Ruthven Printing Press

Collection Highlights | Updated 4 years ago

A large, old-style printing press
Ruthven Printing Press
Image copyright of WA Museum

Manufactured by John Ruthven, Edinburgh, Scotland, c.1819-22

This press was used to produce the first printed newspaper in Western Australia, The Fremantle Observer, Perth Gazette and Journal, on 5 April 1831. Since commercial printing ink was not available in Fremantle a substitute ink was made with soot and mutton fat and the rollers were dressed with treacle and glue. The maximum printing rate was 50 copies per hour.

The newspaper was printed in Colonel Latour’s horse / flour mill shed in Adelaide Street. After three weekly issues its proprietors, C. Macfaull and W.K. Shenton, fell out and Shenton gave his interest to Francis Lochee and Edmund Stirling. The new partners moved the press to a shed in Hamilton Hill and began to publish the Observer. This newspaper lasted less than two years before the press was seized for non-payment of hiring fees.

The press was purchased by a new group of partners and was then used to print The Western Australian and The Inquisitor. These newspapers were also ill-fated: two of the partners, W. Nairne Clark and G.F. Johnson, violently disagreed about political and social content and Clark shot Johnson dead in a duel in Fremantle.

The press was subsequently taken to Perth where Clark briefly used it to print the Swan River Guardian before it was again seized for non-payment. A new owner, Mr E. Stirling, briefly used it for printing The Western Australian Magazine before exchanging it with a larger model used by the Government.

The early history of this press was also colourful. Originally made in Scotland, it was taken to Tasmania in about 1822 by the Scottish missionary Rev. Archibald Macarthur. He sold it to the colonial administration in Hobart Town, which evidently found it too small and sold it to a former government printer. He in turn apparently sold it to Samuel Dowsett, who printed Launceston’s second newspaper, the Cornwall Press, in 1829. Within two years the press had been sold and taken to Fremantle.

History Department collection