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Was The Bee Australia's first Sunday newspaper?

The Bee of Australia

A little-known colonial weekly publication called The Bee of Australia, published in Sydney in 1844, could well claim to have been the country's first Sunday newspaper. The four-page broadsheet, a black-and-white hand-set production without illustrations, was published "every Saturday Afternoon by 4 o'clock, at the Printing Office, No. 17 Colonnade, Bridge-street," and charged subscribers seven shillings and six pence a quarter.

Now, 164 years later, Sydney's two Sunday papers, the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Telegraph (both tabloids) are printed at Chullora, 14km (about nine miles) from the city's business centre. Copies are available at key points in the city on Saturday evenings. A recent issue of the Sun-Herald consisted of six sections totalling 280 pages, mostly with full colour illustrations, plus three advertising supplements, taking the page tally to 364. And it cost $1.60.

The Bee's motto, printed on the masthead, reads:

The "Bee" still gathers sweets where flowerlets spring;
but knaves and fools beware - our bee can sting.

Sadly, the Bee deserted its hive before Christmas of the year it was launched, abruptly going out of business after publishing only eight issues. Subscribers who had paid in advance for 13 issues must have felt they'd been stung.

Fortunately for us, we can now read every word of every issue of The Bee on the internet. It would take hours to peruse all 32 pages, but even a brief visit gives a wonderful insight into everyday life in the young colony of New South Wales.

Following the pattern of 19th century newspapers around the world, the front page was filled with single-column advertisements. This one promoted a Sydney sheep auction:

To Emigrants and Graziers

MESSRS. MONIES AND KING will sell by auction, at the Royal Hotel, George-street, on Monday, the 21st instant, at Twelve o'clock (precisely)

700 Ewes
400 Hoggets
750 Wethers
1850 Sheep of ages, with splendid station.

These sheep are now depasturing at the fine station of "Little Billy Bung", Murrumbidgee River (sixty miles from Gundagai) which, with all its improvements, implements and stores, will be given up to the purchaser of the sheep.

In calling attention of settlers and others to this sale, it is only deemed necessary to add that these sheep are warranted sound; that the station is well and truly equal in all seasons to carry 5000 to 6000 sheep; that the wethers are "prime butchers' meat"; that the clip of wool, which is of first-rate quality, will realise at least three shillings per head, and that the lambs, now dropping, will be given to the fortunate purchaser.

Altogether a more compact and snug start for a new beginner, or a better station for any grazier holding surplus stock, could not possibly be found.

Another front page ad began:

Jonathon Thorp & Co. 315, Pitt-street, have still on hand, a large assortment of silks, satins, satinets, longcloths, calicos, sheetings, rugs, druggets, prints, slops, shirts, and general drapery goods, to which they beg to call especial notice, as the whole must really be sold off by the 30th of November.

Charles Newton (manager for the above firm) begs to assure the public that this is not one of the every day puffs of selling off, retiring from business, &c., &c. which has been so general of late, but a really "bona fide, legitimate out-and-out" sale by private contract, until the 30th November, and whatever goods that remain on hand at that time will be sold off without reserve,


Amongst the many bargains that are to be met with, the Silk Stock (which stands unrivalled both as regards cheapness and extent) is worthy of especial notice; in fact, were it not for the risk of spotting, it would pay better to send them to England; and, in consequence of the aversion that ladies have to attending auctions, and the ruinous prices fancy goods sell for by this mode, C.N. has marked the whole stock fully one-third less than the English cost, to ensure an actual clear out.

Page 2 began with a column-long topical verse making fun of the NSW Legislative Council:

Titus Ticklem esq.
Author of "The Browne."

Like others of the insect race,
Though but a HUMBLE BEE, sirs,
I settle down on every place,
And feast on all I see, sirs.
I gather of all sweets the sum,
And on the rose I sing about,

Hum, hum, hum.
Lazily they buz about,
Hum, hum, hum.

Sir George* began with honeyed words,
Of soft congratulation,
A sort of chaff to catch the birds,
Quite vain on this occasion.
A studied phraseology
His sentiments to muffle, sirs,
A sort of poor apology
For the real double shuffle, sirs.

Hum, hum, hum &c.

[* Sir George Macleay (1809-1891),
an Elective Member of the first
Legislative Council 1843-1856
for the pastoral district of Murrumbidgee.]

And so on, for 18 verses.

A second poet filled another column on page 4:

Song, by a committee man


"The Laird of Cockpen, he's proud and he's great,
His mind is ta'en up with the thing of the State."

"A maid of all work" is a creature we know,
That can cook, bake and spin, get up linen and sew,
Making pickles and jams too, with prime ginger beer,
And all for the small sum of Ten Pounds a year.

And so there are lackeys who'll milk you a cow,
And 'twixt breakfast and dinner, attend to the plough:
But of all public servants there's none to compare
With that versatile genius who now fills our Chair.

All morning, this M.C. goes driving about
Prescribing for asthma, cold, fever or gout.
But punctually hastes to the Council at Three,
When in solemn Divan, that Ass-embly may be.

... continuing for the full length of the column.

That word Divan mystified us, so we looked it up. Apart from being a long backless sofa, a divan is also "a government bureau or council chamber."

  • The Bee and many of its contemporaries are available for all to see, thanks to the Australian Cooperative Digitisation Project, 1840-45, undertaken by the National Library of Australia, the State Library of NSW, the Fisher Library in the University of Sydney, and Monash University in Melbourne, working in association with an academic advisory group.

Story first posted June 2006

Copyright 2006

Eric Shackle

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