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Northern star
Title : Northern star Northern star
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Source : Northern star, 27 October 1860, p. 1
Date of creation : 1860
Format : Newspaper
Dimensions : 440 x 280 mm
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The Northern Star marks the birth of South Australia's first country newspaper, earlier newspapers being the very short lived Port Lincoln Herald, and the German language Deutsche Post at Tanunda. The newspaper was printed and published by George Massey Allen, a disgruntled ex-Advertiser journalist who also ran an auctioneering business at Kapunda. The Star provides a fascinating insight into life in the area in the early 1860s, particularly in its uncensored comments about local people, which is a large part of its enduring value. The Star survived for three years before being forced to close due to the colourful and argumentative approach taken by its owner/editor.

Geographical coverage The Star was the first title in a major flowering of the South Australian country press in the mid 1860s. Many of the other 1860s titles are still in existence today. As the forerunner in an unoccupied field, Allen's geographical coverage was broad, assisted by the infant telegraphic network. The newspaper included news items from as far away as Clare, Riverton, Angaston, Gawler and Burra, but the main focus was on Kapunda news and doings.

Establishment Allen's former employer, the Advertiser, wrote of the new newspaper:

It is very well got up and has a good show of advertisements. It is, in many respects, superior to our expectations, and certainly does infinite credit to a local South Australian township. (Advertiser, 20 March 1860, p. 2)

Allen himself claimed that there was a circulation of over one thousand copies, which was, 'beyond our most sanguine expectations'. (31 March 1860, p. 4; 14 April 1860, p. 6)

Local news Like many country newspapers, the Star (Allen) spent much space lobbying for local improvements, in particular the formation of a town corporation, and carefully followed the progress of this project. (15 September 1860, p. 4) Reports of the 'exodus' of local miners and other residents to the new copper fields at Wallaroo included one of Allen's typically ambiguous comments, as he added that the departing men were leaving behind their debts. (11 May 1861, p. 2) The activities of the local volunteer militia were described frequently, including the formation of a second contingent drawn from the local mines. (31 August 1861, p. 4) Other news events included the tragic deaths of three farmers struck by lightning at Bagot's Head Station (24 November 1860, p. 4), and the laying of the foundation stone of the Kapunda Catholic Church. (19 July 1862, p. 2)

Allen clearly made many enemies, which could not have helped his sales, or the maintenance of revenue from his advertising columns. This was not simply his editorial comments, but outspoken opinions that spilled over into his news reports. His outburts included the comment that the Kapunda Institute committee had not one 'educated man' on it (2 September 1861, p. 4), and shameless lampooning of the local magistrate and lawyers in his very original version of court reports - he referred to lawyer Oelman as 'a new Scrub Lawyer'. (7 September 1861, p. 4) In 1862 he wrote, "There was a great array of litigation manufacturers (we mean Lawyers) present to-day, dividing the loaves and the fishes of foolish men". (27 September 1862, p. 2) Allen dubbed the Kapunda magistrate 'Chief Baron Ball-o-Wax'. (14 March 1863, p. 2) He openly questioned decisions in the local court. (28 April 1860, p. 4)

The Parliamentary elections of November 1862 saw a full flowering of Allen's critical venom, in the form of satirical poetry directed at local parliamentary hopeful 'Nobby' (James) White. Two pages of the Star contain anonymous poems ranging from a version of Little Bo Peep, to full-length ballads and perhaps this actually contributed to White not being elected. It is unclear whether Allen was the author of any of the poems, but he obviously had no compunction in printing the works directed against the man who happened also to be running a rival auction house in the town. (15 November 1862, p. 2-3) Allen's editorial in this issue actually carefully avoided making any political comment, and is also an interesting, and perhaps unique, description of exactly how the South Australian electors of 1862 set about voting, step by step. (ibid, p. 3)

Scandalous behaviours In 1861 Allen published an open letter to Mrs Angel Moses, accusing her of running a brothel in the town, and supplying illicit liquor. Allen even threatened to publish a list of the men visiting her 'hut'. (18 May 1861, p. 4) Although the woman herself pleaded her innocence (24 August 1861, p. 5), she was actually charged with the brothel offence in court a year later. (29 March 1862, p. 2, 3) Allen next accused the Angaston doctor, 'Dr. D.' (William Dickinson) of inducing a married woman to leave her husband, "and abandon herself to misery forever." (5 July 1862, p. 3) A week later Allen made scathing reference to another elopement from Angaston. (12 July 1862, p. 2) And under the heading, 'Lost, stolen or strayed,' he drew attention to a lay reader at Auburn (named Hewett) who Allen claimed had a vastly inflated sense of his own importance. (24 October 1863 p. 2)

Libel action and criticisms Allen criticised more and more widely and without fear. Within the first weeks of publication he found himself in the Supreme Court charged with libel over an article describing the visiting Italian Opera as, "a superlative humbug ... [who] should at once amalgamate ... with the crocodiles and the singing duck". (6 April 1861, p. 4 and Bell's life in Adelaide, 13 April, 1861, p. 3) City newspapers and politicians, local people and Kapunda institutions, all came under attack from Allen. He made much of winning a libel case against the South Australian Treasurer, Thomas Reynolds MP, in February 1862. (15 February 1862, p. 3) Much later he was sentenced to twelve months hard labour for, "false and scandalous libel upon John Cherry," in his South Australian Satirist newspaper. (South Australian Parliamentary paper no. 145, 1868/69.)

Rainbird murders The bodies of Mary Ann Rainbird, the wife of wheelwright Robert Rainbird, together with her two small children, were found in 1861, pushed into a wombat hole near their Hamilton farm, outside Kapunda. (16 March 1861, p. 3) The trial of six local Aborigines for the crime was reported in detail in the newspaper. (30 March 1861, p. 3) Ensuing events and comments about the tragedy, and even a poem by 'F' of Gawler were published in the Star. (6 April 1861, p. 2-3)

Cornish A local community of Cornish miners was the inspiration for periodic comic articles written in the Cornish dialect, including a series of letters, 'From Cousin Jack to Cousin Josey,' commenting on local events (24 August 1861, p. 5), and a comic poem 'Cornish Jim Chequidden's cats.' (20 December 1862, p. 3)

Poetry Early issues of the Star included a 'Literature, poetry and fine arts' column, mostly consisting of poems. Most were copied from other sources, including the works of famous poets such as Tennyson. Local contributors included 'W.G.G.' of Kooringa and 'V.' of Kapunda. Another local poet was 'A.G.B.' or A.G. Ball of Kapunda, who wrote some interesting bush poems. (5 July 1862, p. 3 and 6 December 1862, p.3) 'F' of Gawler contributed a poem about the Rainbird tragedy. (6 April 1861, p. 2-3) Long serials by lesser English writers were also published in the Star.

In late 1862 there was a blossoming of anonymous satirical poetry during an anti-James White electoral campaign. James or 'Nobby' White was a local auctioneer who had previously stood unsuccessfully as the parliamentary representative for Gumeracha. In 1862, he agreed to stand as representative for the district of Light. The Star printed two pages of poems, mostly (but not all) directed against White. (15 November 1862, p. 2-3) Following this, satirical poems about other individuals appeared in the newspaper, including a perhaps deserved satire of James Winship of the NSW Australian Agricultural and Coal Company. Winship had visited Burra and successfully lured some local miners back to Newcastle. (20 December 1862, p. 3)

Advertisements As well as the front page, the Star initially contained three additional pages of advertisements, justifying its sub-title 'general advertising medium for the northern districts'. Many of these were for Adelaide businesses - in particular stationers, hotels and the National Bank. Seemingly Allen had managed to entice almost every business in Kapunda to advertise in his newspaper, as well as businesses from surrounding towns. Later he took the local barber and photographer, Fritz Unverhau, to court for non-payment of his advertising bill. (7 September 1861, p. 4) By mid 1861 the Star contained fewer advertisements, and almost none for Adelaide businesses.

Comments about other newspapers Allen was a journalist at heart, and perhaps unfortunate experiences while working in Adelaide for the Advertiser coloured some of his writing. The Star often printed comments about other (city) newspapers. Davis' Thursday review came under fire more than once, as indeed it did in the city press for its off-beat views on the franchise. Allen claimed that the major city newspapers, the Register and the Advertiser, were merely the mouthpieces of the M.P.s who owned them, while his Star was, "distinctly ... of the people." (3 August 1861, p. 4)

Other content Editorials suggest Allen's strong critical interest in South Australian parliament and politicians. He observed keenly the Royal Commission into the behaviour of Judge Benjamin Boothby, claiming the city newspapers were taking a biased anti-Boothby stance. (3 August 1861, p. 4) During the sitting of the Commission at the end of 1861, Allen included a special supplement to the Star, with detailed transcripts of the hearings.

Early in the newspaper's existence there were many articles about the Snowy River goldfields in New South Wales, which were then attracting large numbers of South Australian hopefuls, perhaps dreaming of a repeat of the Victorian rush of 1852. Allen often reprinted divorce cases and similar 'scandalous' news from English and inter-state newspapers, which was perhaps in line with his crusades against local sexual miscreants rather than for the usual purpose of providing sensational reading.

Closure The Northern Star obviously had diminishing support from the townspeople of Kapunda as its tirades and lambastings continued. Local news coverage became sparse as Allen's other interests diverted him away from home events. Subscribers were also slow to pay up, prompting Allen's regular pleas that, "we cannot live on air". (31 August 1861, p. 4) From 1862 the newspaper was printed in a larger page size format, but with noticeably less local content. For many weeks in late 1863 the Star contains notices requesting outstanding subscription payments, many were three years overdue. The latest copies held in the State Library are for December 1863, but references to the newspaper suggest it was still being published almost a year later. (South Australian register, 17 September 1864, p. 3) Over forty years afterwards Dr R. Smyth reminisced to a reporter that as a young man he had worked as a reporter for Allen at Kapunda. (South Australian advertiser, 7 December 1907, p. 14)

In 1867 Allen established the South Australian satirist newspaper in the city, possibly thinking he would have a larger audience there for his skills. This closed in 1868 when he was sent to jail for libel.

Related names :

Allen, George Massy

Oelman, Mr

Reynolds, Thomas, 1818-1875

Advertiser (Adelaide, S. Aust.)

Kapunda Institute Committee

South Australian satirist (Adelaide, S. Aust.)

Coverage year : 1860
Place : Kapunda (S. Aust.)
Region : Mid North



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