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Australian printing icon makes the journey home

Wednesday, 12 September 2007
By Print 21 Online Article

The work of convict printer George Hughes has Prime Minister John Howard stumped.


Hughes, who arrived in Australia on the First Fleet, was responsible for operating Australia’s first printing press. Little did he know, his work is now being considered as something to treasure.

On his APEC visit to Australia, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper presented John Howard with an 18th century advertisement for a theatre performance of Jane Shore at the Sydney Theatre which took place on 30 July, 1796.

While researchers have concluded that Hughes was responsible for printing the playbill, no one can decipher how the page could have made its way to Canada, where it was discovered at the National Library inside a scrapbook filled with other playbills and advertisements.

"A 200-year-old playbill is quite a find in its own right, but what makes this one even more exceptional is that it is also the sole surviving copy of the earliest known document printed in Australia," Harper told AAP.

"Researchers are still trying to work out how this precious document ended up in our library of parliament but it is now where it belongs."

Howard joked that thieves would not have been responsible for transporting the advertisement. "I don’t know how this ended up in the library of your parliament because I thought all the burglars had come out on the First Fleet," he said.

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