Friday, August 05, 2016


The Pictorial Press - Its Origin and Progress by Mason Jackson: Chapter 2 Part 1


Before and for a long time after, the general use of newspapers, illustrated broadsides were published relating to particular events, or satirising the vices and follies of the period. In a broadside adorned with a woodcut representing Death and Time, and entitled, The Doleful Dance, and Song of Death, allusion is made to the ‘Fatal Assizes’ of Oxford, when three hundred persons, including the High Sheriff, died of a distemper, which was supposed to have originated among the prisoners. A sheet of a later date refers to the Spanish Armada and the Gunpowder Plot; while a third, entitled, Tittle-Tattle, &c., satirises the gossiping habits of the fair sex, and contains many illustrations of manners, costume, and character. Such were the publications that did duty for newspapers in the days of Queen Elizabeth, whose subjects, however, were not left wholly without information as to passing events. In 1587 there was published an illustrated tract giving an account of the doings of Sir Francis Drake,who was employed by Queen Elizabeth to harass the Spaniards in their harbours, and hinder them in their preparations for invading England. These operations, which Drake himself described as ‘singeing the King of Spain’s beard,’ delayed the sailing of the Armada, and gave Elizabeth time to prepare for defence. The tract referred to is entitled, ‘The true and perfect Newes of the worthy and valiant exploytes performed and done by that valiant Knight Syr Frauncis Drake; Not only at Sancto Domingo, and Carthagena, but also nowe at Cales, and upon the Coast of Spayne, 1587. Printed at London, by J. Charlewood, for Thomas Hackett.’ There is an account, in verse, written by one Thomas Greepe, of the doings of Sir Francis Drake and other sea captains. The author tells his reader, ‘Here hast thou, gentle Reader, set forth unto thee the most worthy and valiant exploytes and enterpryses, lately atchieved and done by that valiant Knight Syr Frauncis Drake & others not pend in lofty verse, nor curiously handled, but playnly and truly, so that it may be well understood of the Reader.’ There is no attempt made to illustrate the events related in the tract, but on the title-page there is a woodcut of a ship in full sail, which was perhaps intended to represent the admiral’s own vessel. I have reproduced it on a reduced scale, as an early specimen of marine draughtsmanship.

Thomas Greepe commences his poem with the following rhapsody:—

‘Triumph, O England, and rejoice,
And prayse thy God incessantly
For this thy Queene, that pearle of choyce,
Which God doth blesse with victory!
In countryes strange, both farre and neere,
All raging foes her force doth feare.

Yee worthy wights that doo delighte
To heare of Novels strange and rare,
What valors, woone by a famous knight,
May please you marke I shall declare.
Such rare exploytes performde and done
As none the like hath ever woone.’
He gives a list of the ships under Drake’s command:—

Twenty-five ships were then preparde,
Fifteene Pinnaces, brave and fine,
Well furnished for his safe garde,
Preventing foes that would him tyne.
With Masters good and Marriners rare
As ever tooke charge, I dare compare.

The Bonaventure, a ship royall,
Cheefe Admirall then of the fleete,
Sir Frauncis Drake, cheefe Generall,
As by desertes he was most meete.
Most worthy Captaynes of hand and heart
In this boon voyage then tooke hys part.

The Primrose next, Vice-Admirall,
Appoynted by thyre best device,
Captayne Frobisher, Vice-Generall—
A valiant Captayne, ware and wyse.
Captayne Carelell they did ordayne
Lieftenant-Generall on the mayne.
The poem thus winds up:—

God save our Queene of merry England,
His sacred word long to maintaine;
Her Graces Navie and royall bande,
Through his good Grace, may long remaine.
Lord blesse her counsell, and keepe them aye
With all true subjects night and day.
Finis, quoth Thomas Greepe.

This curious poem is supplemented by a letter, written by Sir Francis Drake, ‘To the right reverende, godly, learned Father, my very good friend, M. John Fox, preacher of the word of God.’ This was John Fox, the Martyrologist, who died in 1587. The letter proceeds: ‘Mister Fox, whereas we have had of late such happy successe against the Spanyardes, I do assure myselfe that you have faithfully remembered us in your good prayers, and therefore I have not forgotten, breefly to make you partaker thereof. The 19. of Aprill we arrived within the road of Calles, where we found very many shipping, but amongst the rest 32 of exceeding burden, lade and to be laden with provision, and prepared to furnish the King’s Navie, intended with all speede against England, the which when we had boorded, and also furnished our severall ships with provision as we thought sufficient, wee burnt; and although by the space of two dayes and two nights that we continued there, we were still endangered, both with thundering shott from the towne, and assailed with the roaring Cannons of twelve galleys; yet we suncke two of them, and one great Argosey, and still avoyded them with very small hurt, and so at our departure we brought away foure ships of provision, to the great terror of our enemies, and honour to ourselves, as it may appeare by a most curteous Letter written unto me with a Flagge of truce by Duke Petro, Generall of the Galleys. But whereas it is most certayne that the king doth not onely make speedy preparation in Spayne, but likewise expected a very great Fleete from the Straytes, and divers other places, that should joyne with his forces to invade England; we purpose to sette apart all feare of danger, and by Gods furtherance to proceed by all the good means we can devise to prevent their coming; wherefore I shall desire you to continue faithfull in remembrance of us in your prayers that our purpose may take that good effect, as God may be glorified, his Church, our Queene and country, preserved, and these enemies of the trueth utterly vanquished, that we may have continuall peace in Israel. Fro aboord her Majesties good ship the Elizabeth Bonaventure.

Your loving freende, and faythfull Sonne in Christ Jesus,
Frauncis Drake.

In the reign of James I, papers of news began to be published, but they only appeared occasionally, and were chiefly devoted to foreign intelligence. In 1619 we have ‘Newes out of Holland,’ followed by others in 1620, 1621, and 1622. These occasional tracts were afterwards converted into a regular weekly publication, entitled the ‘Weekly News,’ printed by J. D. for Nichs. Bourne and T. Archer. This was the first periodical newspaper published in England. But long before this many illustrated tracts and pamphlets were published relating to events of recent occurrence. In one dated 1607 occurs the earliest instance I have met with of an attempt to illustrate the news of the day. It is entitled ‘Wofull Newes from Wales, or the lamentable loss of divers Villages and Parishes (by a strange and wonderful Floud) within the Countye of Monmouth in Wales: which happened in January last past, 1607, whereby a great number of his Majesties subjects inhabiting in these parts are utterly undone.’ The writer of this news-book describes the flood, and then, taking it for his text, preaches a sermon upon it. It is printed in Old English, and is plentifully interspersed with pious exhortations and scriptural references. It has on the title a woodcut:


This interesting little tract has a preface, in which the author explains the difficulty he felt in producing it in the short time that was allowed him for the purpose:—‘Reader, when these newes were brought, and an importunitie used to me that I would give the same forme, and bestow an exhortation on them, I was unwilling, both in regard of that short space (of lesse than one day which was limited to undertake the matter) and also in respect of the usual unfaithfulness of men ordinarily in reporting of such accidents as these bee; whereby it often falleth out that the relation of them reapeth much discredit. But when I could not have these just excuses taken, I began and finished this businesse, as the shorte space wold permit me.’

The old story of the child washed away in a cradle, so often related as having occurred in great floods, and which Mr. Millais has immortalised in one of his pictures, is here told probably for the first time:—‘Another little childe is affirmed to have bene cast upon land in a Cradle, in which was nothing but a Catte, the which was discerned, as it came floating to the shore, to leape still from one side of the Cradle unto the other, even as if she had been appointed steersman to preserve the small barke from the waves’ furie.’

Another tract of the same date is illustrated with a woodcut similar to the one here copied, but it has in addition several more figures, including a cradle with a child in it floating on the water. This tract is entitled ‘A true report of certaine wonderful overflowings of waters now lately in Summersetshire, Norfolk, and other places in England, destroying many thousands of men, women, and children, overthrowing and bearing downe whole townes and villages, and drowning infinite numbers of sheepe and other cattle.’ It is written in the same sermonising style, beginning by calling men to repent, and to take warning from these signs of God’s anger. Then follows the narrative. The inundation was caused by an irruption of the sea, and many incidents are related of the flood. Here the cradle story is again told:—‘An infant likewise was found swimming in a cradle, some mile or two fro’ ye place where it was known to be kept, and so was preserved; for the cradle was not of wicker, as ours are here, but of strong, thicke bordes, closely joynted together, and that saved the infant’s life.’ This narrative of the Somersetshire flood was reprinted in another tract with ‘An Addition of other and more strange Accidents happening by these Flouds, and brought to light since the first publishing of this Booke.’ This second edition is illustrated with the identical woodcut that is used in the tract relating the floods in Wales. The two tracts recounting the Somersetshire floods were ‘printed at London by W. I. for Edward White, and are to be sold at the signe of the Gunne, at the North doore of Paules.’ That describing the flood in Wales was ‘printed for W. W., and are to be sold in Paules Church-yarde at the sign of the Grey-hound.’ In those days printers frequently combined the functions of engraver and printer; and as regards the tracts under notice, we must conclude that the printer supplied each of his customers with the same woodcut, or that the booksellers of the time were in the habit of lending their woodcuts to each other.

Storms, floods, and burnings were favourite themes with the early newswriters, and several illustrated tracts exist describing such calamities. They are more or less interspersed with pious exhortations, but the narrative is rarely allowed to flag, and every incident is minutely described. There is ‘Woeful newes from the West parts of England of the burning of Tiverton,’ 1612; and a small quarto pamphlet of 1613, printed in old English, affords another good example of this kind of news. It is entitled—it will be observed how fond the old newswriters were of alliterative titles—‘The Wonders of this windie winter, by terrible stormes and tempests, to be losse of lives and goods of many thousands of men, women, and children. The like by Sea and Land hath not been seene nor heard of in this age of the world. London. Printed by G. Eld for John Wright, and are to be sold at his Shop neere Christ-Church dore. 1613.’ On the title-page is a woodcut:

The tract opens very much in the manner of a sermon, and declares the dreadful occurrences related are intended to ‘move sinful mankind to repentance and newnesse of life.’ It then goes on to describe ‘that within these three fore-passed months of October, November, and December, the devouring gulfes of the Sea hath swallowed up above two hundred saile of ships, as well of our own Country as of neighbouring Nations, with great store of passengers, seafaring men, and owners of the same, adventuring their dear lives in the managing of the aforesaid ships, with all their goods, and merchandizes, making for our country all lost; yea, all, I say, in these three fore-passed months, hath been lost and drenched in the deep vaults of this watery world, a thing both lamentable and fearfull, that in so short a time, nay, in a small part of the yeare, even in an instant, so many heavy mischances should happen, and so many worthy vessels of adventure miscarrie, which had bin sufficient (if goodspeed had prevailed) to have inricht a whole Citie and bettered a kingdome; but such is the will of God, and such is His just indignation against us.

‘By certification from men of good accompt and calling, it is reported and knowne for truth, that in the month of October last, a fleete of fourteene sayle of ships making from Newcastle towards London, laden with sea-coale and other commodities of those parts, had their passage, by the tyranny of the windes, most untimely stopt, and violently caste into the ocean’s wombe, in which ships were perished to the number of a hundred and forty seafaring men, besides other passengers, both of men and women, which at that time made their watery graves in the deepe sea. This first strooke feare into the hearts of people, which hath been since seconded with many calamities, which lieth heavy upon the heart of the reporter.’

The writer then goes on to relate that between ‘Dover and Calice there hath been found floating upon the waters in one weeke of fowle weather above seven hundred drowned persons of divers nations, as of English, Dutch, French, and Spanish, with parts and parcels of many splitted ships.’ Further details are given at great length, and in rather a wordy manner. For instance, the writer describes the great number of women who are made widows by the disasters at sea, ‘besides fatherlesse children and children fatherlesse.’ Several examples are related of the force of the wind. ‘A man and his wife riding over Maidenhead Bridge upon one horse, by the fierceness of the wind, were blowne beside, and there drowned both horse and all. God be merciful unto us and preserve us from all such like mischances. The like mishap befell in November last unto two Yorkshire men, as it is verified by some gentlemen of the Inns of Court and Chancery, which knew the parties, the one of them a tanner, named Francis Browne, the other a clothier, called Richard Smith, both dwelling in a towne neere Wakefield side called Thorby; which two countriemen falling out upon small occassions wilfully purposed to come up to London, and their put their causes of themselves to the Lawes tryall; yet notwithstanding came they up together, where in riding over a bridge about Bedfordshire, and conferring of their inward grudges, they were blowne both beside into the river, where, by the fierceness of the windes, they were most lamentably drowned, both horse and men; and thus by sodaine death ended their malice, to the fear and amazement of all such as well could witness their envious proceedings. These and such like accidents may be fearful examples for the world to behold, especially for rich men, shewing to them the certaintie of life and goods subject to the chances of death and fortune, according to the saying of a worthy philosopher,

“Full little thinks the man at morning sun
What hap to him befalls ere day be done.”’

A great many other instances are related of the fury of the tempests, all of which the writer feels certain ‘have been laid upon us for our sinnes;’ and winds up with a pious exhortation to take warning.


Another tract of the same character and date, also printed in black letter, has a larger and more elaborate woodcut on the title-page, representing sinking ships, the shore strewed with dead bodies, and on the outside of a church tower the devil is seen throwing down the broken steeple. The following is the address to the reader:—‘Reader, I do here present unto thee and to thy understanding (if thou hast any) some part of the lamentable losses and unrecoverable mischances that have happened by occassion of these late blustering stormes of winde, and an innumerable deal of rayne, the which a great many thousands have too true cause to beleeve, because they are sharers in the misfortunes that this outragious weather hath caused. Now, if thou hast sustained no loss thyselfe, perhaps thou wilt not beleeve these things to be true that I have written; but if thou wilt or doest beleeve, then pray to God that it will please Him to give them patience that are loosers, and humilitie that are winners, and give God thanks that he hath so blessed thee that thou hast no share in these mishaps. But if thou wilt not beleeve, goe and looke, or else remaine still in thy unbeliefe.’ A copy of the woodcut is above.

Another pamphlet, of 1613, has the annexed woodcut, and is entitled ‘Lamentable Newes, shewing the Wonderful Deliverance of Maister Edmond Pet, Sayler, and Maister of a Ship, dwelling in Seething-lane, in London, neere Barking Church; with other strange things lately hapned concerning those great windes and tempestuous weather, both at Sea and Lande. Imprinted at London by T. C., for William Barley, dwelling over against Cree Church, neere Algate.1613.’ It describes the wreck of a Newcastle ship on the east coast, and how ‘Maister Pet,’ after being exposed to the winds and waves for forty-eight hours, was rescued by a Dutch man-of-war, he being the only survivor from his ship. It will be seen the woodcut represents two seamen lowering what appears to be an arm-chair into the sea. This was probably the artist’s notion of the safest and most comfortable way to rescue shipwrecked persons. The same tract relates other occurrences during the stormy weather, such as ‘A man neere Bedford, being thaching a house, was blowne off and kild; trees blown up by the rootes, houses and chimnies quite blown downe,’ &c. ‘All which is for our sinnes.’



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