University of Tasmania
whole_WoodberryJoanMerle1969_thesis.pdf (13.07 MB)

\...'an outraged weak one' and 'the Gideonite of tyranny'\" : the struggle between Andrew Bent emancipist printer and George Arthur Governor of Van Diemen's Land during the period 1824-1828 for freedom of the press."

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posted on 2023-05-27, 12:38 authored by Woodberry, JM
When I began to read for this thesis its theme was very much wider and more general than the topic in which I finally became engrossed. It encompassed the political influence of the press in Van Diemen's Land during the period of Governor Arthur, and it was while I was reading secondary sources and comparing their accounts and findings with the newspaper reports and letters in the Colonial Secretary's files, that I discovered two facts; firstly that the years 1824-28 had not been minutely researched vis-a-vis the struggle of Andrew Bent, the emancipist printer, with Governor Arthur, and consequently some of the inaccuracies in the earlier publications have been perpetuated by writers who have relied on them for material, and that secondly, the interpretation put on the events of this period is open to modification, if not alteration. There has been no authoritative work on Andrew Bent himself; his case has been dealt with always in connection with other men associated with the press. Perhaps the reason for this is because there is not much material available and it is scattered. When I read the first accounts of the newspaper controversy I was impressed by the almost mechanical applications of cause and effect as it seemed to work in Bent's case. It worked too smoothly, too slickly, and since life - and history - does not tend to pattern itself neatly, it became suspect. It takes only one fact out of order to change completely the motive and the objective. It takes only one hint of prior knowledge to change an unconscious action to a conscious one, and when these are discovered, the story of Bent's dilemma becomes not so much a struggle for a principle - the freedom of the press - as the efforts of a humble man, with the chance of social redemption, seeing the chances of his chosen manner of success swept away. There were many men in the colonies who were in this situation and their dilemma is excellently presented by Melville. History records Macquarie and Sorell as victims of the Bigge Report but so were men like Bent. Governor Arthur with his authoritarian attitude, his inflexibility, his lack of experience of the conditions in Van Diemen's Land, his attitude to emancipists, besides the fact that he had a harsh law and a discriminating policy to implement, represented to these men the ultimate threat to their hopes, their ambitions, and their way of life. So the struggle of Bent to maintain a free press, or to run an opposition press, or just to establish private ownership of a newspaper has tended to become over dramatic. since it involves the struggle of an ex-convict with the most unchallengeable of all Tasmania's governors, and has tended to turn the twenties of the last century into a political arena where the moves in the press game seem as planned and as ordered as a game of chess, instead of the chaotic jostling of men of vested and self interests in a period of turmoil. I am reminded of the story of penguins who after the period when an insufficiency of oil on their feathers makes a spell on land imperative, crowd in great numbers on a cliff edge jostling one another. At last one falls in and his buoyancy is put to the test. If he comes up it means also that there are no sharks and the water is safe for the others. Without carrying the analogy too far, such a penguin was Andrew Bent. He was troubled not only with buoyancy problems, but he was also plagued by sharks.


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Copyright 1969 the author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Bibliography: l. 281-287. Thesis (MA) - University of Tasmania, 1969.

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