Thursday, October 11, 2012

Arctic Newspapers (Part 1)

The subject of shipboard newspapers in the Arctic is a large one, dating back to William Edward Parry's sojourn at Winter Harbor on Melville Island in 1819-1820, and extending through the Franklin search era of the 1850's and beyond. The earlier newspapers are distinguished in that they were circulated in manuscript, since no one had thought to bring along a printing press, but in every other way they were conducted as were their print cousins. The North Georgia Gazette and Winter Chronicle, founded and edited by Edward Sabine on Parry's voyage, proposed as much in its first announcement:
It has been suggested that the establishment of a Weekly Newspaper may assist in enlivening the tedious and inactive months of winter, It is in contemplation therefore, to try the experiment, by circulating the first Number of the "WINTER CHRONICLE" amongst the officers of the Expedition, on Monday the 1st of November.
Sabine's efforts succeeded far beyond the original designs; the newspaper ran to twenty-one numbers, ending in March of 1820, and was crammed with all sorts of matter: News (such as it was), poems, songs, announcement for plays at the Theatre Royal, North Georgia, numerous letters to the Editor, most signed with clever pseudonyms ("Philosophicus," "Peter Trial," "Scepticus," and "Trim") and engaging in lively debate with the paper, and each other.  The results -- lightly censored, as one would expect -- had the distinction of being printed soon after Parry's official narrative, both in England and in its first American edition, printed in Philadelphia by Abraham Small, where it was bound in as a supplement to Parry's narrative. This book graces my shelves, and the paper appears thusly in its pages. It can also be perused via Google Books, and recently there was a lovely stand-alone edition published by the Green Lantern Press.

Most other early "newspapers," like the North Georgia Gazette, were not printed until after the expedition's return.  Some, though, were clearly made in anticipation of such a possibility, and among these the Illustrated Arctic News, conducted aboard HMS "Resolute,"  has pride of place. Modeled upon the Illustrated London News, with which all the (literate) crew members were to some degree familiar, it included illustrations, ornaments, and illuminated capitals of all kinds. Happily, through the good offices of the Internet Archive, you can peruse the printed facsimile, though alas not in color, a feature even the "real" illustrated papers in London did not yet possess.

Some later newspapers were, in part or whole, actually printed on board ship; Elaine Hoag of the National Library of Canada has published the most extensive research on these, both in her essay "Caxtons of the North" and in her earlier "Shipboard printing on the Franklin search expeditions," and these, along with other printed materials, will be the subject of my next post.


  1. Thanks for the links! I wonder if on the Franklin expedition they had a newspaper? I guess we'll never know.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Noelia. I would suspect that the Franklin expedition must surely have had a newspaper of some kind -- in a fictional version of their story that I wrote many years ago, I dubbed it the "North Devon Informer and King William Gazette" -- but I agree, we will likely never know whether such a thing existed.

  3. If Franklin's last expedition did have a shipboard newspaper, I bet James Fitzjames would have contributed some very hilarious and entertaining material!