BENT, Andrew (1791-1851)


BENT, Andrew (1791-1851)
early printer
was born in 1791 or towards the end of 1790. He began working at Hobart as a printer in 1812 and started the Hobart Town Gazette in June 1816. In 1820, when he was examined by Bigge (q.v.), he stated that he had a salary of £30 a year, and had rations for his wife, himself and a "Government man", who was allowed him as an assistant. He must have become fairly prosperous as in 1823 he was one of the original proprietors of the Bank of Van Diemen's Land, and he mentioned on one occasion that he had spent £1000 in improvements in the country. His press was in Elizabeth-street, Hobart, close to Bathurst-street. Probably the earliest of his publications that has survived is Copy of an Address to His Honour Lieutenant Governor Davey, which is dated 1815. In 1818 he brought out Michael Howe, the last and worst of the Bush Rangers of Van Diemen's Land, which has been described as the first work of general literature printed in Australasia (J. A. Ferguson, Bibliography of Australia, No. 716). In spite of difficulties in collecting subscriptions Bent had been able to enlarge and carry on his paper for many years, but the coming of Governor Arthur (q.v.) in May 1824 caused him many difficulties. From the beginning Arthur had determined that the press must be controlled with a firm hand. He first claimed the government ownership of the Hobart Town Gazette, but Bent sent evidence against this to Governor Brisbane (q.v.) at Sydney, who decided in his favour. The editor of the paper, E. H. Thomas, was, however, extremely tactless in his comments on what had occurred, and Arthur could be a formidable antagonist. In March 1825 he encouraged the bringing of suits for libel against Bent, arising out of comments on the actions of government officers. In March 1826 Bent was sentenced to three months' imprisonment and a fine Of £200, and in May he was sentenced to an additional three months and a further fine of £100, in connexion with another case. From prison Bent wrote with spirit to say that he had neither written nor suggested the objectionable articles, and that his paper had never been the "tool of a faction", as chief justice Pedder (q.v.) had stated. A public subscription to pay the amount of the fines seems to have been successful. In June 1825 Arthur had appointed James Ross and G. T. Howe government printers, and had given them instructions to bring out a newspaper. It appeared in June 1825 with the title of Bent's paper, and with even the serial number of issue, and for some weeks two papers appeared, each claiming to be a continuation of the original Gazette. From 19 August Bent brought out his paper with a new name, the Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser, but it was eventually made impossible for him to carry it on. In 1827 when an act of the council was passed requiring all papers to be licensed, Bent was refused a licence, and he was obliged to sell his paper. He carried on his printing business, among his publications being the Van Diemen's Land Pocket Almanack, published in 1824 and continued from 1825 onwards as the Tasmanian Almanack. He printed and brought out other publications; his Bent's News and Tasmanian Three-penny Register ran from January 1836 to December 1838. In February 1839 he went to Sydney and from 13 April 1839 continued this paper under the title Bent's News and New South Wales Advertiser. Little is known of his last years except that towards the end of his life he was living at Sydney in difficult circumstances. The exact date of his death is not recorded, but he was buried on 27 August, 1851. He married in 1816 and had a large family.
Bent came originally to Tasmania as a convict. He must have committed his offence as a very young man, and it was probably trivial. He deservedly had a good character in Hobart. His fight for the liberty of the press was supported by C. Meredith (q.v.) and other well-known citizens, and he was undoubtedly unjustly treated by Arthur. The editor of the Historical Records of Australia states bluntly that Arthur's instigation of the appropriation of the title of Bent's paper was "an act of literary piracy and breach of copyright" (ser. III, vol. IV, p. 15). For this Bent never received any compensation.
Historical Records of Australia, ser. III, vols. III to VI; R. W. Giblin, The Early History of Tasmania, vol. II; J. A. Ferguson, Bibliography of Australia; J. Fenton, A History of Tasmania; J. West, The History of Tasmania; Copy of Marriage Register, Hobart, at Mitchell Library; Registrar General, Sydney, for date of death.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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