On this Day 3rd January 1851

New Year, new newspaper

A brand new newspaper for the brand new year. And what better title? How else to suggest the exhilarating pace of modern life, the new communications media that are changing the world?

Today the telegraph, tomorrow the railway, and after that – who knows?

The new arrival is presented as a “Mining, Agricultural and Commercial Gazette”. Although the first issue is a mere four pages – one folded sheet, albeit a very large one – the Telegraph is to be “As a new planet to the astronomer, or a new stratum to the geologist, or a new element to the chemical philosopher”. Or so, at any rate, readers are promised. Young men will feel their intellect “kindling into fresh ardour” as they read. Old men will polish their glasses and find the world a brighter place. Those learning to read will be spurred on in their efforts. There will be politics; there will be jokes; there will even be poems.

This is the age of the newspaper, and newspapers are to be found everywhere - from “rustic cottage” to “royal palace”. “The press industry is a vast river that supplies the millions”, and the Telegraph will be a family newspaper, its own waters “pure and healthy” as they flow into the general stream. Specifically, the paper will stand for Liberty, and promises to “wage an unrelenting war with all the tyrants in the world”.  Claims that Czar Nicholas has already banned the Cornish Telegraph, that the Pope has taken to his bed since hearing of its impending publication, are squibs of self-deprecating humour – but the hopes that the coming railway will spread news from Penzance out into the wider world are genuine enough.

And so the first editorial takes issue against “Popery”, and against a correspondent to the rival West Briton who has sought to silence the voice for reform. There is an article on “the utility of mesmerism”, and a long letter from a miner in Australia. There are the usual court reports – theft of sheep, a jacket, poultry.  Advertisers who have supported this first issue include the steam packet Brilliant, plying between Hayle and Bristol, several plantsmen in Penzance, and Penwith Annuitant Society announcing their half-yearly meeting.  And the newspaper –keen then as now to maximise a major income stream  - calls for more, opening its columns to one and all: “If a man has only a pig to dispose of, or an old wheel barrow to sell, or a share in a mine knocked twenty years ago, we shall not think it infra dig* to give publicity to his wishes”.

So that first issue – maybe the design smacks a little too much of the genteel? The title forming an arch in that oddly gnarled, woodcraft typeface – and the Mount rearing up to meet it as if to represent aristocratic privilege? Fear not. Next year that first, whimsical bannerhead  will be placed by block Gothic type, the Mount will be sacrificed to advertising space, as the publication flexes its muscles and thrusts itself forward, the radical voice in the far west.

* Beneath our dignity


The Cornish Telegraph can be consulted in the Morrab Library

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Penwith Local History Group
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Growing Up in West Cornwall. A Publication by the Penwith Local History Group

"Growing Up in West Cornwall"

Edited by
Sally Corbet

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