by Peter Mercer, Curator of History, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Contributions
by The Mercury's Education Services Manager, Rod Boucher.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: www.themercury.news.com.au
Radio telegraph services commenced with the first radio station in Australia
operating in Sydney.
Broadcasting stations opened in Sydney. For the first time in Australia the
press had a rival news outlet.
The national broadcasting service was established and the first picturegram
service began between Melbourne and Sydney.
An overseas radio-telephone service was commenced.
Another great media rival to the press was introduced - television, although
it was then only black and white.
The age of the Internet. The almost unlimited access to the World Wide Web
made desktop global communication a reality.
- The sky and
far beyond is the future for the Media.
to History of The Mercury