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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Howe, Ann (1802–1842)

by Sandy Blair

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Ann Howe (c.1802-1842), newspaper proprietor, was born in Sydney, daughter of Sarah Bird, a successful convict entrepreneur and publican, and John Morris, also a former convict. On 17 December 1821 at St Phillip's Church of England Ann Bird married Robert, the London-born son of George Howe. Robert had that year inherited his father's printing and publishing business and ownership of the Sydney Gazette, the colony's semi-official newspaper. He was also granted his father's appointment as government printer and the associated lucrative government contracts.

Ann and Robert Howe were part of the emerging colonial middle-class society of early Sydney. Worth £10,000, George Howe's estate represented a sizable inheritance, although it was partly tied up in a protracted legal battle with the children of his marriage to Sarah Wills, widow of the wealthy merchant Edward Wills. Reflecting their growing wealth and respectability, the Howes had a purpose-built shop and printing office and a spacious and elegant residence, reputedly designed by Francis Greenway.

Following a dissolute youth, Robert was a now devout Methodist. Ann agreed to raise his child Robert Charles (1820-1875) by the convict Elizabeth Lees. Ann bore four children to Robert in a turbulent marriage: at one time she was cut out of his will and then reinstated. After his death by drowning in 1829 she took an active and public role in running the Sydney Gazette. She later described how the executors of the Howe estate—the merchant Richard Jones and Rev. Ralph Mansfield, Robert's former business partner and editor of the Sydney Gazette—ran the business down to such an extent that they were about to sell it for a meagre price to the owners of the newly established Sydney Herald. With Jones's reluctant support, Ann stepped in and took over management of the newspaper.

As proprietor, she aligned the Sydney Gazette with the reformist, liberal administration of Governor Bourke. In doing so, she antagonized a powerful group of wealthy merchants and landowners, the 'exclusives', who argued that political and civil rights in the penal colony should be restricted to those not tainted by convict ancestry. Ann appointed as editor a ticket-of-leave convict William Augustus Watt, who wrote stinging articles exposing the slave-owning mentality and practices of many of the colony's wealthy landowners. In particular, he drew attention to the activities of a group in the Hunter Valley including James Mudie, a bitter opponent of Bourke's. Brought before the Sydney bench on trumped-up charges, Watt was removed by the governor to Port Macquarie, where the Howe estate had a land grant on the Macleay River.

In 1836 Ann petitioned Bourke for permission to marry Watt. Mudie attempted to prevent the marriage by producing evidence that Watt was a notoriously bad character who had both a wife abandoned in Scotland and a child from a liaison with a convict woman in the Female Factory. Bourke ruled that the charges were malicious and the couple married on 9 February 1836 at St Thomas's Church of England, Port Macquarie. That year Jones used his position as executor and guarantor of outstanding loans to trigger a foreclosure and transfer ownership of the newspaper from Ann to Robert Howe's eldest son (Robert Charles).

Watt drowned at Port Macquarie in 1837. On 9 April 1840 at St Philip's Church of England, Sydney, Ann(e) married Thomas Armitage Salmon, a butcher and a widower. The couple lived in George Street, Sydney. Ann Salmon died on 17 November 1842 and was buried after a service in St Philip's. Using her newspaper to support Bourke's reforms and the 'emancipist' cause, she had played a prominent role during a turbulent period in the colony's development from a penal settlement.

Select Bibliography

  • R. B. Walker, The Newspaper Press in New South Wales, 1803-1920 (Syd, 1976)
  • P. Clarke, Pen Portraits (Syd, 1988)
  • G. Robb, George Howe (Melb, 2003)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Nov 1842, p 3
  • F. Rogers, The Amazing Ann Bird (manuscript, 1980, copy on ADB file).

Additional Resources

  • death notice, Sydney Morning Herald, 18 November 1842, p 3

Citation details

Sandy Blair, 'Howe, Ann (1802–1842)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 24 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Bird, Ann
  • Salmon, Ann
  • Watt, Ann

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


17 November 1842
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage