Geoffrey Syme was the first Editor of Every Saturday, the fore-runner of the Saturday Age. Its first issue was on the 21st June 1902, It was illustrated, had 32 pages and cost one penny.
In 1901 Geoffrey Syme, was sent to England to gain further experience in journalism. He does not seem to have worked on any English paper for a long period, but rather to have visited different newspapers, notably in London, and become conversant with the firms that supplied The Age with newsprint and with ink. He met a lot of people, and, most importantly, he broadened his knowledge of newspaper management, though more from observation than practice. His father would have planned his itinerary. He was away from his work on The Age for almost a year. He would have been back in Melbourne at the end of 1901 if he had not fallen in love with Violet Addison Garnett. His engagement was not a part of his father's plan.
Geoffrey Syme rejoined the staff of the Editorial department of The Age and The Leader at the beginning of March 1902. He had just returned from England and he now had to divide his time between his work on The Age and his additional part-time work as confidential secretary to his father. He also had to look after his eighteen-year-old, pregnant, very homesick wife. Much of the work with his father concerned David Syme's plans for a new weekly paper, which was to be called Every Saturday. Its content was to be quite different to that of The Age and Geoffrey Syme was to be the first Editor. He was given this editorial experience in order to prepare him for his future role as Managing Editor of The Age.
The first issue of Every Saturday appeared on 21st June 1902. It was the ancestor of the Saturday Supplement and the Saturday Age, even though it was a separate paper and cost one penny. The banner headline describes its aim; underneath the title is the sub-heading "To interest. To amuse." It had 32 pages, it could be delivered or posted cost-free and a year's subscription was six shillings and sixpence. There were very few advertisements in the first edition. One advertiser was Martin and Pleasance Homeopathic Medicines of 180 Collins Street. Another was Baker and Rouse, photographic manufacturers of 260 Collins Street. Their advertisement entitled "The home of the Premo camera" was illustrated with a drawing of a little girl sheltering under a cloth that hung from a large camera on a tripod.
A short editorial on its front page explains the aims of the new paper. It is headed "Ourselves" and begins "We consider that it is due to the public that we should explain the purpose for which this journal was started and briefly outline its intended scope. The newspapers of Australia are much engaged with home and foreign politics, commerce, social intelligence and special farming and sporting that very little space is found for many events of scientific, historical, literary and general interest. Our aim is to fill that want by publishing a careful selection of news gathering from the press of the world". The Editor states "It will be non partisan and politics will be absent from its columns." He also says that the paper will contain articles on popular subjects, a short story and matters of worldwide interest. The literary style of the editorial is that of Geoffrey Syme, though no doubt the first issue was examined and criticised by David Syme and the Editor of The Age, Schuyler, before it was allowed to go to press.
The paper opened up quite a new field of journalism in Melbourne and it had no competitors. The first issue contained a number of fairly short items, more or less comparable with the length of an item on television news at the beginning of the 21st century. Even then it was noted that the attention span of a reader could be limited. The sources of the news items are usually - though not always - given. Much of it came via cables from Reuters or from various English, American and European papers. Some of it was five or six weeks old, since the magazine in which it had first appeared had been sent to Australia by ship. Every Saturday was to have interesting material, but the subject was not always of immediate importance, since such news would have already appeared in The Age.
Australian contributions were encouraged. At the bottom of the front page is the notice "The Editor will be pleased to receive original tales and other contributions, with or without illustrations, suitable for this publication, and pay for such as are accepted. Original paragraphs of a humorous character will also be paid for if accepted." Another front-page article is entitled "Australia on the move". It is rather too pompous and at times too reproving to have been written by Syme, whose normal literary style was simpler and more abrupt. It is a sort of second leading article, possibly the work of an elderly Age journalist. "The Australian people are a nation in the making …………Nature has been very indulgent towards us, for, long before we came of age, in the national sense of the word, she filled our pockets with gold"… Australians also had "the privilege of managing our own affairs, an act of indulgence that enables us, in less than half a century, to acquire those political liberties which took our forefathers a thousand years to obtain and consolidate." The writer goes on to be more critical: "a very large proportion of our population seems to be incapable of lifting its eyes or its thoughts above the narrow limits of a race course, a football ground or a cycle circuit… ………the men and women of the future are becoming painfully provincial in their ideas, sympathies and predilections……. Young Australia is rather apt to be loud, self-assertive and not disinclined to be boastful and swaggering ... he has caught the infection of the age, when every man is his own trumpeter." The final comments are much more hopeful, since the writer, still making rather wild generalisations, describes young Australians as active, alert, quick, good at adapting to change, hospitable and generous.
The first issue of Every Saturday contains articles that vary from the serious to trivial. It was certainly trivial to include a comment on the 100th anniversary of the adoption of trousers. "Trousers came in a hundred years ago as the result of drink and may be said to owe their origin to old world royalty which in those days ate and especially drank heavily. Knee breeches were scarcely suitable for swollen limbs. " (This article, which is on page 17, goes on to be a bit more serious). Another piece of trivia is a drawing of a youth standing beside a lobster that had been caught off Long Island, New York. It was four feet one and a quarter inches long and it weighed twenty-seven and a quarter pounds.
Royalty was of some interest. There is an article entitled "Rehearsal of the Coronation train." The rehearsal was to prepare for the crowds of people that were expected to go to Southampton to watch the naval review that was part of the celebrations for the Coronation of Edward VII later that year. In another article there is criticism of the "the costly coronation perquisites". These included the provision of a velvet chair for the Archbishop of Canterbury and forty yards of crimson velvet for the Lord Chamberlain's robes. An article taken from the Daily Mail mentions that Queen Alexandra and Princess Victoria had attended a performance of Rigoletto. Melba was singing that night and the writer of the article commented that "Melba looked slender and girlish and her voice is the unspoiled voice of a girl."
Many of the early issues of Every Saturday have a few brief biographical notes about important people. This section was headed "Personal Matters", a title that gave the Editor a wide choice of subjects. Amongst the first choices were Andrew Carnegie, William Waldorf and Cornelius Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt is described as "one of the best of the younger generation of millionaires," but Every Saturday does not quote its source for this opinion. Serious subjects included information on the history of transatlantic shipping. This included a diagram showing the size of some of the ships. The smallest paddle steamer was the Britannia, which was just over 200 feet long and took fourteen and a half days to make the crossing in 1848. The biggest paddle and screw steamer was the Great Eastern. Its maiden voyage was in 1860 and its length was almost 700 feet. In 1902 the largest ship to sail the Atlantic was the Kaiser Wilhelm, which was just over 700 feet long. Another item of news was that in the United States the Cherokee Advocate, first printed in 1830 and the only newspaper that was printed specifically for Indians, was to be “abolished due to lack of funds".
There was also some interest in modern architecture, for there is a drawing of the new building shaped like a flat iron at the Junction of Broadway new york buildingand 5th Avenue in New York. It also describes the terrible death of a French aeronaut and his engineer. Their airship rose to more than 2,00 feet, but it caught fire and fell to earth in Paris, in the Avenue du Maine. Another scrap of news was that Sir Edward Clarke K. C. was the best-paid professional man in England. The Daily Express estimated his earnings in court at the rate of £43.6.8 per hour.
The first adition of the paper included a little about Australia; for example, there is a drawing of a drought stricken tree in the Riverina. There is a short story "A typical Australian girl" written by Katherine Andrews and the first chapter of "A bush adventure" by Alfred Kinnear. The content of the new paper was very mixed. It had not yet got a clear shape. It would obviously have to be very dependent on the news that came from overseas, and it was hard to forecast what its readers would want or just who those readers would be.
The second issue appeared on 28th June 1902. It is marked number 2. The page numbering of Every Saturday carries on from the first edition and begins at page 33. The leading article “How to enliven Australian life” takes up almost all the first page and is concerned with urban and suburban living in Melbourne, and the problem of "The diffusiveness in our civic population and its tendency, so as to say, to spread itself over an extensive suburban area". The writer comments on the pleasure of having a suburban garden, but also on the drawback of living perhaps five or six miles from the city, the difficulties of transport, and of seeing friends who live in distant suburbs. He admires the city mansions that are becoming popular in Europe and thinks that building "mansions or large blocks of buildings divided into flats might solve the problem." He suggests that these could be built near a garden, perhaps the Fitzroy Gardens or the Carlton Gardens. There are references to the erection of memorials to the Empress Elizabeth of Austria in Geneva and to Gladstone in the Strand in London. Another article mentions Mrs Martha M'Caslin, an ordained minister of the Independent Church in Ohio, who had been the celebrant at the wedding of her own daughter. There is no controversial remark about the fact of a woman being ordained, beyond saying that she had been ordained in "a denomination that is practically orthodox in the Protestant faith" and that the marriage she celebrated was legal. The page headed Personal has a rather strange short article. "The Grand Duke of Hesse is almost ladylike in his tastes, he embroiders skillfully and is never so happy as when busy with his needle over some piece of needlework." It also tells of his other talents; music, carpentry and upholstery. No details are given about his life or background. Presumably an Australian reader was expected to know that Ernest of Hesse was a grandson of Queen Victoria, the brother of the Tsarina of Russia and that his marriage to Princess Victoria Melita of Edinburgh, another of Queen Victoria's grandchildren, had ended in divorce in 1901. (He had a daughter from this first marriage, Princess Elizabeth of Hesse, and was to marry again in 1905. His second wife was Princess Elenore of Liechtenstein, and they had two sons).
Every Saturday has a long article about the work on the Panama Canal. It includes a map and also a diagram detailing the progress of the excavations. Another article is about the fast daily rail service between New York and Chicago, a 912-mile journey that took 17 hours. There is a drawing of H. M. S. London, the latest battleship of the Royal Navy, and another brief paragraph tells us that 90 m. p. h. is to be the guaranteed speed of a motor car ordered by a steel trust magnate from an un-named German firm. The Madrid correspondent of The Times reports a suggestion that, in honour of the coming of age of King Alfonso of Spain, University degrees should be given without the formality of an examination.
Another article on royalty is "My experiences at court " by "An American dowager." It is taken from the Daily Express and the writer compares the Courts of Queen Victoria's reign with those of the new King, Edward VII. The American woman found that there was great improvement. "The present court arrangements are apparently quite altered from those that were in vogue during the last reign." It was a lot less arduous. Now there were "thousands of gilt red-seated chairs in every room and seating room for all. In the old days, I understand, people waited for hours out in the long gallery heading the grand staircase, and again in the three great reception rooms." It was easier in the new reign; “we walked straight down the long gallery and were ushered into the supper room where there were chairs along the walls”. The ceremonies were shortened. Instead of ten curtsies (she had to curtsey to every royal) now only two were necessary, and from the start to finish the ceremony was the matter of only an hour. She described "our lovely Queen heading the procession, her beautiful dress sparkling with gold and jewels gleaming on her dress and hair." The writer does, however, complain that her own dress had cost her £200 and that her jewels, which had cost at least £8000, and which had seemed handsome enough before she left home, sank into insignificance in comparison with those of others.
There are a number of answers to hopeful contributors to the new paper. They are brief and not very encouraging. Amongst them, to A. B. R., “your suggestion is under consideration”, to B. D. “Please stamp your letter,” to G. H. N, “Depends on quality” and to A. T. B. P. “Quite out of our line”.
The third issue of Every Saturday was published on 5th July 1902. Its page numbering is 65-96 and there were some new advertisers. The paper seems more concerned with Australian affairs. The writer of one article, "How to enliven Australian life”, considers "It is very questionable whether the average Australian living in the country gets enough happy social relationships to keep a healthy mind in a healthy body.” He suggests amenities such as bowling greens and clubs for men and women, reading-rooms and libraries, as well as “the promotion of social life in the country where people can meet on the same footing as when they exchange hospitality in their own homes." The biographical notes include more about Australians. Amongst them are Mr. Justice a’Beckett, Sir Frederick Matthew Darley, who was the Chief Justice and Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales, John Moore Chanter, M. H. R., Senator Richard Chaffey Baker, the President of the Senate, and Edmund Walton Fosbery, the Inspector-General of the New South Wales police force.
The paper includes short articles or drawings of a very large number of subjects. These vary from oyster culture in France to the drawing of a barque, the Fannie Kerr, which was blown to pieces near the island of Kauai. There was also an appreciative article on the comforts of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. Serious subjects include rioting in Georgia, and an article on the petroleum industry in America. Another writer looks at the changing fashions in dogs: “the stately St. Bernard, huge, handsome and kingly, has long since vanished from sight and knowledge. The faithful Newfoundland preceded him. The coach dog, the Great Dane, the mastiff and the spotted coach dog, who, with the entire family of hounds, were once so popular” and “the graceful greyhound, the pug and the poodle have vanished.” They are being replaced by fox terriers, Yorkshire terriers, spaniels and hunting dogs.
This issue includes an interesting article about Australian newspapers fifty years earlier, in 1852. (This was two years before The Age was first published.) The Sydney Morning Herald cost 3d. It had a motto. “Sworn to no master, of no sect am I.” In an average week the paper averaged four pages on four days of the week and six pages on the other days. The front page usually had advertisements, most of which concerned shipping news, and the commercial news was on the second page. There was a summary of the overseas news, and there were legal reports and more advertisements at the back of the paper. In Victoria the two leading papers were The Argus and The Melbourne Herald, which both sold for 3d, although later that same year The Argus raised its price to 6d. They averaged four to six pages, each of seven columns. News of the gold findings was of great importance and this was usually sent from Geelong or Mount Alexander. The leading article was not prominent and the papers often included a summary of the English news. The writer then compares the earlier papers with The Age of 1902. The Age now averaged 568 columns per week, though occasionally it had 24 pages of 8 columns, equaling 192 columns a day. This number of columns was very nearly as many as would have appeared in an entire week of publication in the Australian papers of fifty years before, and it gives some indication of the growth in the newspaper industry
Every Saturday must have aroused considerable interest in Melbourne and Victoria since lot of local material was submitted to the Editor with a view to possible publication. The Editor’s replies show Geoffrey Syme’s curt style: “May be worked later on”, “”May appear next week”. “Subject already dealt with,” “Hope to make use of it”. He was not encouraging.
The fourth issue was published on 12th July, 1902. Its pages are numbered 97-128 and it has many more advertisements, including those for the Savings Bank, Robur Tea, Empire EssenceCocoa, Guiness’ Beaver Stout and “The electro-mechanical and surgical institute” of Freeman and Wallace of Sydney.
The biographical notes include more Australians; Sir Neil Elliott Lewis, who was the Premier and Attorney General of Tasmania, Sir George Turner, Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Australia, Mr Edward William O’Sullivan, the Minister of Public Works for New South Wales and Senator Thomas Playford, who had twice been Premier as well as South Australian Treasurer and Agent-General. He counts as an Australian because, though he was born in London, he came to Australia as a small child.
The items are varied in subject matter and are often very brief, for example “Unskilful parachutist’s death” and “Parisians and the servant problem.” Some are technical, like the one “How cables are laid”, which includes two explanatory illustrations. There is a drawing of the first British airship, the Spencer Airship which “is being constructed by Messrs. C. G. Spencer and Sons of Highbury Grove”. It was cigar-shaped, its framework was of bamboo bound with steel wire and it had a 30 horse-power petrol driven engine. There is also a short article, complete with diagram, on wireless telegraphy. Another subject is driver’s licences for women. In Chicago thirty-five women applied for licences. They were first sent to the Health Department in order to determine if they had a weak heart or were colour blind. The writer comments the “The disposition of women in an emergency to faint and to let a machine run where it will is one of the serious aspects of a weak heart.” If they passed that test they went to the office of the City Engineer for a “ mechanical examination.”
Geoffrey Syme had to give up the editorship of Every Saturday quite late in 1907. It became necessary for him to do so because he was needed for other work. He was confidential secretary as well as principal assistant to his father, David Syme, who was dying of cancer. The paper must have continued to prosper, since it did not cease publication until 1911. One can not judge a newspaper on its first month of publication, just on these first four issues . It got many more advertisers and the Australian content increased greatly. It was never intended to be a rival to Syme’s rural paper, “The Leader”. One has to see it in its period, a time when communication with other countries was slow and difficult. Every Saturday continued to print articles on an enormous range of subject matter. Sometimes it is extremely interesting to the modern reader, and at times the choice of article seems dull, even silly. By the fourth issue the paper had not yet found its shape, and the articles were not well organized as to subject and origin. However its objective, the stated aim “To interest. To amuse”, was quite clear from the very beginning of its publication.
Copyright © 2012 Dr Veronica Condon. All rights reserved.