Wed | Apr 26, 2017

Gleaner 180 - The Rise of the Gleaner

Published:Saturday | September 13, 2014 | 9:00 AM
David Vann deCordova, great-great-great-grandson of Jacob deCordova who founded The Gleaner 180 years ago.
Joshua DeCordova
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The Gleaner was going to avoid editorial squabbles, as the first letter to the editor advised. "Editorial squabbles will be alike avoided: we shall treat our brother editors with respect, by which means we shall command respect of them."

At the time, a number of other newspapers operated in the country, including the Royal Gazette, which ran 1780-1837, and the St Jago de la Vega Gazette, 1791-1837. The famous Falmouth Post would be born a year after The Gleaner in 1835, and run continuously to 1862. Newspapers in Jamaica have had relatively short lives. But not The Gleaner.

The paper in that first editorial promised a compendium of foreign news. And since party politics was "a being unknown to us, we will give in all matters relative to the politics of England, or of Europe generally, the best written opinions of the English Whig and Tory Editors, by which means our readers will become better acquainted with the real state of European affairs than if we confined ourselves to any particular party."

"Well written essays devoid of Party Spirit" were invited as part of the "Miscellany" the paper promised to carry.

The Gleaner would be non-partisan and politically neutral, a position continued until today. Many great newspapers in Britain and the United States and other countries of Western Democracy are openly aligned to particular political parties.

Party politics, of course, has not remained "a being unknown to us", and The Gleaner has reported on the establishment of Marcus Garvey's People's Political Party (PPP) in 1929, the Peoples' National Party (PNP) in 1938, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in 1943, and on many other parties which have come and gone. The paper has covered, as stock in trade, the JLP and the PNP alternatively forming the Government and Opposition since Universal Adult Suffrage and the beginnings of self-government in 1944.

In its biggest political clash in its 180-year history, The Gleaner came into head-on conflict with the democratic socialism of the Michael Manley-led PNP Government in the 1970s, viewed as an ideology inimical to the principles of free enterprise and personal freedom on which the paper was founded by two members of the local white merchant class, the half-brothers Jacob and Joshua deCordova.

"Every occurrence which may transpire in this our island, will command our serious attention", that first editorial promised.

Starting just six weeks after Emancipation on August 1, 1834, and despite the promise that "every occurrence which may transpire in this our island, will command our serious attention", the end of slavery in Jamaica after 179 years in Jamaica under British rule from 1655, was not directly reported in the first issue of The Gleaner. The paper was very English-oriented and focused on the business, political and social interests - and amusements - of the local white ruling class. A few untitled pieces indirectly dealt with slavery and Emancipation. In a tantalisingly incomplete story, an unnamed "worthy and efficient Stipendiary Magistrate" was commended for having interested himself on behalf of Abou Rekir Jadiki, better known by the name Edward Doulan, and opened a subscription for his benefit for unstated reasons, a subscription to which "many of our most respectable citizens have added their name".

Abou Rekir Jadiki (a Muslim name?), "although but a slave", the story reported, had done some unspecified act of great kindness to his master, Mr Anderson. "His conduct was such as to demand the unqualified appreciation of his owner." And Anderson had "proved to the world how highly he esteemed Edward by stepping forward, when he proposed to purchase his freedom, and granting him his Emancipation." This would have been a story preceding the general freeing of some 300,000 slaves on Friday, August 1.

In another slavery and Emancipation-related story, the ship Fanny Ann Garriques had brought news from "Barbadoes" "of insurrections having broken out in Demerara, Dominica, St Kitts, St Vincent, and Grenada". The "authorities in those colonies", with the "active cooperation of the Special Magistrates", had moved to restore tranquility with "severe castigations inflicted on some of the ringleaders."

The slaves in Jamaica had mostly filled the chapels of the nonconformist churches on Emancipation Eve and the ex-slaves had quietly gone back to work, as apprentices, the following Monday. The Gleaner wished that "should circumstances ever call on 'the powers that be', to show their zeal that they will be ever ready to prove that Jamaica, the A1 of Britain's colonies, will never be behind hand in protecting the right of the possessors of the soil."

In a third snippet related to Emancipation, the paper expressed unease about the state of the island and called for the greatest care and precaution to be taken "to prevent an outbreaking, or the ebullition of any disorderly spirit among our peasantry." The paper expressed "unbounded confidence" in the Marquis of Sligo, the Governor. "In the hour of danger - should that hour ever arrive - we feel assured, he will not be found dormant at his post." The Gleaner would subsequently chronicle many actual outbreaks such as the Morant Bay Rebellion, the 1938 uprising, anti-Chinese riots, and, more recently, gas tax protests.

In the campaign against slavery and in the aftermath of Emancipation, several attacks took place against the chapels of the nonconformist churches which were in the forefront of the campaign and in assisting the ex-slaves. The Gleaner in a few lines of its first issue reported that a temporary Baptist chapel in St. Ann had been burned down and that a reward has been offered for the incendiaries. "What reason can be assigned for this highly improper act?" The Gleaner queried.

More religious
conflict, this time overseas. Among the foreign news items carried was a
story brought in by the schooner Palestine from the United States that
there had been a riot in Charlestown, Massachusetts, over "an
erroneous opinion having gone abroad that a young lady was confined in
the Ursuline Convent against her will".
A mob had attacked and
burned down the convent.

Foreign
news from New York was that "the Cholera has again made its
appearance in the city of New York".
The
Gleaner
would report Jamaica's own major cholera outbreak in
1851 which killed about one-tenth of the population of 400,000, as the
paper now reports Chikgungunya cases.

Spanish Town was
then the capital and would be until the move was made to the dominant
commercial centre, Kingston, in 1872. And the Marquis of Sligo, a
sympathiser of the plight of the ex-slaves credited with helping to cut
short the Apprenticeship system and after whom the free village of
Sligoville was named, was Governor. The Gleaner
reported the christening of the Governor's infant son, a Jamaican, being
born in Jamaica, and was also "happy to announce that from
Monday the 15th inst. a conveyance will pass daily to and from the
capital and this city. This accommodation [particularly to the legal and
editorial interests] will we have no doubt, be thankfully
received."

This conveyance was before the
railway and the telegraph. Transportation was by horse and buggy on land
and by sailing ships across the seas. The railway came to Jamaica in
1845, domestic telegraphy in 1869, and international telegraphy via
submarine cables in 1879.

The paper complained that
"during the past week we have been entirely without any
arrivals from the United Kingdom. Our columns are therefore entirely
devoid of European intelligence; this defect we hope will be remedied in
our next, by the timely arrival
of the regular
Packet and other expected
vessels".

News out of the
United Kingdom would take around six weeks to arrive by the fastest
sailing ships! Steam ships would later cut travel time to two weeks, and
airplanes would take travel time down to eight hours. Today,
The Gleaner is publishing near-real time news
online.

The new paper reported an earthquake occurring
at half-past-one in the morning the previous Sunday. The reported
damages were "trifling" from the 80-second awful visitation,
"one of the most severe and awful shocks that have been
witnessed in this island within this century".
The
Gleaner
would report on the earthquake of 1907 which
devastated Kingston, and on many other natural disasters including
devastating hurricanes, even putting out a picture souvenir book on
Hurricane Gilbert which smashed right across the country, from east to
west, on September 12, 1988.

There were, as is to be
expected, several government notices in the first issue of The
Gleaner
, as is the case in subsequent issues over its 180
years of operation.

Quite a bit of
space, adding up to at least a full page of the eight pages of the first
issue, was devoted to commercial news. There was Shipping
Intelligence
giving "arrived",
"sailed" and "up to sail"
information for overseas vessels, plus sailing information on
"droghers" moving goods between Jamaican
ports.

The Review of Markets quoted
prices on commodities "for the week ending Sep 13th, at 3
p.m".
Prices of exports were quoted covering coffee, sugar,
rum and pimento. The banana trade was another 40-plus years into the
future and bauxite, a non-agricultural commodity, even further away by
more than a century. The Gleaner today publishes the
Financial Gleaner on Fridays and has substantial
business sections in other issues, particularly on Sundays and
Wednesdays.

Today's
Gleaner is awash with murder and other crime news
with some 1,200 homicides projected for this year as the murder rate has
fallen by 8.5 per cent. Apart from the burning of the Baptist chapel in
St Ann, the only other local crime news in the first issue was a very
brief report on "the diabolical attempt on the life of Mr
Samuels".
In a small "city" with a small
population and an even smaller number of well-known
"gentlemen", there was apparently no need for the
paper to provide details on who Mr Samuels is or the circumstances
surrounding the diabolical attempt on his life.

A tiny
item in the first issue of The Gleaner looms large
in the light of subsequent history. With slavery just ended, the paper
reported that Peter Daly, Esq, "a gentleman of considerable
property in this island"
, who was then in England, was
"on the eve of sending out several Irish families for the
purpose of being employed as labourers on his estate, in the parish of
Manchester".
Later on, Indians (starting in 1845) and Chinese
(starting in 1854) would be imported as indentured labourers, changing
the ethnic composition of the Jamaican population forever. And
The Gleaner reported.

A few of the
few advertisements in the first issue of The Gleaner
catch the eye. A store, before the age of the ballpoint pen, was
offering "the patent hydraulic pen" for sale,
"a pen which will supply itself with Ink without the trouble of
dipping",
which sounds like what we would call a fountain
pen. And long before the West India Reference Library came on the scene
as part of the 1879-established Institute of Jamaica, Francis Egan
advertised his for fee-lending library, setting out the terms and rules
for subscribers. The Gleaner today maintains a
library of its own published material accessible to the public and
internet archives. The National Library of Jamaica, which absorbed the
West India Reference Library in 1979, holds an extensive collection of
back issues

The
Gleaner has reported on major natural disasters, including the
devastating Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. In this file photo, the damage
done to Main Street in Lucea, Hanover, is
shown. - File