George Howe (printer)

George Howe (printer)

George Howe (1769 – 11 May 1821) was the first Australian editor, poet and early printer. Howe was the son of Thomas Howe, a government printer on Basseterre, Saint Christopher Island (now better known as Saint Kitts) in the West Indies. When about 21 he went to London and worked as a printer in The Times office. In 1799 he was charged with shoplifting and sentenced to death, but this was commuted to seven years transportation to New South Wales. He arrived at Sydney on 22 November 1800.

A small printing press had been brought to Australia by Governor Phillip, and a convict named George Hughes printed on it a considerable number of orders, rules and regulations. Soon after he arrived George Howe became the government printer, and in 1802 printed "New South Wales General Standing Orders" consisting of 146 pages, the first book to be printed in Australia. In May 1803 Governor King, in a dispatch to Lord Hobart, mentioned the establishment of the Sydney Gazette as a weekly publication—its first number had appeared on 5 March—and asked that a new fount of type should be sent to Sydney. The paper was carried on at the risk of Howe, who, though he had been pardoned in 1806, did not receive a salary as government printer until 1811. It was then only £60 a year, and in the meantime Howe conducted the "Gazette" under incredible difficulties, often running out of paper and suffering much from patrons who fell behind in their subscriptions. Howe tried various expedients to keep his household going, at one time keeping a school and at another becoming a professional debt collector. In addition to the "Gazette" Howe began the publication of the "New South Wales Pocket Almanac" in 1806, which became a regular yearly publication from 1808 to 1821. He also began trading in sandalwood, and in 1813 found himself liable for over £90 of duty on two consignments. He appears to have become more prosperous, as in 1817 he was one of the original subscribers when the Bank of New South Wales was founded. He died on 11 May 1821 and left an estate of £400. He was married twice, and his second wife survived him with children of both marriages. He seems to have been a man of indomitable spirit and, considering his difficulties, was a good printer and editor. The memorial placed in the printing office by his son stated that "his charity knew no bounds".

Howe's eldest son, Robert Howe (1795-1829), helped his father at printing from age 9, [Robert Howe, Sydney Gazette, 12 May 1821, on his continuing the paper after his father's death] but as a teenager rebelled, ["More Pig Bites Baby! Stories from Australia's First Newspaper", ed. Michael Connor, Duffy and Snellgrove, 2004, ISGN 1-876631-91-0, introduction page X] enjoyed drink and fathered a bastard child before getting religion and returning to the business. He printed the first magazine "The Australian Magazine; or, Compendium of Religious, Literary, and Miscellaneous Intelligence" (1821), the first Australian hymn-book, "An Abridgment of the Wesleyan Hymns, selected from the larger Hymn-book published in England" (1821), and the first Church of England hymn-book, "Select Portions of the Psalms of David etc." (1828). The first volume of verse published by a native-born Australian "Wild Notes from the Lyre of a Native Minstrel" by Charles Tompson junior, which appeared in 1826, is an excellent example of R. Howe's typographical work. Conducting a newspaper in those days had many dangers. Howe survived several libel suits, he was horsewhipped by William Redfern and another man assaulted him with a bayonet and seriously wounded him. He applied to the governor for the title of "King's Printer" but before the news of the granting of this reached Sydney Howe was drowned off Fort Denison on 29 January 1829. A younger half-brother, George Terry Howe (c. 1806-63), went to Tasmania in October 1821, subsequently was in partnership with James Ross, and in 1825 was appointed government printer at Hobart. He afterwards returned to Sydney and died there on 6 April 1863. He was married and had six daughters and a son.


*Dictionary of Australian Biography|First=George|Last=Howe|Link=
*J. V. Byrnes, ' [ Howe, George (1769 - 1821)] ', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, MUP, 1966, pp 557-559.

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