The building with the arch brings on the scene our Australian Caxton. George Howe was not literally Australia’s first printer–a convict named Hughes has that honour, although his only productions were in the shape of handbills—but Howe was our first real printer. He started the first Australian newspaper, the “Sydney Gazette,” in 1803, in a lean-to at the rear of the Government House. There it remained, at least until 1808; after that, it was in Macquarie place. But in the “Gazette” of 29th December 1810, Howe announced that the office would in future be at Mr. Wills’ house, George street, and thereby hangs a tale.
A few months later it was announced that on May 14, 1811, at his house in George street, Mr. Edward Wills had died, aged 33 years. “The generosity of his disposition was evinced in all his actions. His integrity was undoubted, and he lived universally respected,” wrote Mr. George Howe. It may be a coincidence in name, but eighteen months afterwards the “Gazette” further records that on October 5, 1812, at St. Phillip’s Church, Mr. George Howe, “printer of this paper,” was wedded to Mrs. Sarah Wills, of George street.
The house with the archway was the home of Mr. Edward Wills. Adjoining it was a building of one story running to the passage-way, the site of which is now occupied by Nos. 164-166 George street (lately in the occupation of Thomas Playfair) ; and in Fowles’s “Sydney in 1848” the portion of this house abutting on the passage-way is stated to be the one-time office of the “Sydney Gazette.” On June 20, 1816, a grant of this site, occupying 94 feet frontage to George street, was given to George Howe.
In the issue of May 3, 1822, it was announced that the paper had been removed to No. 96 George street. From the Wills’ house southward as far as the picture extends houses were built upon a grant to Major Johnston, which, I believe, is still in the hands of his descendants. On the other side of the street, the row of three-story buildings was built in 1822 by Joseph Underwood and remained in existence until some 15 years ago.