Bathurst's instructions | State Library of New South Wales

Bathurst's instructions

In 1825 Earl Bathurst, Secretary of State for the Colonies, suggested the colonial government license their newspapers as a means of restraining the press. In addition, he proposed that each issue of a newspaper be subjected to a stamp duty. The funds from this tax would go toward the costs of printing public acts, proclamations and orders. 

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Letter from Earl Bathurst to Governor Darling, 12 July 1825, Francis Forbes - Correspondence mainly relating to liberty of the press, 1825-1828, Manuscript, A748.

Transcript, Letter from Earl Bathurst to Governor Darling, 12 July 1825, Manuscript, A748

[Page 1]

Downing Street
July 12th 1825


I have had the honor to receive a Despatch from Sir Thomas Brisbane dated the 15th January last No. 21 – inclosing for my perusal a collection of newspapers published in New South Wales in order that I may be enabled to judge how far the abolition of the restrictions which formerly existed on the freedom of the Press in that Colony is calculated to promote the welfare of His Majesty’s Subjects resident there.

It is unnecessary that I should make any particular comment

Lieut General Darling
&c &c &c

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upon the content of these newspapers.  It is however impossible not to perceive, from the most cursory examination of them, that the entire exemption of the Publishers from all restraint of the local Government, must be highly dangerous in a Society, of so peculiar a description.

I should however be unwilling even while the Convict Population preponderated so greatly in numerical amount over that of the free settlers to subject the Editors of these publications to restrictions at variance with the spirit of the law in force in the Mother Country.

But you are aware that, even in England, no person enjoys that absolute discretion with regard to the

[Page 3]

publication of newspapers, which, as I collect from Sir Thomas Brisbane’s Despatch is claimed by the Editors of the Journals which he has transmitted. Various restraints on this liberty have been imposed by the Acts of Parliaments 38th Geo.3.c.78, and 60th Geo 3rd, and [...] Geo 4th. C, g.  By referring to those Statutes you will observe that the names of the Printers, Publishers, and Proprietors, must be delivered on oath, at the Stamp Office, and printed in every successive newspaper; and that the Publisher must enter into a Recognizance or Bond to the Crown, with two sureties for the securing the payment of any Fine which may be imposed on him, upon conviction for a blasphemous or seditious libel.


[Page 4]

I should apprehend that, for reasons which it would be needless to point out, neither of these Acts of Parliament extend to New South Wales, but I am not aware of any reason why you should not, with the advice of the Legislative Council of that colony, promulgate a Law to the same effect, and extending somewhat further, the principles which those Acts of Parliament have sanctioned.

You will therefore avail yourself of the earliest opportunity of proposing to the Legislative Council the enactment of a Law founded, in general, upon the provisions of the Statutes to which I have referred. You will further propose it to be

[Page 5]

enacted, that no Newspaper be published without a license, to be applied for to the Governor,  that such License, should in no case be made to continue in force for more than One Year from its date, and that it be made resumable before the expiration of the year, if an order to that effect be issued by the Governor with the advice of his executive Council, the reasons for every such order of resumption being first duly entered on the Minutes of Council and transmitted for His Majesty’s information through one of His Principal Secretaries of State by the first opportunity.  You will further propose, that every such licence should be, ipso facto, forfeited upon the conviction of the Publishers,

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Printer, or Proprietor for any blasphemous or seditious Libel. The Licence ought as in England to bear a Stamp but, as it is resumable, with a Duty not exceeding One Pound, and each number of each successive newspaper ought also to be subjected to a Stamp Duty.  The produce of the duty thus to be raised would most properly be declared applicable to the defraying the charges of printing public Acts, proclamations, and orders.  The Colonial Treasury might thus be relieved from the charge unexpectedly thrown upon it by the Government Printer having been deprived of the exclusive right of publishing a Colonial Newspaper, in consideration of which he was formerly content to execute

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this branch of the Public Service, without a direct pecuniary compensation.  In fixing the amount of the Stamps you will therefore so regulate the scale of the duty, that the produce of it may be adequate to provide for this charge

I have the honor to be
Your most obedient
Humble servant
“signed”  Bathurst.

> Read more about the correspondence in the Library's catalogue catalogue link