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William Holden, “the father of Australian Journalists”


Edited from the original obituary article appearing in The Register A veteran member of the literary staff of The Register and its associated journals, and the oldest journalist in Australasia, Mr. Holden arrived in South Australia by tbe ship Trusty in May, 1838. The late Mr. Jacob Pitman, brother of the late Sir Isaac Pitman, the founder of phonography, was a fellow passenger from England.

Having a strong literary inclination he joined the staff of The South Australian Register on November 17, 1851, and continued his connection with this office un interruptedly to within eighteen months of his decease.  His last visit to the office was paid in April of the present year on the occasion of the farewell given by the members of all the departments.

A summary of his speech: He had been thinking the other day that the Press was in several respects one of the most powerful instruments in tho world for the improvement of mankind. The preacher could address ten or twelve hundred people at a time, but his voice died iu the ear almost as soon as it was delivered, and, generally speaking, his subject faded entirely from the memory within a week. The same was true of what the lecturer said, and of the orations delivered in the halls of the Legislature, in the Courts of Law, and even those of the stump orator, who was alive to the interests of his bleeding country at the same instant that he was stabbiug it to tho heart. That was not all. It was wonderful that they could get up in the morning and before they consumed their first cup of coffee they found that by means of the Press they were made acquainted with what was taking place in every quarter of tho civilized world. Another thought had suggested itself.

He wondered what Caxton [note: William Caxton, introduced printing press to England] would say if he were told that the time had come when from a single sheet of paper thousands of others would be produced and divided into the same length, each inked and printed on both sides, each folded up ready for delivery, and that the whole was done without the intervention of human hands. When he joined The Register in 1851 he remembered very well seeing two men occasionally come up from some dark cellar or workshop who had been employed all the morning working the press by which the day’s copies wore produced. Then the staff was all put on to fold the copies up, and they were sold over the counter for 6d.”

As the oldest working journalist in the colony Mr. Holden saw practically the rise and the continued progress of journalism here, and no one was better able to recount the vicissitudes of newspaper work than the veteran whose decease we now mourn. When he joined The Register there were but three reporters on the paper, and during tbe rush to tho Victorian goldfields Mr. Holden happened to be the only reporter left in Adelaide. In the early days of newspaper enterprise, before the advent of the locomotive, he travelled a good deal in the country districts, accomplishing many a journey on horseback. He served in the various capacities of a member of the literary staff, and it is indeed but faint praise to say that he discharged his duties with marked ability and integrity. He had a high sense of duty both towards his employers and the public, and honesty was the keynote of his life.

A natural vein of humour enabled him to make his writings sparkling and brilliant. For a great many years he prepared the statistical and astronomical matter published in our columns, and he was also well known as the Editor of the Riddler in The Observer and The Evening Journal. His tastes for music and art were such as to allow the Editor to entrust criticism on these subjects to him with the utmost confidence.

In his way he was a composer, but the fact that he shrank from anything like publicity was doubtless the reason why his composotions were not published for the benefit of his fellows generally. But as an authority on mathematics he was probably best known in the later years of his life. His knowledge in this direction was often sought, and he was never appealed to without considerable profit to the person seeking the benefit of his erudition and advice. His services in the settlement of difficult problems was indeed invaluable to the proprietors of these journals for very many years…

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