Perth Inside Out: A Step Back in Time to the Old Print Newspaper

A digital image of the oldest known surviving Perth newspaper
A digital image of the oldest known surviving Perth newspaper, dated Aug. 29, 1834. Photo courtesy of
Posted on: August 26, 2018

Terry O’Hearn

The printed newspaper has gone through some rough times during the last few years – for the most part due to advances in technology, and specifically the Internet and Social Media. It is increasingly difficult for publishers to predict the precise direction to go, or to gauge the correct timing for making changes, so it may be worthwhile to have a quick look backwards to a simpler time.

Early newspapers were most commonly one of two sizes, tabloid or broadsheet.

While the descriptor “tabloid” when used in connection with modern-day newspapers usually has to do with sensationalism, in the nineteenth century and before, it would have referred to the size of the publication. A broadsheet was roughly double the size of its tabloid cousin, the sizes being gauged when the pages were folded.

The word tabloid was not actually in use before the 1880’s though, and interestingly, the word was derived from ‘tabloid pills’ marketed in the late nineteenth century. The pills were in a highly compacted form, and thus easy to swallow, much like the tabloid newspaper from the early twentieth century and onwards.

So, we will discuss one of the old Perth newspapers from the first half of the nineteenth century. Much more of that history is detailed on the Lanark County Genealogical Society (LCGS) Online Resource Library website, under the Articles category. Their heading “A History of Newspaper Publishing in Perth” has the caveat: ‘This undated typescript was probably written for the Perth Historical and Antiquarian Society, and the content shows it was written before 1898.’”

The LCGS quoted article states: “So far as I can learn, the first newspaper published in Perth was The Independent Examiner. Its first issue must belong to the year 1828, but the precise date of its appearance is uncertain. A copy of the paper of the date Aug. 28th. 1829, is in the possession of the Messrs Walker of the Courier, as well as one of the date Dec. 13th, 1828, which however, is somewhat fragmentary. The former contains an account of the trial and execution of the murderer Easby, whose crime was one of the sensations of the early days of the settlement.”

The quoted article continues … “The ‘Courier’ (Bathurst Courier) appeared first in July or August, 1834. The files in the possession of the Messrs Walker, the present proprietors of the ‘Perth Courier’, are not complete, the issues which are missing being chiefly those of the first few months of the paper’s history. The first issue which I have been able to see is that of April 24th, 1835. The paper was then the property of Malcolm Cameron, his brother, who founded the paper, having died a short time before.”

The paper was known as The Bathurst Courier from 1834 until 1857, when the name was changed to The Perth Courier. A quick-reference book has been compiled by Dan Walker, titled: “The Bathurst Courier, Extracts From the Bathurst Courier 1834-1857”. It is stated that: “This book contains carefully recorded abstracts of genealogical interest, taken from The Bathurst Courier for the years of 1834 to 1857. There are no known copies of the 1829-1833 issues of the The Bathurst Independent Examiner. Therefore, extracts from 1829-1833 do not appear in this volume.”

The earliest edition now available for viewing was published on Aug. 29, 1834, by John Cameron, as Vol. 1 No. 4. The front page contains a selection of poetry by American poet Philip Freneau and another poem from ‘Young’s Night Thoughts’. A lengthy excerpt from the fiction book The Cruise of the Midge (author Michael Scott, first published Jan. 7, 1821) takes up the rest of the front page.

A second five-column wide page continues with the Midge story, and then some news from England, Ireland, and Scotland, which would not be late-breaking. The overseas content finally gives way to local news and notices on page three, not the least important which is about a reward in connection with “wanton depredations” having been committed on the Works of the Tay Navigation Company. Some advertisements round out that page, and the fourth and final page is a miscellany of overseas, local items, and advertising. Pretty good, I’d suggest, for a one-man show.

This Einstein quote from many years ago: “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity” seems to even more relevant today, especially where the media is concerned.  So perhaps this look into the past will help us find our way in these difficult times of a new-age media circus, and a specter called “Trump” – a societal aberration which may well be a Frankenstein-like creation of our own making.