Tag Archives: Newspapers

Some European views of Japan in the nineteenth century

References to Japan in nineteenth-century newspapers in Australia are spasmodic and provide a very incomplete view of that country. The word ‘japanned’ occurs frequently in advertisements in connection with a variety of articles that were subjected to that lacquering process. As for the people, lifestyle and cultural achievements of Japan, there was a strong inclination to believe that European culture and attainments were significantly more advanced.

Thus in 1825 the Australian newspaper reprinted a letter to the editor of the Singapore Chronicle in which the writer commented on the language and ideas in several newspapers in the Australian colonies. According to the writer, the newspapers showed a range of regrettable linguistic developments in Australian English; however, they also offered evidence of ‘the rapid advancement of a country destined at some future day in all likelihood to alter the whole frame of society in Eastern Asia, and to give law to China and Japan.’

According to the Sydney Gazette in 1829:

In the island of Japan, we have the example of a people, who having attained a high degree of civilization and knowledge of the arts of life, have nevertheless abstracted themselves from intercourse with foreign nations. … There [in China], as in Japan, society appears to have attained a point at which all further progress and improvement have been arrested.

A small indication of the ignorance, or prejudice, which affected views on the ‘Far East’ may be found in an article on the history of printing, published in the Colonial Times in 1827, according to which Japan did not obtain the art of printing until the sixteenth century, subsequent to its invention in Germany in 1457.

There was, nevertheless, a recognition that Japan produced impressive manufactured goods. In the Sydney Monitor in 1828 a contributor is quoted as saying that Sydney is a place where,

… if you have but the money, you may procure any thing that convenience requires, and indulge if you please, the most capricious freaks of fancy, from the clumsiest Dutch toys, to the exquisite manufactures of China and Japan.

In quoting this passage the writer of the article disputes the possible implication that the items are widely available, but there is no criticism of the view that manufactures from China and Japan are typically, and in contrast to some items of European origin, ‘exquisite.’

Letter to the editor: ‘Comparisons are —’, Australian 20/10/1825, p. 2. Knowledge and civilization: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 10/3/1829, p. 2. Printing: Supplement to the Colonial Times 12/10/1827, p. 2. Manufactures: Sydney Monitor 23/8/1828, p. 3.

Earthquakes in Japan: some nineteenth-century reports

Nineteenth-century newspaper reports show how gradual the process could be of assembling information about distant events, even in an age when communications were becoming more sophisticated. A reader might wait two months or more for an extended account of a major incident, and the report when it came might be, for all its striving for detail, rather sketchy. In the case of natural disasters, attempts to explain causes reflect the imperfect scientific knowledge of the day, and reveal a tendency to find in an event the work of a higher power and a pattern of responsibility and punishment.

Earthquakes in Japan were known to be frequent. Particularly large earthquakes in 1855 and 1891, for example, were remembered as exemplifying the susceptibility of Japan to major upheavals.

In December 1891 the Maitland Mercury reported a recent earthquake in Japan as affecting an enormous area and causing unprecedented havoc. As well as giving details of the scale of destruction, the article referred to the behaviour of the Japanese in response to the disaster:

To all this instantaneous and almost incredible ruin the Japanese oppose a cheerful and invincible fortitude. Panic there may have been during the fearful ten or twelve minutes while the land surged like a sea beneath their feet, and all the works of their hands toppled like a house of cards upon their heads. But in the midst of this widespread desolation and bereavement they maintain their customary demeanor, and accept the inevitable with laughing stoicism.

The writer sought to place the event in a longer historical perspective:

It is noted as a remarkable coincidence that the news of the terrible earthquake in Japan should be published in London on the 136th anniversary of the great Lisbon earthquake, when in about eight minutes most of the houses in the Portuguese capital and upwards of 50,000 inhabitants were swallowed up. The latest calamity in Japan brings up the total number of earthquakes and earthquake shocks recorded in the present century to about 130…

According to the article, the most fatal so far in the nineteenth century were those at Naples, 1805; Algiers, 1516; Aleppo, 1822; South Italy, 1851; Calabria, 1857; Quito, 1859; Mendoza (South America), 1860; Peru and Ecuador, 1868; Columbia, 1875; Cashmere, 1885; Corsica, Geneva and other towns, 1887; and Yun-nan, China, 1888. Even more destructive were earthquakes in preceding centuries at Naples, 1456; Schamacki, 1667; Sicily, 1693; and Jeddo, Japan, 1703. Among these the greatest loss of life occurred at Jeddo, when that city was ruined and some 200,000 people died.

Edo, also spelled Yedo, Yeddo and Jeddo, was the name of the city now called Tokyo.

In February 1892 the Mercury (Victoria) described the November 1891 earthquake in Japan in the light of details that had come to hand in the meantime. It was suggested that the earthquake was ‘the result of actual explosion somewhere in the bowels of the earth.’ Where the shocks were most severe, over an area of 500 square miles, nothing could withstand them; double that area was violently but less destructively shaken; ‘and even in the capital, 170 miles distant, the earth movements were of a kind to which there has been no parallel since the great Yeddo earthquake thirty-seven years ago.’

The Jeddo earthquake of 11 November 1855 was reported at length in the Perth Gazette eight months after the event. Some analysis was drawn from the San Francisco Herald:

… it is possible that the report exaggerates the real facts. Indeed, the destruction as given is so vast and appalling that one is tempted, through the sympathies of a common humanity, to doubt it and to hope for a less fearful account. But, when it is remembered that Jeddo is reported by some as containing a mil<l>ion of inhabitants, the wide-spread destruction is not impossible. It will be remembered that the Russian frigate Diana was wrecked [la]st year at Simoda by an earthquake, which was terrific and very destructiee [sic]. And it is said that at the same place the shock which was so destructive at Jeddo was severe.

The San Francisco Herald added:

The advent of the Americans, French, English, and Russians into Japan has been accompanied by natural phenomena of such an uncommon character that the Government and people may not very unnaturally connect the two as judgments sent upon them.

Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser 22/12/1891, p. 5. Mercury and Weekly Courier (Victoria) 4/2/1892, p. 3. Jeddo, 1855: Perth Gazette and Independent Journal of Politics and News 25/7/1856, p. 3.

Sydney in 1841: a directory [instalment 8]

The ‘Directory of the Public Institutions and Government Offices in Sydney’ published in the Sydney Herald on 5 July 1841 includes (13) Newspapers. (See the entries of 17/11/2010, 18/11/2010, 19/11/2010, 22/11/201023/11/2010, 24/11/2010 and 25/11/2010 for further details.)

(13) Under the heading of newspapers the Directory lists the offices of eight publications: the Government Gazette, the Sydney Gazette, the Australian, the Sydney Monitor, the Sydney Herald, the Australasian Chronicle, the Temperance Advocate, and the Free Press.

The Government Gazette Printing Office is stated to be at the northern end of Phillip Street, next to the Immigration Office. This is not to be confused with the Sydney Gazette, which has an office at the northern end of George Street, at the northern corner of George Street and Charlotte Place. The Sydney Herald is just along the street, the fourth door from Charlotte Place. The office of the Australian is in Bridge Street, on the northern side, the ‘lowest house in the Colonade’. Also in Bridge Street is the Free Press office, on the south side of the street. The Temperance Advocate is in King Street, on the north side near Castlereagh Street. The Sydney Monitor and the Australasian Chronicle are on the east side of George Street; the former is ‘opposite the south-east corner of the Old Gaol’, while the latter is near King Street.

Some brief and incomplete notes on the publications mentioned:

Copies of the New South Wales Government Gazette for 1836-1851 can be read online via a website entitled Victoria Government Gazette: Online Archive 1836-1997. This website also has copies of the Port Phillip Government Gazette (1843-1851) and the Victoria Government Gazette (1851-1997).

The following five newspapers listed by the Directory (and their successors in two cases) are accessible online via the newspapers section of the National Library of Australia’s search website Trove. They are listed here with their years of publication (in the case of the Sydney Morning Herald, the years covered by that website), from the oldest to the most recent: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 1803-1842 [suspended 1807-1808]; Australian, 1824-1848; Sydney Monitor, 1828-1838, then the Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser, 1838-1841; Sydney Herald, 1831-1842, then the Sydney Morning Herald, 1842-1954; Australasian Chronicle, 1839-1843.

The Sydney Gazette – the first newspaper in New South Wales and hence the first in Australia – was founded early in the life of the colony. The Australian and the Monitor were founded in the 1820s, and the Herald (begun by three men from the Sydney Gazette) and the Australasian Chronicle in the 1830s. The 1840s were a time of change. Four of the five newspapers listed closed down: the Sydney Gazette, the Australian, the Monitor (which had become the Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser) and the Australasian Chronicle. The latter, successor to Bent’s News and New South Wales Advertiser (1839) became the Morning Chronicle (1843-1846), followed by the Sydney Chronicle (1846-1848) and finally the Daily News and Evening Chronicle (1848). The Sydney Herald, bought by John Fairfax in 1841, became the Sydney Morning Herald the next year and continues to the present day.

The Temperance Advocate and Australasian Commercial and Agricultural Intelligencer was published from October 1840 to December 1841. The Commercial Journal and Advertiser (1835-1840) became the Free Press and Commercial Journal (1841) and finally the Sydney Free Press (1841-1842). These can be consulted via the Australian Cooperative Digitisation Project’s website Australian Periodical Publications 1840-1845.

A leading figure on the newspaper scene from the end of the 1820s to the early 1850s was the clergyman Ralph Mansfield (1799-1880), who was an editor of the Sydney Gazette (1829-1832), a contributor to the Colonist in the 1830s, and an editor of the Sydney Morning Herald (1842-1854). After his death an article on ‘The Late Rev. Ralph Mansfield’ in the Sydney Morning Herald (3/9/1880, p. 3) included the comment: ‘It would surprise those who are unacquainted with the history of those comparatively early days of the colony to know what a field was then open to a man of talent in connection with the Press, and to learn the number of newspapers in existence at that period.’