The Goulburn Post this month celebrates 150 years of reporting in the city. Local historian Roger Bayley looks back on the life of the first editor, John Henniker Heaton. The Post will publish a special anniversary edition on October 28.
For over 100 years, before the onset of electronic media, the good citizens of Goulburn relied on newspapers to keep them informed.
Of the several newspapers that have flourished and foundered over the years only one has survived the test of time - TheGoulburn Post. Older readers will remember that it once gloried in the name of the Penny Post.
It would be easy to assume that the name reflected the price - one penny - but there is much more to the story than that, and it is a story worth telling.
In 1869 JT Harris purchased the plant and machinery of a failed newspaper called the Southern Observer and set out to challenge the supremacy of the Goulburn Herald, which had been in business for nearly 20 years. In 1870 he launched The Early Bird, and employed John Henniker Heaton as editor. The name soon changed to the Goulburn Penny Post.
Heaton would later became famous for introducing the Penny Post to the world - not our humble local newspaper, but a cheap postage stamp which revolutionized international trade and communications by making postage affordable to all.
Later, when the electric telegraph was introduced, he agitated to make it possible to send a telegram across the world at the speed of light for just "a penny a word". Towards the end of his life, he was still campaigning successfully to reduce the price of telephone calls!
It all started when Heaton left England as a young man in 1864 in search of adventure in colonial Australia. He found it working as a jackeroo in the remote outback, where the effects of isolation and being 'cut off' from the rest of the world left a lasting impression on him.
He often told the story of how important it was to receive a letter from home, written many months before, and how homesick young emigrants would sit around the campfire listening to each other's letters being read out.
Once he sat in on a court case where a young Irishman was charged with defrauding Her Majesty's Post Office because he could not afford the price of a sixpenny stamp to send a letter home to his mother, so he had written a note inside a newspaper which only cost a penny to post. The message was discovered and he was sentenced to three months behind bars.
Another story illustrated how the high cost of postage could be counted in human lives; a woman in England had died in poverty without being able to pay the outstanding postage on a letter from Australia that was waiting for collection at her local Post Office. After her death it was discovered that the letter contained a large sum of cash!
These experiences motivated Heaton to spend the rest of his life agitating for cheap and efficient communication across the globe.
He commenced his campaign by becoming a journalist, first at Parramatta, then at Goulburn.
It is said that one of his editorials in the Goulburn Penny Post resulted in a law suit that cost the owner a huge sum, causing him to sell up and get out of the business altogether.
Heaton appears to have left the district soon after, to further his career by working on the Cumberland Times at Parramatta, the Town and Country Journal (where he married the owner's daughter and inherited a large part of his newspaper empire), and TheBulletin.
In 1879 he published The Australian Dictionary of Dates and Men of the Time, one of the first encyclopedias ever published in Australia. It was a remarkable tome that took six years to compile, and a copy is held in the archives of the Goulburn and District Historical Society.
These experiences motivated Heaton to spend the rest of his life agitating for cheap and efficient communication across the globe.Roger Bayley
He returned to England soon afterward and commenced a long and illustrious political career, serving for 25 years as Member for Canterbury in the British House of Commons.
There he became a champion of postal reform, vowing 'to stick the Empire together with a penny stamp'. He reduced the price of postage and brought international telegrams within the reach of ordinary people, enabling Australian newspapers to give full coverage of world events.
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John Henniker Heaton may have been forgotten in Goulburn, but by the time of his death in 1914 he had been honored with a knighthood, and could count among his friends Mark Twain, Caroline Chisholm, Henry Parkes and Randolph Churchill.
His colleague from the British House of Commons, Lord Curzon, wrote that "in my opinion the work of Sir John Henniker Heaton has done more to draw the Empire together than all the speeches of all the statesmen on both sides of the ocean."
- Roger Bayley is a member of the Goulburn and District Historical and Genealogical Society.
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