the-archimedian-lever-coverThe Archimedean Lever

Alexander Livingstone, a freewheeling journalist on the Westralian Goldfields

Collated and edited by Peter J Bridge with Angela Teague

ISBN 978-0-85905-485-0, (2010 new), A4, 44pp, 150 grams

$22.00 + POST

Alexander Livingstone was one of those characters thrown up in the convulsions of the Australian gold rushes. They burned brightly and quickly, like the volcano that suddenly erupts and then returns to dormancy.

Of his early life we know almost nothing. He came from Ipswich, Queensland. His brother, Colin Livingstone was involved with him in mining interests. His mother was widowed and he had two sisters, all somewhat dependent on him.

He enters the record in the mid 1880s as a share broker and mining company secretary at Charters Towers in Queensland. There, in 1885, his fingers itched and for embezzlement he was removed from polite society for a term of three years. (25 February 1886. The Charters Towers Herald.). Livingstone was released from ‘Her Majesty’s Penal Establishment, St Helena,’ on 22 August, 1888. He was then 28. The Queensland Police Gazetteof 1888 describes him as 5ft 4¼ inches in height, slight build, with a dark complexion, brown hair and grey eyes.

In 1889 he is found running the Mundic Minerat Georgetown. This paper set the style for his later adventures. On one occasion the white paper supply did not arrive and the journal was printed on rainbow coloured paper. (Georgetown Centenary Souvenir, 1970).

An outrageous style made it famous in North Queensland, and, as any good newspaper should be, was frequently short of funds due to libel actions, and entertained a hatred of lawyers. (The Etheridge– Janice Wegner).

Arriving in Western Australia sometime in the early 1890s he worked on the Victorian Expresspaper in Geraldton, and in late 1892 decided to start his own paper in Cue, then the emerging centre of the new Murchison Goldfields. Together with Leslie Hamilton Montague, he opened the Murchison Miner, the first issue appearing on 6 January 1893.

Livingstone’s combative style led to a long-standing feud with the Nannine Correspondent of the Victorian Express, one Tombs, and spilled over in uncharitable attacks on Livingstone for many years. The contempt of some other newspapers and their relishing of his misfortune is interesting. Few contemporary papers could be sure they were not living in glass houses, but most were careful not to abuse others of that club. Despite Livingstone’s occasional malapropisms and spelling mistakes they are irrelevant to the real picture of his offending others in the exclusive press club, in public. An examination of the papers concerned shows that the Murchison Minerstood well in style and content with other colonial papers. Certainly the complaints of his orthography would not go astray in being applied to most major newspapers of the present day. A continuous refrain of the news writers is the mangling of their text by the typesetters, a complaint that is still warm. The criticism of the use of wrapping paper, old maps, and in one case, a gin’s skirt, for printing the latest news in outback towns became amusing comment as the problems of supply became a relatively common occurrence to the papers of the early Coolgardie fields a short time later.

However the chaotic and beleaguered office of the Minerwas just waiting for a disaster. Newspaper office, printer, lending library, post office, all in a tent with packing case furniture, and, no doubt, the accounts equally messy.

The disappearance of substantial sums from the Post Office accounts was his undoing. The trial in Geraldton in 1894 led to his stay by the seaside for three years. However he appears to have been released early. I have been unable to find any documents relating to his imprisonment. He does not appear in the Fremantle Prison records and the Geraldton Prison records for the period are missing at the State Records Office.

The Western Australian Police Gazettefor 1894 described him as “journalist, slight built and active, about 34 years old, about 5ft 4in high, black hair, moustache and side whiskers, recently cut short, blue or light hazel eyes, long visage, fresh complexion, quiet manner and low voice.