the amateur Ephemera newsletter in 1876. There were early literary contributions by Maude Jean Franc and Catherine Helen Spence in the South Australian press, and Harriet Davidson, Lucy Webb and Agnes Grant Hay are amongst early women newspaper contributors - outside of ladies' fashion and social columns. From 1901 until her death in 1953 Lucy Webb contributed articles on church and historical matters to several city newspapers, while from 1898 Agnes Hay wrote travel articles for the Advertiser and the Chronicle. Later came women such as Jeanne Young, Elizabeth George, Barbara Polkinghorne, and Samela Harris. Currently the editor-in-chief of the Messenger newspaper group is also a woman, Megan Lloyd.
The Thomas family were to have an association with the Register which spanned three generations, the Elliott family at Strathalbyn ran the Southern Argus for several generations, as did the Barnets of the Gawler Bunyip, the Lauries and Jones families of the Mount Gambier Border Watch, and the Milnes family of the Victor Harbor Times. Although the Taylor family at Renmark have been running the Murray Pioneer since 1905, local newspaper ownership is now increasingly rare. Not only are the majority of South Australia's current 50 or so newspapers owned by major corporations based outside the state, but local reporters are at the present time faced with a new trend for off-shore reporting. Mindworks Global Media Services, based in India, is a journalism outsource operation working to provide services to newspapers in the UK, Australia and South East Asia, which may come to see a lessening local journalistic contribution (Australian, 29 March 2007, Media section, p. 15).
Marquis, Len. South Australian newspapers: a selection of material from the extensive research notes gathered for a proposed history of the press in South Australia by Leonard Stanley Marquis/ prepared by Ronald Parsons, Lobethal, S. Aust.: R. Parsons, 1998
Sexton, Robert. H.M.S. Buffalo: an account of His Majesty's Ship Buffalo, naval storeship and timber carrier, quarantine ship, transport, emigrant ship bringing the first governor to South Australia, Magill, S. Aust.: Australasian Maritime Historical Society, 1984
Sowden, William. Our pioneer press [unpublished manuscript], 1926, PRG 41