Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bent, Andrew (1790–1851)

by E. R. Pretyman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Andrew Bent (1790-1851), printer, publisher and newspaper proprietor, was born in London and early apprenticed to the trade he followed throughout his life. In October 1810 he was convicted of burglary, but as was then usual his death sentence was commuted to transportation for life. He reached Sydney in the Guildford in January 1812, was transferred to the Ruby and arrived at Hobart Town on 2 February. It seems that here he became an employee of George Clark who in 1810 had published the Derwent Star and Van Diemen's Land Intelligencer, the first but short-lived Tasmanian newspaper. In 1814 Clark, with Bent as his assistant, brought out the Van Diemen's Land Gazette and General Advertiser; this was also short-lived, but after Clark, the government printer, was dismissed, Bent issued the final numbers of the paper. He soon became government printer himself, and in 1816, the year when he married Mary Kirk, a convict aged 19, he began the Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter. Though 1 June is usually recognized as the date of its first issue, a rare earlier number dated Saturday, 11 May 1816, is described as 'volume the third number 158' and bore the normal heading 'Published by Authority'. In it Bent printed the journal of Lieutenant Charles Jeffreys of H.M.S. Kangaroo on her voyage from Port Jackson to Ceylon; whether Jeffreys had anything to do with this publication to bolster up his reputation as an intrepid explorer has not been confirmed, but there could have been collusion. Above Bent's name at the foot of the last page appears, 'Want of Type prevents insertion of several advertisements etc., which will appear in an Extra Gazette on Monday next'. No copy of the Gazette for this Monday is known though reference was made to it again in the Gazette of 22 June. On 1 January 1821 Bent changed the title of his paper to Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen's Land Advertiser. In December 1818 he had published a small book entitled Michael Howe, the Last and Worst of the Bushrangers of Van Diemen's Land, written by Thomas E. Wells, and in 1821 he advertised that he would undertake copperplate printing. In 1824 he compiled and published the Van Diemen's Land Pocket Almanack.

Although Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell appeared to have doubts of the character of Bent's newspaper, it was not until Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur arrived that he came under official censure. Leading articles in the Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen's Land Advertiser on 8 October 1824 and 11 February 1825 and the publication of letters by Robert Murray over the nom-de-plume, 'A Colonist', became the bases for an action for libel, and on 1 August 1825 Bent was sentenced to imprisonment and fined £500. Printing work for the government was withdrawn from him and the title of his paper was pirated. From June until 19 August 1825, when he adopted the title Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser for his newspaper, Bent's paper and the official government gazettes used identical volume and serial numbers. In the Colonial Times he continued to express opposition to Arthur's attempts to control the press. He refused to apply for a licence under the Licensing Act of 1827, put his paper 'in Mourning' and printed advertisements only. To avoid further legal action he commenced the Colonial Advocate and Tasmanian Monthly Review, which ran from March to October 1828, but again he fell a victim to the law and suffered imprisonment. Worn out with conflict and trouble he was preparing to sell his type and presses when news arrived that the British government had disapproved the Licensing Act. Bent revived his Colonial Times and a little later sold it to Henry Melville as a going concern. In 1830 he was defendant in a further libel action and during the trial was referred to as 'this Nimrod of printers, this Franklin of the Southern Hemisphere', later becoming known as the Tasmanian Franklin. In 1836 he published Bent's News and Tasmanian Threepenny Register but was once more prosecuted for libel and the paper ceased.

On 26 February 1839 he left Tasmania in the Gilmore for Sydney to try to begin life anew. On 13 April 1839 he published Bent's News and New South Wales Advertiser as a weekly paper. This he soon sold and it became the Australasian Chronicle, which from 2 August 1839 to 6 March 1840 bore the imprint 'Printed and published by Andrew Bent of 67 Pitt Street, Sydney, for William Duncan, the Editor and Trustee Proprietor'. He moved to the Macleay River in 1841, kept a hotel and became a cedar merchant. Unfortunately the hotel was burned down, a flooded river carried away his entire stock of cedar, and he had a severe fall which incapacitated him for six months. With his family reduced to abject want, he appealed to the community for help. Because of the serious commercial depression, he received no more than fifty guineas, one of the contributors being Sir Alfred Stephen, then chief justice of New South Wales, who had formerly assisted Arthur in his prosecution of Bent in Van Diemen's Land. With his resources exhausted, Andrew Bent entered the Sydney Benevolent Society Asylum, where he died on 26 August 1851, leaving a large family.

Bent's early publishing was described in 1881 as 'superior to anything … produced at the present day in any Australian colony'. He played an important part in the struggle for the freedom of the press but was more important 'for his exceptional typographical productions'. Though not a scholar, he was certainly not illiterate as he was often said to be. In the judgment of Edmund Morris Miller, he had 'more than ordinary ability which he revealed in the organization of his printing establishments and their excellent specimens of craftsmanship produced under difficulties'.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vols 3-6
  • J. Bonwick, Early Struggles of the Australian Press (Lond, 1890)
  • E. M. Miller, Pressmen and Governors (Syd, 1952)
  • H. Heaton, ‘The Early Tasmanian Press, and its Struggle for Freedom’, Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania, 1916, pp 1-28
  • E. M. Miller, ‘An Unrecorded Hobart Town Gazette’, Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), vol 7, no 3, Jan 1959, pp 34-43
  • Mercury (Hobart), 5 Feb 1881.

Citation details

E. R. Pretyman, 'Bent, Andrew (1790–1851)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bent-andrew-1771/text1983, published in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 24 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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