First published in 1841 The Cork Examiner can be considered a national newspaper with a regional emphasis. The newspaper was published three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and was priced at 4d. In July 1861 it became a daily newspaper with editions Monday – Saturday and the price dropped to 3d.
We settled down to read the first edition which was published on Monday 30 August 1841 to see what it said in the papers four years before the Great Famine. The front page, in common with other newspapers of the time, is dominated by advertisements and notices.
Advertisements are not only great for those of us with ancestors in business, they give all of us an insight into the lives of our ancestors and the sorts of goods and services they might have bought and used. They are a reflection of the times our families lived in.
We loved this one for coffee which declares that ‘Housekeepers will find coffee more economical than tea, since the great advance in price of that article’. The sales pitch in favour of coffee over tea relates to the war between Britain and China which was fought in the late 1830s and early 1840s. The war prevented imports of tea from China, the main supplier at this time. Indian tea plantations were still relatively new and unable to meet demand. And when supply cannot meet demand prices rise.
The emigration advertisements placed by shipping companies bring home the sheer volume of people leaving even before The Great Famine, and one notice offering free passage to Australia and the promise of well-paid jobs in their new home for those in particular trades shows that the motivation to leave was not always escape, but also the promise of a better life. In the advertisement passage, victualing (food) and bedding are listed separately to emphasise the huge saving being offered. In the nineteenth century food rations aboard ships were basic and those that could afford it brought aboard additional food & bedding to augment the often unfamiliar foods being offered and make the basic accommodations offered on board more comfortable. Many arrived at their destination with few belongings and no money after paying their passage, so the offer of free passage would have been an enticing one.
A lot of things in the papers make us reflect on the differences between life today and that of our ancestors. Entertainment was not something that could be had at the touch of a button. A trip to the theatre to hear the latest music and see a variety show would have been a real treat, the one shilling tickets however might have been out of the reach of the poorer labourers. The programme on offer at the Theatre Royal in Cork is a mix of music, tragedy and farce. We found Pizarro and The Irish Tutor online, The Railroad Station by Thomas Egerton Wilks is another farce. Pizarro was written by Irish playwright Richard Sheridan in 1799 and was still being played twenty-five years after his death. The tragedy is a dramatisation of the conquering of Peru by Francisco Pizarro in the sixteenth century. Why not have a read and see if they stand the test of time.
The Cork Examiner gives extensive coverage of parliamentary debates, mostly drawn from other newspapers. Reprinting reports from other newspapers was quite common in the nineteenth century. Reports from parliament gave readers a sense of the wider world around them, in a time when most people lived out their lives in the villages where they were born. Among the names of the parliamentary debaters is Smith O’Brien who will be familiar to readers as the subject of the William Smith O’Brien petition , a petition of 80,000 names asking for clemency for Smith O’Brien who was sentenced to death for his part in the 1848 Young Irelander uprising.
Newspapers are a great way to immerse yourself in the life of your predecessors, from the minutiae of everyday life to the political movements of their time. Join us next week when we review what it said in The Sligo Champion on 4 June 1836.