In the first two decades of British settlement in Australia, all government notices were printed on a portable wooden and iron printing press that had come to New South Wales on the First Fleet in 1788.
There were no experienced printers among the convicts until the convict transport ship “The Royal Admiral” brought George Howe to Australia’s shores.
Howe was born in the West Indies but was well-educated in classical European literature, and he had extensive printing experience.
His original death sentence for shoplifting in England was commuted to transportation to New South Wales.
His skills in printing were immediately put to use for the publication of government documents.
In 1802 Howe issued the first book printed in Australia, “New South Wales General Standing Orders”, which listed Government and General Orders issued between 1791 and 1802.
He was also permitted to commence Australia’s first newspaper, which he printed from a shed at the back of Government House.
As the colony grew, so did the need for an official government printer.
In November 1840, Governor Gipps announced plans to establish a printing office which would be “under the exclusive orders and control of the Government”.
The Government Printing Office was established, and John Kitchen was appointed as Government Printer on 14 December 1840.
Kitchen’s staff included two free men as assistant printers, while another twenty convict men and boys became production staff.
Over the next decades, the Government Printing Office was responsible for printing official government documents, including parliamentary debates (Hansard), as well as postage stamps and railway tickets.
Its services also included bookbinding, Photo-lithographic and lithographic and Photo-mechanical printing.
The Government Printing Office remained in operation until it was finally abolished in July 1989.