Getting the News

Historical outline by Peter Mercer, Curator of History, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Contributions by The Mercury's Education Services Manager, Rod Boucher.


Getting the latest news by ship
1803-1850 For the first 50 years of European settlement in Tasmania the enormous distance from Europe and America created a delay of four to five months before the latest news reached Hobart. Isolation was a fact of life. Letters often took more than a year to receive a reply.
On 17 November 1818 Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III, died in London. It took until 12 May 1819 for the news to reach Hobart and then appear in the Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter. Even news from Sydney could take more than a week if weather conditions were unfavourable. Newspapers mostly featured local news, government notices and of course advertisments. News from overseas was usually referred to as 'Intelligence received from the ship Whatever, just arrived from Englandí.
As late as 1854 the news of the outbreak of the Crimean War took 117 days to reach Hobart. But the profound isolation from world events the Australian colonies had suffered was slowly disappearing. Times were changing as advances in technology began steadily to conquer the tyranny of distance.
1850-1870 To get people quickly to the Gold Rush in Victoria in the 1850s the Great Circle route, as it was called, became popular despite the dangers it posed. For the first time mariners treated the world as a sphere and plotted a shorter route which took their vessels well south from the Cape of Good Hope into the roaring forties and sub-antarctic regions east of Heard Island before heading north to Port Phillip. Besides the hazards of stormy seas, icebergs and gale force winds, these waters were until this period poorly charted. The shipping would then head well south and then up to Cape Horn in another great circle. The new route shortened the distance by 2000 kms and also took advantage of the strong prevailing westerly winds of the region.
There was also another important factor. Facing increasing competition from steam, sailing vessels went through a transformation in design based on a scientific appraisal of aero-dynamics that evolved the streamlined clipper ship. Under the right conditions no steamship of the day could equal their speed, particularly on the Great Circle route. Records began to fall and by 1860 the passage to Australia had been reduced to 80 days on average.
On 3 March 1862 The Mercury announced: 'We deeply regret to have this morning to make the mournful announcement of the untimely death of His Royal Highness the Prince Consort.' Prince Albert had died at Windsor Castle of typhus fever on 4 December 1861 - two and a half months before.
After the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, a much more direct route came into use which favoured steamships but until the technology of steamers slowly improved sail was still preferred. Newspapers headed their overseas news items as having 'arrived by steam packet today.' By 1870 the time gap between Europe and Australia had been reduced to about 45 days.

 News by wire
1840 An American scientist, Samuel Morse, found that messages could be sent by electric impulses through a wire. He called the process the electric telegraph and devised a code of electric signals that were used to convey the messages. This was perhaps the greatest achievement ever made in the improvement of world news communications. Nothing since has had more profound repercussions. As the system spread news became not weeks or months away but only hours away. Morse code radio signals only ceased to be used at the end of 1996 more than a century and a half later.
Until the arrival of the electric telegraph on Australian shores there was still a delay of about 60 days between news being made in Europe and its arrival in Tasmania. This wonderful new invention came to Australia in 1854 and by 1858 Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide were linked by cable. In 1859 a submarine cable across Bass Strait was opened and Hobart was linked to the other reporters, including sports journalists and parliamentary writers.
1990s The advent of computer-based images transmitted on dedicated high speed data lines to so-called ìpicture desks. From early 1995, with the introduction of the Cybergraphics production system, digitised photos from around the world could be received on computers at The Mercury, and, in turn, transmitted almost instantaneously from Tasmania to anywhere in the world.
Early 1995 Cybergraphics, operating on IBM-based PCs, enabled the daily production of pages on-line, with sub-editors designing the pages on a fully paginated system. For several years leading up to the introduction of Cybergraphics, limited page design work was done on Apple Macs, using QuarkXpress software. The System 5500 system, introduced in 1982, was phased out.
1995 Establishment of The Mercury's Internet site, NewsEd in November 1995. As part of a joint development with the Tasmanian Department of Education, Community and Cultural Development, NewsEd was formed through The Mercury's Newspapers in Education section.
1998 The use of the Internet in the transmission of pictures, stories and press releases established. The Mercury, The Saturday Mercury and The Sunday Tasmanian front pages and major stories available daily on the newspaper web site:

News by air
1912 Radio telegraph services commenced with the first radio station in Australia operating in Sydney.
1923 Broadcasting stations opened in Sydney. For the first time in Australia the press had a rival news outlet.
1929 The national broadcasting service was established and the first picturegram service began between Melbourne and Sydney.
1930 An overseas radio-telephone service was commenced.
1956 Another great media rival to the press was introduced - television, although it was then only black and white.
 News by satellite
 1990s The age of the Internet. The almost unlimited access to the World Wide Web made desktop global communication a reality.

The future
The sky and far beyond is the future for the Media.


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