A lesson in press freedom from 18th century Calcutta

Mar 19, 2018 by

National Portrait Gallery/Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain]

National Portrait Gallery/Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain]

The story of press freedom in British India begins with, and is linked to, the East India Company. Hicky’s Bengal Gazette, the first newspaper in British India, was founded by James Augustus Hicky in 1780. It quickly ran afoul of Warren Hastings, the governor general, and other officials as it raised issues of corruption and trade malpractices in the Company. It also made allegations about the extravagant lifestyle of Hastings’ wife, Marian, which landed Hicky in jail. The paper didn’t last long afterward.

A decade later, another Irish-American would incur the East India Company’s displeasure on two separate occasions, leading to his eventual deportation. William Duane, however, went on to make a new life for himself in which he was responsible for a key turn in American politics.

Hicky's Bengal Gazette | Wikimedia Commons [Creative Commons Attribution-SA 3.0 Unported licence]

Hicky’s Bengal Gazette | Wikimedia Commons [Creative Commons Attribution-SA 3.0 Unported licence]

Learning the paper trade

Born in 1760, Duane grew up in upstate New York. His father died when he was seven, and his mother decided to return to her family home in Ireland. It was in London, some years later, that Duane learned the printing trade as an apprentice. He angered his mother and lost out on a small family inheritance, when, against her wishes, he married Catherine Corcoran, a woman of the Anglican faith. It had been only a century since Britain had succeeded in driving the Catholic King, James II, into exile and religious differences could still create family divides. At that point, Duane decided to seek his fortunes in British India.

Source: A lesson in press freedom from 18th century Calcutta – Home – Herald

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