Putting Pen to Paper

The Diary-Notebook of Maitland Mercury’s John Thompson

Computers, tablets and smart phones might be helpful, but many would agree there’s still nothing like scribbling down your thoughts using a pen and paper. In December 1872, when Maitland Mercury newspaper employee John Thompson ( – 1902) first opened this diary, he seems to have been thinking of using it in the coming year to record his daily observations about the weather and minor events. He jotted down notes about a holiday to Newcastle, paying his rent, a visit to the doctor, his morning walks, local rumors, and the arrival of a letter. But the notes Thompson made in the later pages of the book indicate that something big was about to happen in his life.

Born in England, John Thompson emigrated to Australia with his father in search of gold, but without much success. John had considerable experience as an expert printing compositor and joined the staff of the Maitland Mercury and later worked for the Government Printing Office, until he was invited back to Maitland as overseer of the newspaper’s composing room. While in that position, and filling in this diary each day, Thompson was approached by reporter Thomas William Tucker and fellow compositor John Gillies to form a partnership to purchase the newspaper. Thompson dedicated pages of this diary to keeping notes about this important development, his thoughts and reflections spilling out onto the pages.

Originally located in offices on High and Bulwer Streets, and from 1847 on the corner of High and Hunter Streets, the Maitland Mercury is Australia’s third oldest regional newspaper and is among a handful of long-standing regional newspapers. Thompson became a joint proprietor in 1874 and remained so until his death in 1902. Following his notes about the purchase in this notebook, we might expect that his next diary entries would include his reflections on the business and workings of the newspaper. But old habits die hard, and Thompson returned to describing the weather.