Congratulations and Commerce: Divergent approaches to imperial news

Plagiarism was rampant in the Georgian provincial press, but this does not mean that scissors-and-paste journalism always resulted in a character-for-character reprint of news content. Different newspapers placed different values on local, national, imperial and foreign news and this was reflected not only in their decision obtain information first or second hand, but also in how they presented this information to their readers.

The late 1810s and early 1820s represented an important shift in imperial news reporting. Rather than concentrate discussions of emigration and settlement on North America, editors began to lavish attention upon Britain’s Australasian colonies: New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land. Wishing to divert would-be emigrants away from the rebellious United States, the recent government emigration schemes to Australia and Tasmania offered editors just cause to focus their attention beyond the Cape, and they did so with great gusto.

Yet, with travel between Scotland and down under far less frequent than that to North America, most Scottish editors relied upon the same two principal sources of information, personal intelligence from the captains of returning ships and, more frequently, the pages of the Sydney Gazette. With most ships docking in English ports, northern papers, such as the Aberdeen Journal, were unlikely to receive their copies before the more centralised Glasgow and Edinburgh presses. It is therefore unsurprising that the Journal had few qualms in harvesting what it could from the Caledonian Mercury.

Yet, the two editors often had different priorities in their presentation of colonial news. For example, in November1819, the Mercury published a brief account of recent expeditions in Australia, including an extract from a congratulatory letter by the colonial governor. 

His Excellency the Governor having received and perused the Journal of a Tour lately made by Charles Throsby, Esq. by way of the Cow Pastures to Bathurst, int he newly discovered country westward of the Blue Mountains, takes this early opportunity publicly to announce the happy result of an enterprise which promises to conduce in a very eminent degree to the future interest and prospoerty of the colony.

The communication with the western country having been heretofore over a long and difficult range of mountains, alike ungenial to man and cattle, from their parched and barren state, it became an object of great importance to discover another route, whereby those almost insurmountable barriers would be avoided, and a more practicable, and consequently less hazardous, access effected to the rich and extensive plains of Bathurst.

His Excellency adverts with pleasure to Mr Throsby’s general report of the capabilities, qualities, and features of the country intervening between the Cow Pastures and Bathurst; which he represents to be, with few exceptions, rich, fertile and luxuriant; abounding with fine runs of water, and all the happy varieties of soil, hill and valley, to render it not only delightful to view, but highly suitable to all the purposes of pasturage and agriculture.

The importance of these discoveries is enhanced by the consideration that a continuous range of valuable country extending from the Cow Pastures to the remote plains of Bathurst, is now fully ascertained, connecting those countries with present settlements on this side of Nepean.

His Excellency the Governor, highly appreciating Mr Throsby’s survives on this occasion, offers him this public tribute of acknowledgement for the zeal and perseverance by which he was actuated throughout that arduous undertaking; and desires his acceptance of one thousand acres of land in any part of the country discovered by himself that he may chuse to select.

While the first half of the article was identical to its southern rival, the Journal chose to exclude the official letter and, instead, spent is copy describing the interconnectedness of the empire. ‘The progress of the settlements in New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land’ it contended ‘has been so rapid, that they now process of their own growth, all the necessaries of life, and are now enabled to make exportation of staple produce.’ They had sent horses to Batavia, salted meat to the Isle of France, and corn to the Cape of Good Hope ‘to assist in meeting the distress the inhabitants of that territory have lately experienced for want of grain’. The Australasian settlements had likewise proved their value to Britain itself, sending home the products of their fisheries, namely sperm oil and seal skins.

Thus, despite selective borrowing from periodicals further up the information pipeline, the provincial presses were not mindless drones, passing on information undigested or untouched by editorial opinion.The reshaped their presentation of the empire, as a source of interest, pride or material aid, to suit their own ends. As the transcription of these papers continues, it is hoped that the precise nature of these motives will be fully revealed. 

Leave a Reply