The Melbourne Argus was one of Melbourne's earliest newspapers, founded in 1846 by William Kerr, a former proprietor of the Port Phillip Patriot. The 'Melbourne' prefix was dropped in 1848, when the paper was purchased by Edward Wilson and James Johnston. In 1852, Lauchlan Mackinnon took Johnston's place and, in 1857, Allan Spowers became a third partner. The Melbourne Daily News (founded 1838) was incorporated in 1852. Three subsidiary papers were then founded: the Weekly Argus (1855), the Examiner and Melbourne Weekly News (1857) and the Yeoman and Australian Acclimatiser (1861), all of which were absorbed into the Australasian, a popular town and country paper which began publication on 1 October 1864. Bell's Life in Victoria (1857) was incorporated in 1868 and the Australasian Sketcher (1873), designed as an adjunct, was absorbed in the Australasian in 1889.
Although Wilson held radical views, the Argus became increasingly conservative after the appointment of Frederick Haddon as editor in 1867. Haddon, who held the position until 1898, was an advocate of free trade and a supporter of constitutional policy. He was also aware of the need to build up the paper's strength, making innovations based on overseas trends and engaging capable new writers. By 1883, Richard Twopeny was able to describe the Argus as 'the best daily paper published out of England'. Its offices in Collins Street were a Melbourne landmark.
Despite its late 19th-century success, the Argus remained in competition with the Age and the rivalry between the morning newspapers would continue until one of them was defeated. In 1922, the evening Herald produced the Sun News-Pictorial, adding another morning newspaper to the field. The Argus responded in 1933 by bringing out the Star, in competition with the Herald. This evening paper lasted only until 1936. The Argus was still gaining readers but, as shown by the following circulation figures, the Age was catching up, while neither was as popular as the Herald or the Sun.
The London Daily Mirror group acquired the Argus in 1949, changing its ultra-conservatism into a pro-Labor base. This did nothing to arrest the decline and, on 19 January 1957, the paper was published for the last time. The news that it would not appear again was greeted with dismay by regular readers, many of whom had never taken another newspaper. Most would switch to the Age, rather than the tabloid Sun.
The Argus files are a valuable source of information on Melbourne life. The Fealy index covers the years 1846-59 (the last five only in typescript). The ongoing Argus Indexing Project has completed the years 1860-70. The years from then until 1910, when the Argus began publishing its own index, will follow. A conference, 'The Argus: the life and death of a great Melbourne newspaper', was held in 2001 at RMIT, with papers collected and edited by Muriel Porter.