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The Geelong Chronicle – Investigator September 2021

The Geelong Chronicle 

By Daryl Wight

This is an edited version of an address to the Geelong Historical Society given by the author in November 2019. It was published in the Investigator in September 2021.

The first issue of the Geelong Chronicle newspaper hit the streets of Geelong on 23 March 1861. The newspaper was officially registered in Melbourne just a few days later. The proprietor was Thomas Allen Sidders, of Belmont; the printers were Heath and Cordell, of Malop Street. The newspaper office was also in Malop Street, near the printers.

The origins of the newspaper were contained in the masthead: The Geelong Chronicle (with which is incorporated ‘The Commercial Advertiser and Looker On’). The first issue of the Chronicle was numbered 300 – suggesting that earlier numbers in the series represented the Commercial Advertiser. In March 1861, a Commercial Advertiser Enlargement Fund was established and very shortly afterwards the Chronicle appeared.

The Chronicle comprised four pages, six columns wide. It contained retail advertisements, family notices, local news and items of interest, court reports, poetry and other literary contributions, letters to the editor, upcoming auctions and sales, and reports of theatrical performances and sporting events. It reprinted extracts from the Melbourne papers, provincial Victorian papers, other colonial papers, as well as English and American papers and journals.

The first editorial set the tone. The newspaper was intended to be read … ‘by all classes of readers of both sexes and of every age’. Where necessary, the paper would seek ‘… to redress injury, to expose evil or injustice, to shield innocence, or drag to the light of day dishonesty and craft, we shall … speak out boldly and fearlessly, never heeding consequences’.

To reinforce these lofty ambitions, the editorial column in every issue of the newspaper began with a Shakespearean quote:

Stilll in thy right hand carry gentle peace, to silence envious tongues.
Be just and fear not; Let all the ends thou aim’st at,
be thy country’s, thy God’s and truth’s.

The newspaper was initially published twice a week – Wednesdays and Saturdays. The subscription was 30/- per annum (cash) or 40/- (credit).

Distributing a newspaper required a fair degree of organisation. Agents were appointed for Geelong suburbs, local towns, further afield in the Western District, as well as Melbourne and Sydney. The role of an agent was to enrol subscribers, accept advertisements on the newspaper’s behalf and have copies on hand for sale. Initially, complimentary copies of the paper were sent to Melbourne, Sydney and overseas to encourage reviews and subscriptions.

The first editor of the Chronicle was James ‘Chinaman’ Brown. He had been an early member of the Geelong Town Council. By the end of 1861, Brown had left for New Zealand, where he became the Dunedin correspondent of the Chronicle. He eventually ran his own newspaper there.

On the big political question of the day, Brown was at first ambivalent, eventually advocating for the protection of native industry over free trade policies. The proprietor, Sidders, may have encouraged the editor to arrive at his final position on the vexed question. Sidders was a regular contributor to the newspaper at this time, under the pseudonym of ‘Publicola’, and was a staunch protectionist.

After six months in circulation, the Chronicle published its own report card. ‘The circulation … has continued to increase from week to week and there are now few doors in the town and suburbs at which our runners are not required to drop the paper … “Fair play for all” is the motto inscribed on our political banner.’

From the beginning, the proprietor had his ups and down with staff. At least one reporter, S.H. Lemon, was let go – a notice in the paper stated that he had ceased to have any connection with the Chronicle. Sidders also hosted a dinner for printing and literary staff of the Chronicle at the Swan Hotel, Fyansford and purchased admission tickets for ill employees to be treated at the Geelong Hospital.

In October 1861, new printers – Harris, Downie and Thompson – were engaged and the Chronicle office moved to Ryrie Street, to be close to the new printers. . (In a small town like Geelong, the proprietor was at pains to point out that the decision to change printers was a commercial one.) The change also resulted in a new type face for the newspaper.

As 1861 drew to a close, the Chronicle had reported on many of the matters which concerned its Geelong readers: the deep channel that was finally cut through the sand bar; the promise and disappointment of the Burke and Wills Expedition; the shocking death of Horatio Wills in Queensland; the scandal of the Apollo Bay Company embezzlement; and the sale of the Geelong Advertiser by an insolvent James Harrison.

From its second year, the Chronicle took a special interest in agricultural matters. With the proprietor’s announcement of a Silver Cup to be awarded for the best colonial wine, the masthead indicated the new emphasis: ‘The Geelong Chronicle – Western District Agricultural and Pastoral Gazette and Vinegrowers’ Journal’.

During 1862 the Chronicle increased its reporting on district farming matters, crops, vineyards, ploughing matches and the like – from the Bellerine to the Barrabool Hills, from Bannockburn to Birregurra, and beyond. This change not only represented a sensible attempt to attract more subscribers but also reflected the proprietor’s interests at the time.

Alfred Clarke became editor after the departure of Brown for New Zealand at the end of 1861and remained so until mid-1863. He was a man of high principle and started to offend some of the great and the good of the town. In one instance, a reporter from the Chronicle was ejected from an election meeting; in another, a reporter was excluded from a meeting of the Geelong Hospital committee. Dr Alexander Thomson, one of Geelong’s first citizens, publicly withdrew his name from the subscription lists.

Nonetheless, with its broader focus and editorial determination to call out hubris and cant, the newspaper had found its readership. In October 1862, the Chronicle increased its production from two to three days a week (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays). A confident proprietor hoped that daily publication was not too distant. At the same time the Chronicle office moved across the road, to 19 Ryrie Street, into more spacious premises.

Also in 1862, the proprietor, Sidders, was elected to the Geelong Town Council – complicating his relationship with his newspaper and its editor. He was now both critic and councillor. It would have implications for the Chronicle in the future.

Significant events reported in the Geelong Chronicle in 1862 included the much-anticipated cricket match between a combined Geelong side and the first touring All-England team. Geelong lost the match but the team’s highest scorer, Willie Timms, Geelong-born and aged just 18 years, won a prize bat to be sent out from England. The death of Prince Albert was announced in a black-bordered issue of the Chronicle. A bridge, recently erected over the Barwon, connecting Newtown and Highton, was named in his honour. (For some time the bridge, though completed, remained closed while the local councils involved fought over where to place the toll-gates and, hence, which was to get the revenue.)

Early in 1863, a public notice announced that the newspaper was reverting to two issues a week (Tuesdays and Fridays). It was only four months since the paper had moved to three issues per week. Subscriptions were reduced from 30 shillings per annum to one pound – for those customers who paid in advance. It suggested money was getting tight. A further notice would seem to confirm the newspaper’s predicament: ‘Any subscribers more than three years in arrears would have their paper stopped unless their accounts were paid within three months …

The Geelong Chronicle Silver Cup for best local wine, promised the previous year, was displayed at the Prince of Wales Hotel in January 1863. A committee met to decide the rules of the competition and the prize was awarded at a dinner at the Wheatsheaf Inn, Ceres. The winner was local vigneron, Abram Tribolet, for his white wine. Much correspondence was entered into by interested parties!

In January 1863, the Chronicle’s proprietor, Sidders, was furious when a letter addressed to him was diverted from its destination at the Council by the Town Clerk and put into the hands of another councillor, Dr Thomson. Sidders alleged corruption by the Town Clerk and moved a motion in the Council that Thomson had engaged in ‘conduct unbecoming’ a councillor. The whole matter was played out both in the Chronicle and its adversary, the Geelong Advertiser, and in the courts. The motion in the Council was lost on factional, political lines but the bitterness remained.

Several adverse court decisions undermined the newspaper’s finances. The Chronicle was sued by local MLA, William McCann, for malicious libel over a letter published in the newspaper. The letter proved to be a forgery and the newspaper subsequently carried an advertisement offering a reward for discovering the forger’s identity. The case was lost on a technicality. After the court decision, Sidders felt compelled to resign from the Geelong Town Council. He then sued McCann for perjury in the libel case. That case, too, was lost on a technicality and costs were awarded to McCann.

In August 1863, there was a change in the newspaper’s editorship. Clarke, the editor for the past 18 months, had argued from principle but it was the proprietor who was liable for Clarke’s editorial judgements. Sidders now became both proprietor and editor.

By way of biographical sketch, Thomas Allen Sidders was born in Ashford, Kent, in 1819. He was apprenticed to a linen draper in London and was, by 1841, an assistant draper in Portsmouth. Soon afterwards he became involved with Robert Owen’s utopian community at Harmony Hall in Hampshire, where he was exposed to radical ideas such as a classless, co-operative society and skepticism of organised religion. Throughout the 1840s and early 1850s, Thomas sold drapery and home furnishings variously in Manchester, Liverpool and London.

Thomas travelled extensively for the times. Before coming to Australia, he had visited France, Germany, Russia, America and Canada. He arrived in Geelong in 1854. He began his colonial career as a general dealer and, within five years, commenced publishing the Commercial Advertiser which, in turn, became the Geelong Chronicle. He was involved in many community organisations in Geelong; was briefly elected to the Geelong Town Council; and stood unsuccessfully for a seat in the Victorian Parliament.

Later in his career, Sidders established another newspaper, the Mirror, which ran from 1882-84, and finally coming full circle, his last publishing venture was the Auctioneer and Commercial Advertiser, which he commenced in 1888, at the aged of 69 years. Sidders died in Geelong in 1901, having outlived many of his contemporaries and having survived much of his family. He was buried in the Barrabool Cemetery, Highton, beside his common-law wife, Catherine, who had died many years earlier.

After the court cases in 1863, Sidders was in financial difficulty. He advertised his household furniture, jewellery, books and pictures for sale. In September 1863, the newspaper was reduced to four tabloid-sized pages, five columns wide – ‘shorn of its fair proportions’. The Chronicle office moved to the Victoria Buildings (formerly the Bank of Victoria) – presumably to cheaper premises.

The proprietor’s grievances were many. Political rivals had withdrawn their support; the Chronicle was seen as ‘too independent’; the Town Council was against him; the Bench of magistrates was hostile. Nor were all the grievances imaginary. The newspaper was not invited to the annual Mayor’s banquet and an attempt was made to exclude the paper from attending the Governor’s dinner.

Not all, however, was gloom and doom. Geelong was a glittering scene for the evening festivities to celebrate the marriage of Albert, Prince of Wales, to Princess Alexandra of Denmark. The Geelong Chronicle office displayed painted windows, illuminated from within, of the Royal initials, A. & A., and the Danish Cross, and a lamp with corresponding devices in the same style. An immense crowd gathered around the office of the Geelong Chronicle when the Albert and Alexandra beer fountain was turned on. (It lasted for three hours and was supplied by Volum’s brewery.)

On a further happy note, the newspaper was restored to full size in December 1863. It would seem that the financial pall had lifted.

To a writer, correspondents to the newspaper were delighted with the restoration of the newspaper’s former dimensions. In addition, a letter writer was impressed by the genuine manner in which the Chronicle was ‘buckling on its armour in the cause of the people’. Another was pleased to say that the Chronicle was the ‘best paper going’.

While such public support was encouraging, Sidders knew that subscriptions was paramount to the newspaper’s survival. In July 1864, he announced that the Chronicle would be published only once a week in the winter months. He observed that every newspaper should be independent, and that to be independent, it must be free from debt. As proprietor, he felt warranted in reducing his expenditure to meet his income. Sidders lamented that while some subscribers never pay at all, and some pay every two or three years, he must pay every Saturday.

To add to his expenses, a new tax was imposed on conveying newspapers by post. Sidders had runners delivering newspapers to those subscribers within a three-mile radius of the town but was obliged to use the postal service for towns further afield. In one report, 24 copies of the Chronicle were found on the road to Colac, apparently having fallen from the mail coach. The proprietor felt these instances keenly. He was obliged to pay the tax for their delivery – even if they were not delivered.

In September 1864, Sidders decided to stand for election for the seat of Geelong East in the Victorian Parliament. He stridently opposed the squatting interest and believed that the people had been duped by the Duffy Land Act as the squatters and their friends had bought up most of the land that had been put up for public sale. He was also in favor of protecting native industry by way of tariffs on imported goods.

One might have thought such actions would have presented a conflict of interest for Sidders as both candidate and editor. However, in a remarkable way, he avoided any conflict by instructing his reporters not to attend his election meetings. Instead, he published in the Chronicle the reports from the Geelong Advertiser – verbatim – regardless how they reported the meetings.

Sidders was not elected to Parliament but his electioneering polarised views and further alienated some of the Chronicle’s subscribers. Prominent Geelong townsman (and owner of Ripplevale pastoral estate), Charles Sladen, cancelled his subscrption after what he saw as ‘squatter-bashing’ by the newspaper.

Nonetheless, in October 1864, the newspaper resumed publishing twice a week.

In 1865, the proprietor was boasting that the Geelong Chronicle had over 2,000 subscribers (although one wonders how many were financial). He estimated that the Chronicle’s expenses amounted to seven pounds a day. It was clear that there was a need to continue to monitor the newspaper’s finances.

In recognition of the need to increase circulation and revenue, as well as monitoring outgoings, Henry Morgan was employed as general manager of the Chronicle office. One of his first decisions was to announce that the Chronicle would cease subscriptions and operate on a ready money, or cash, basis. The Chronicle office moved to Moorabool Street, again presumably to cheaper premises.

A new danger to the Chronicle’s revenues was the establishment of another newspaper in Geelong in March 1865. The Geelong Register was a new venture for James Harrison, formerly of the Geelong Advertiser. It appeared six days a week and competed with the Chronicle for advertising revenue. There were now three newspapers circulating in Geelong – two dailies and the bi-weekly Chronicle.

The Chronicle sought a continued share of advertising revenue from the local District Road Boards and Shire Councils – bodies required to publish notices of meetings and public tenders etc. One Council – Colac Shire – acknowledged that the Chronicle had a greater circulation in Colac and the surrounding district than did the Geelong Advertiser. A new section of the Chronicle was devoted to the ‘Colac and Western District Advertiser’ as a result.

Most public bodies, however, decided to advertise in the two daily newspapers. It is hard to disagree with their approach although Sidders complained that these decisions were based on favoritism and cliquism.

In July 1865, it was announced that the Chronicle would again be published just once a week over the winter months. In another attempt to boost circulation, the price of the newspaper was reduced to two pence per issue.

Another area for possible expansion of the Chronicle’s circulation was in Steiglitz – a town in the midst of another mining boom. Such was the excitement at Steiglitz that there were moves to make it a municipality and for the telegraph to be connected. At one stage in 1865, three local brickworks could not keep up with builders’ demands.

In August 1865, the proprietor of the Chronicle thought the town so promising, and the prospect of increased circulation so enticing, that the newspaper was re-launched as the Stieglitz Guardian. The newspaper would now be published on Fridays (rather than Saturdays). Henry Morgan became resident manager of the Guardian office at Steiglitz. Presumably Sidders was continuing his editorial role from Geelong.

Within two months, however, the Steiglitz experiment was failing. The shaft gold-mining there was already proving fickle and the miners were moving on as quickly as they had arrived. On 6 October 1865, Sidders announced that the newspaper was being produced ‘under circumstances of great discouragement’.

He wrote that the little that had been written for this issue of the newspaper had been done on a table covered with writs, summonses, bank notices of dishonored Bills, threats of actions for damages for libels, slander and all sorts of things – the finale being that the table itself was sold to satisfy a hungry creditor for the amount of seven pounds. With a sense of inevitability, Sidders announced, ‘We shall appear next week under a new proprietary…’

Sidders had conveyed his insolvent estate to his principal creditors, William Ducker, auctioneer, and William Downie, printer. Not only had he lost his newspaper but his four-roomed cottage in Belmont – with kitchen, servant’s room, stable and fruit garden – was put up for sale as part of his insolvent estate.

The new proprietor of the newspaper was Henry Morgan, formerly the paper’s general manager. On 20 October 1865, it was re-launch as the Geelong Chronicle and Stieglitz Guardian. Given his former connection with Sidders, Morgan was obliged to notify readers that Sidders was not connected with the new newspaper. In his first editorial, however, Morgan said of Sidders that no man in Geelong had wielded his pen more forcibly than the late editor – to pursue public good and expose evil.

Business in Steiglitz was very dull already and Morgan moved back to Geelong to run his newspaper. The Geelong Chronicle and Stieglitz Guardian limped into 1866. It is unclear exactly when it ceased production. The goodwill and copyright transferred to Harrison’s, Geelong Register, in April 1866.

NOTE: The author has compiled and published a comprehensive name and subject index for the Geelong Chronicle from 1861-1865. Copies of the index have been lodged at the Geelong Heritage Centre, the Alfred Deakin Prime Ministerial Library at Deakin Waterfront, and the State Library of Victoria. Each repository has a copy of the newspaper on microfilm to follow up index references. The newspaper is not on the National Library of Australia’s TROVE website.


[1] Darragh, Thomas A., Printer and Newspaper Registrations in Victoria 1838-1924, Elibank Press, New Zealand, 1997, p.111 – the application was dated 26 March 1861 and registered on 27 March 1861.
[2] Darragh (above), p.107 – the application was dated 21 January 1859 and registered on 24 January 1859 although Sidders claimed that he began the Commercial Advertiser in May 1858 as ‘little more than an advertising sheet’ (Geelong Chronicle, 7 October 1862). In either case, no copies are believed extant.
[3]Provisional trustees of the Fund were townsmen George Wright, Walter Hitchcock and William Ashmore [4] (GC,23 March 1861)
[5] (GC, 23 March 1861)
[6] Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Act III, Scene II.
[7] Melbourne Herald welcomed the Chronicle (GC, 3 April 1861). First numbers received by English correspondents (GC, 13 July 1861).
[8] (GC, 31 January 1862)
[9](GC, 9 October 1861)
[10]Lemon (GC, 14 August 1861); dinner (GC, 5 June 1861); and admission tickets (GC, 14 August 1861)
[11](GC, 16 October 1861)
([12]GC, 31 January 1862)
[13]In 1862, Sidders was secretary of both the Victorian Vinegrowers’ Association and also the Victorian [14]Vineyard Company.
[15]Election meeting (GC, 28 October 1862); hospital meeting (GC, 16 December 1862); Thomson (GC, 30 December 1862)
[16]Three issues per week (GC, 7 October 1862); more extensive premises (GC, 18 December 1862)

[9] ‘Publicola’ was a frequent protectionist correspondent in the Chronicle from 1861 – 1863. Sidders identified himself as ‘Publicola’. (GC, 23 May 1862)
[10] (GC, 9 October 1861)
[11] Lemon (GC, 14 August 1861); dinner (GC, 5 June 1861); and admission tickets (GC, 14 August 1861)
[12] (GC, 16 October 1861)
[13] (GC, 31 January 1862)
[14] In 1862, Sidders was secretary of both the Victorian Vinegrowers’ Association and also the Victorian Vineyard Company.
[15] Election meeting (GC, 28 October 1862); hospital meeting (GC, 16 December 1862); Thomson (GC, 30 December 1862)
[16] Three issues per week (GC, 7 October 1862); more extensive premises (GC, 18 December 1862)

[17] (GC, 17 February 1863)
[18] (GC, 21 October 1863)
[19] (GC, 10 April 1863)
[20] (GC, 11 January 1863, 13 January 1863, 31 January 1863 and 5 February 1863)
[21] Libel (GC, 18 August 1863); resignation (GC, 21 August 1863); perjury (GC, 25 August 1863)
(GC, 23 September 1863)

[22] Cite issue of Investigator in which TAS biog appears
[23] Sale of furniture (GC, 2 September 1863); reduced size of newspaper (GC, 30 September 1863); new premises (GC, 21 October 1863)
[24] (GC, 23 September 1863)
[25] Banquet (GC, 11 November 1863); dinner (GC, 12 December 1863)
[26] (GC, 22 May 1863)
[27] Armour (GC, 8 June 1864); best paper (GC, 9 July 1864)
[28] (GC, 27 July 1864)
[29] (GC, 24 September 1864)

[30] (GC, 14 September 1864)
[31] (GC, 2 November 1864)
[32] Expenses (GC, 8 March 1865); circulation (GC, 10 June 1865)
[33] Morgan, subscriptions (GC, 11 March 1865); office (GC, 29 July 1865)
[34] (GC, 29 March 1865)
[35] (GC, 8 July 1865)
[36] Stieglitz is the correct spelling of the von Stieglitz family after whom the town is named. The corrupt spelling, Steiglitz, was in use from the early days and is now the accepted spelling. The correct spelling of the newspaper masthead is the anomaly here.

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