Monday, January 16, 2012

How fast news came in 1862 and how it changed by 1866

A major event for anyone in the British Empire in 1862 was the death of the Prince Consort, Albert.   Queen Victoria's husband died on December 14th 1861 and the news arrived in Victoria on January 13th 1862.   One month for major news to come from London to Victoria.  Most news from elsewhere actually took much longer.   The British Colonist's regular letter from a London correspondent could be two months old when published.

This was actually pretty good time because ships of the 1860s were already had a dramatic improvement in speed.   News could only travel via sail power all the way from the UK to BC, nothing dramatic had changed in centuries.  In 1862 we are only years short of a major communications revolution.

1866 sees the first functional transatlantic cable put into operation on July 27th and by August 14th the Colonist was publishing news from Europe via telegraph that was only two days old.

The telegraph changes things dramatically.   The American Civil War was reported on in the Colonist weeks after the events occurred.  The Franco-Prussian war was reported in the Colonist very differently.

On July 19th 1870 the Franco-Prussian war started, the July 21st edition of the Daily British Colonist had news of the events of July 19th in Europe that were happening as the war started.   The delay between events happening in Europe and them being reported in the paper dropped to only two days.   It was now possible to read about the war blow by blow, each tiny event is detailed on a daily basis.  It may not have been real time, but it is only a day or so slower than news gets into the newspapers today.

People must have been reading the paper each day to see how things unfolded.   The newspaper suddenly changes from a advertising rag with a lot of opinion and some old news to the source with the most current news in the world.

If you look at the fifth column of page three for July 21st 1870, you can see the heading "By Electric Telegraph: Special to the Daily Colonist".   There is a heading most days on page three with that title.

I am trying to imagine how this changed how people viewed the world.  In the past everyone accepted that it was months to get news from Europe to Victoria, letters from friends were just as likely to inform you of world events than the newspapers.   Suddenly with the news via the telegraph people were connected in a way that no one could have conceived of.

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