John Ferres, the best printer in Victoria in the nineteenth century
(Talk to the Victorian branch, 25 May 2007)
John Chapman (via Richard Overell)
THE PRESIDENT introduced John Chapman and welcomed especially Graham and Alan, the great great grandsons of John Ferres. He also welcomed Kathy, John Chapman’s daughter.
John began by referring to the earliest settlement in the Port Phillip District, at Sorrento in 1803. The printing of the general and garrison orders was undertaken by the convict printer, Matthew Power. There are copies of these in the British Library. There was a settlement at Western Port in 1825, but this was abandoned in 1828 without any record of there having been any printing done.
In 1835 the settlement of Melbourne took place under John Batman (1801–1839) and the Port Phillip Association. The separation of Victoria from New South Wales took place on 15 November 1850, and on 1 July 1851 the Port Phillip District officially became the Colony of Victoria.
Prior to this time the government documents were printed in Sydney. Edward Khull was appointed Victorian Government Printer on 1 January 1851, but was dismissed from his post in August of that year. John Ferres was appointed as the second Victorian Government Printer on 8 November 1851. He had arrived in Melbourne from Bath in December 1848 and had worked as a printer on the Melbourne Herald.
Initially an Albion Press was used for government business. The original premises were too small, especially when the gold rush began and demand for government documents grew rapidly. Archer’s Statistical Register of Victoria shows the floor plan of the second office in William Street. In 1858 the Printing Office occupied a new building in Gisborne Street (now Macarthur Street), and Ferres lived on the premises.
In the 1860s stereotyping of forms was introduced, as was a machine for printing railway tickets. In 1862 there were five hand presses in continuous use. By 1878 when Ferres retired, aged 60, there were 278 staff in the Government Printing Office. Robert S Brain, his nephew, became acting Government Printer. However, in 1881, Ferres was re-instated. In 1882, on the Queen’s Birthday, there was a great fire in the Printing Office and operations were transferred to the Exhibition Building. In 1887, the Government Printing Office was re-opened and Ferres retired a second time.
The distinguishing features of Ferres’s Parliamentary Papers were that from the first they were printed on high quality laid paper, foolscap folio.
The earliest paper was blue. All the gatherings are two leaves (i.e. 4 pp. per sheet). This was necessary in the early days as they had so little type; after setting four pages the type would have to be distributed. In 1864 white wove paper began to be used. These were larger, imported sheets. From the 1870s they used lighter grade paper supplied by Sands & McDougall. Larger presses were introduced which could print eight pages per sheet, later still came presses capable of sixteen pages.
Maps, whether engraved or lithographed, were printed by the Lands or Mines Department. John showed us the first map of New Guinea, an area administered by the Colony of Victoria in the initial stages. The map shows the proposed division of New Guinea by European powers.
John has a large collection of Victorian Parliamentary Papers, including some bought from Ian McLaren and Hugh Anderson. Some of these were bound into subjects and sold at John’s auction sale. Among the more notable Papers shown to members were:
1852 Revenue for expenditure in Port Phillip. NSW drew up the total cost of administration from the start of the Port Phillip District in 1836 to Separation; it was calculated at £1,419,923–10–6.
1854 Account of the journey of Baron von Mueller, the Government Botanist, to Omeo, when he discovered and named Mt. Hotham.
1854–55 The complete specifications of building in Victoria.
1859 Details of the offices for the Civil Service, including a floor plan showing the functions of what was to take place where in the proposed original General Post Office, which was never built.
1864–65 The Commission on the Fine Arts. This was the inauguration of the National Gallery, Museum and Public Library complex, and included details of the paintings to be bought.
1867 Mr. Fitzgerald’s case; the complete review of Eureka.
1873 the Report on the Social Evil.
1874 the Report of the Public Library, which lists every document relating to the Burke and Wills Expedition.
1894 Report on the Employment of Barmaids, setting out the reasons
why they should not be employed.
These are all collectable documents, but traditionally dealers have only been interested in the more obvious ones, i.e. those relating to the Gold Rushes, Eureka, the Kelly Gang or the Aborigines. John Ferguson was inconsistent in listing them in his Bibliography of Australia.
The numbers printed are recorded on the title-pages. Copies were distributed to parliamentarians for each day’s business. Some were annotated by the members, but any papers left at the end of the day were gathered up and put back into the Clerk of Paper’s stock. John made a case for their importance partly because many of them include testimony and submissions in the people’s own words and so constitute fascinating primary source documents for the study of our history.
Graham Ferres spoke to thank John for his research and to alert members to the fact that in 1988 a family history was published, Bath and beyond, compiled, written and published by the Ferres family. (Doncaster, Vic: G W Ferres, 1988)