Andrew Bent and the Free Press

Celebrating 200 years of free press in Australia

The date 4 June 1824 is a significant moment in Tasmanian and Australian history. Andrew Bent published a newspaper, The Hobart Town Gazette, without approval from the Government censor. Published at Elizabeth Street, Hobart, it was the first uncensored newspaper in pre-Federation Australia. Andrew Bent would later go to court for publishing the ‘free’ newspaper. This event signalled the beginning of the free press in Australia.

Born in London, Bent was a printer’s apprentice before his life took an unexpected turn. In 1810, he was sentenced to death at the Old Bailey for burglary. The sentence was later commuted to life transportation to Australia. Arriving in Tasmania in 1812, his printing skills were valued. He soon gained employment in the industry and was appointed as Government Printer in 1816. Andrew Bent received an absolute pardon in 1821.

The arrival of Governor Arthur in 1824 aggravated tensions between Bent and the colonial authorities. Governor Arthur and the press did not get along well. Bent published the 4 June edition of the Gazette without review by Henry James Emmett, the Government appointed editor.

Conflict between Bent and the Government was ongoing. Bent was tried on many occasions. Bent eventually left Tasmania for Sydney where he continued to work in printing and other endeavours. He faced misfortunes and died, destitute, in 1851.

Bent’s legacy endures through his publication of numerous works. Bent published the first work of general literature in Australia, Michael Howe: the last and worst of the Bushrangers of Van Diemen’s Land. He also published a collection of essays describing the state of the Colony in The Hermit in Van Diemen’s Land, as well as Almanacks and more.

Inked engraving of man seated at a table writing with a quill. A dark creature leans over him.
Image credit: Trove_The hermit in Van Diemen’s Land – from the Colonial times, 1829 (

Select bibliography / further information

Woodberry, Joan, Andrew Bent and the Freedom of the press in Van Diemen’s Land, (Hobart: Fullers Bookshop, 1972).

Miller, E. Morris, Pressmen and governors: Australian editors and writers in early Tasmania, a contribution to the history of the Australian press and literature with notes biographical and bibliographical, (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1973).

Pike et al., editors. Australian Dictionary of Biography, (Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1966)