Monday, September 24, 2007

Evidence of first Australian printery

On July 30, 1796, in Sydneytown in the colony of New South Wales, Jane Shore and other plays were performed as the main attraction at Australia's first purpose-built theatre, just eight years after the colony was founded.

A playbill – a theatrical advertisement – for this event, discovered recently in Canada's National Library and Archives inside a 150-year-old scrapbook of a scrapbook that was acquired by the archives in 1973, is considered a national treasure as it is the earliest surviving document printed in Australia.

The playbill was presented to Prime Minister John Howard on September 11 this year as a gift to the nation from Canada. The playbill, which was presented by Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, advertises the plays Jane Shore, The Wapping Landlady and The Miraculous Cure, so it would have been a big night out.

It is likely that the advertisement was printed by convict George Hughes, who ran Australia's first printing press, which came out on the First Fleet.

Mystery surrounds how the playbill ended up in Canada.

"I am not allowed to touch it or to lift it, so what I am going to do is present you with a certificate of authenticity," Harper said as he presented the gift to John Howard at Parliament House in Canberra.

"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 added.


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