Priceless playbill comes home after 211 years

Associated images

The earliest surviving document printed in Australia, recently found in the collection of Library and Archives Canada, has come home as a gift to the nation from the Canadian Government.

The item, a theatre playbill dated 30 July 1796, was presented by the Prime Minister of Canada, The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, to the Prime Minister of Australia, the Honourable John Howard MP, on Tuesday, September 11, at a ceremony held at Parliament House.

National Library Director-General Jan Fullerton accepted the playbill into the collection, noting the generosity of Library and Archives Canada and the ongoing spirit of goodwill that exists between the two institutions.

The document advertises a theatrical performance held at the Theatre, Sydney, on Saturday, 30 July 1796. It was printed in Sydney by George Hughes, operator of Australia’s first printing press, which came out on the First Fleet.

It was probable that Philip Gidley King took the playbill with him when he visited England in October 1796. King was a First Fleet Marine Officer and, later, 3rd Governor of the colony of NSW from 1800–1806. King’s handwriting and signature are on the back of the sheet.

The playbill was found by a Library and Archives Canada rare books bibliographer in a scrapbook containing several items of mostly Canadian printed ephemera, and other playbills and advertisements for performances in 19th century England.


NOTE: All images are in high resolution JPEG format approximately A4 @ 300dpi

The front of the 1796 playbill, which advertises a theatrical performance held in Sydney on Saturday, 30 July 1796. The item receiving top billing is Jane Shore, a popular drama written by Nicholas Rowe in 1702.
Collection of the National Library of Australia
RBRS N 686.2099441 F 692

Download (14.94 Mb zip)

The back of the playbill, featuring Philip Gidley King's handwriting and signature, addressed to a George Chalmers, and listing two other plays performed earlier in Sydney and Norfolk Island.
Collection of the National Library of Australia

Download (14.40 Mb zip)

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