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The Neglected “Unstamped”: The Manx Pauper Press of the 1840s*

  • John Belchem


By using Manx taxation and postal privileges, radicals and other activists were able to avoid the “taxes on knowledge,” to continue the campaign for a cheap press that mainland publishers, veterans of the “war of the unstamped,” had been forced to abandon in 1836. Free of stamp duty, paper duty, and advertizement tax, papers published on the Isle of Man were entitled to free postage throughout mainland Britain, a privilege extended to include re-postage in 1840. Taking advantage of these Manx facilities, publishers were able to defy commercial pressures to re-launch the “unstamped,” briefly recapturing its original political and educational mission. This paper seeks to recover this neglected episode in newspaper history. It highlights the use of Manx facilities by three broad groups of reformers, each of whom looked to the medium of the cheap press to redefine the reform agenda of early-Victorian Britain. First, those who promoted individual behavioral reform, a project that extended from temperance through various “alternative” remedies and regimes, physical and mental, to a bewildering array of “faddist” nostrums. Second, those involved in the increasing formalization of popular politics and associational culture, a process that placed print above traditional oral and visual modes of communication. Third, and closely related, those radicals who wished to expurgate earlier errors and excesses, to replace the transient tumult of the collective mass platform by individual commitment to rational reform. Each of these groups sought to benefit from Manx publication and postal privileges: through the widespread distribution of inexpensive propaganda; by the production of cheap “in-house” journals, which would provide channels of information for members of affiliated friendly societies, amalgamated trade unions, and political organizations; and by the packaging of news in cheap and attractive formats to reach the individual family home. These categories often overlapped, as did their formats; in the publications of William Shirrefs, the most enterprising of the Manx-based printers and publishers, newspaper, magazine, and “agitational” journal merged into one, providing a lively mixture of news, education, politics, information, fiction, amusement, and recreation, a comprehensive cheap package for the working-class reader. At a time of commercialization—the rise of the penny dreadful, the advent of the family magazine, and the dominance of the lurid Sunday press—the Manx press pointed towards the higher ideals of mid-Victorian Britain, providing its readership with the information and instruction to allow their personal and political development within the privacy of the home.



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This is an extended version of a paper presented to the 24th Annual Conference of the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, Washington, D.C., 21–23 November 1991. I would like to thank Professor Joel Wiener for his helpful comments on the first draft.



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1 On the “unstamped,” see the two splendid studies, Hollis, P., The Pauper Press. A Study in Working-Class Radicalism of the 1830s (Oxford, 1970); and Wiener, Joel, The War of the Unstamped: The Movement to Repeal the British Newspaper Tax, 1830–1836 (Ithaca, 1969).

2 Cubbon, W., A Bibliographical Account of Works Relating to the Isle of Man, 2 vols. (London, 19331939), 2: 1181–86.

3 Belchem, John, “Radical Entrepreneur: William Shirrefs and the Manx Free Press of the 1840s,” Proceedings of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society 10 (Spring 1992): 3347.

4 Williams, Raymond, The Long Revolution (London, 1965), pp. 7274; Altick, R. D., The English Common Reader: A Social History of the Mass Reading Public, 1800–1900 (Chicago, 1957), pp. 332339; and Vemon, James, “Politics and the People: a study in English political culture and communication” (Ph.D. thesis, University of Manchester, 1991), ch. 3.

5 Harrison, Brian, ““A world of which we had no conception.” Liberalism and the English Temperance Press, 1830–1872,” Victorian Studies 13 (1969): 135–36. Cubbon, , Works Relating to the Isle of Man, 2: 1151, 1193, 1360–61.

6 Robinson was also associated with James Hole and the Leeds Redemption Society for whom he printed and published the Herald of Redemption (1847–48).

7 Vegetarianism and Education,” Vegetarian Advocate, 15 Feb. 1849.

8 Sunday-School and Youths' Temperance Journal 1 (1848): 3–4, 24.

9 Belchem, John, Industrialization and the Working Class: The English Experience 1750–1900 (Aldershot, 1990), pp. 111–15.

10 Preface,” Odd-Fellows Chronicle 1 (18441845). See also “Prospectus,” People's Press.

11 Odd-Fellows Chronicle, June 1845.

12 Dedication,” Odd-Fellows Chronicle, 27 Dec. 1845.

13 See, for example, Manx Liberal, 19 May 1849.

14 Challinor, R. and Ripley, B., The Miners' Association: A Trade Union in the Age of the Chartists (London, 1968), pp. 181–82.

15 The Cheap Periodical Press,” People's Press, no. 1, Jan. 1847.

16 To our Readers,” People's Press, no. 12, Dec. 1847. At this time, the paper had an average monthly circulation of 6,000.

17 People's Press, no. 27, Dec. 1848.

18 See, for example, the articles on phonotypy in no. 11, Dec. 1847 and on phonography in no. 13, Jan. 1848.

19 Topics of the Month,” People's Press, no. 18, May 1848.

20 “Topics of the Month” and The Tenth of April,” People's Press, no. 19, June 1848.

21 The most successful of the moderate Chartist groups of 1848, the People's Charter Union was to transform itself into a pressure group lobbying for the repeal of the newspaper duties, see Collet, C. D., A History of the Taxes on Knowledge (London, 1933), ch. 5.

22 Whom Shall We Trust,” People's Press, no. 18, May 1848.

23 Topics of the Month,” People's Press, no. 22, Aug. 1848.

24 Holyoake, G. J., Sixty Years of an Agitator's Life (London, 1990), pp. 223–24—there are some minor inaccuracies in Holyoake's recollections. Goss, C. W. F., A Descriptive Bibliography of the Writings of George Jacob Holyoake (London, 1908), p. 73, notes that Holyoake was a regular contributor to the People's Press from January 1847 until August 1848.

25 The Organisation of Labour for Women,” People's Press, no. 21, July 1848.

26 Report of the General Yearly Conference of the Communist Church,” Apostle and Chronicle of the Communist Church, Aug. 1848.

27 Woman's Industrial Independence,” Apostle and Chronicle of the Communist Church, Aug. 1848. For details of the Barmbys and the Communist Church, see Taylor, Barbara, Eve and the New Jerusalem: Socialism and Feminism in the Nineteenth Century (London, 1983), pp. 172–82.

28 Our Principles and Course of Action,” Cause of the People, 20 May 1848.

29 Cause of the People, 24 June 1848, quoted in Smith, F. B., Radical Artisan: William James Linton, 1812–97 (Manchester, 1973), p. 80.

30 Goss, , Writings of George Jacob Holyoake, p. 66; and Linton, W. J., Memories (London, 1895), p. 106.

31 Webb, S. and Webb, B., History of Trade Unionism (London, 1920), p. 195.

32 National United Trades Association Report and Labour's Advocate, 13 May 1848.

33 Labour League, 2 Dec. 1848. See also Belchem, John, “Chartism and the Trades, 1848–1850,” English Historical Review 93 (1983): 562–69.

34 Teetotalism and the Press,” Temperance Gazette, Jan. 1848. The February issue claimed a circulation of 10,000.

35 When this occurred—as in March, June and September—the “literary” material was held over to the second issue.

36 Cubbon, , Works Relating to the Isle of Man, 2: 1164. Plummer, A., Bronterre: A Political Biography of Bronterre O'Brien, 1804–1864 (London, 1971), pp. 177–79, contains little information about O'Brien in Douglas: it is a topic that deserves extensive treatment.

37 Liberty of the Press,” National Reformer and Manx Weekly Review, no. 76 (n.s. no. 1), 3 October 1846.

38 “To the subscribers, readers and friends of the National Reformer and to all who feel sincerely desirous to establish the political and social rights of the unrepresented and oppressed classes,” National Reformer and Manx Weekly Review, n.s. no. 24, 13 Mar. 1847.

39 London School of Economics, Allsop Correspondence, J. B. O'Brien to Thomas Allsop, 8 Dec. 1847. My thanks to Dorothy Thompson for this reference; the letter clearly reveals O'Brien's financial and psychological ill-health.

40 See, Cubbon, , Works Relating to the Isle of Man, 2: 1159. Like Cubbon, I have failed to locate a copy.

41 The Modern Mania for Benefit and Building Societies, etc,” National Reformer and Manx Weekly Review, n.s., no. 33, 15 May 1847. For Bowkett Societies, see Gosden, P. H. J. H., Self-Help: Voluntary Associations in the Nineteenth Century (London, 1973), pp. 167–69. Their virtues were extolled by Brailsford, T. R., “Building Societies—Their Formation and Management,” in Shirrefs's, People's Press, no 13, Jan. 1848: “When men have their own homes, they have something to defend, something giving them consideration and importance—something to elevate them in society, something to induce them never to disgrace their position by the practice of any vice, something at stake if they do wrong.”

42 I have been unable to locate the first series, nos. 1–75 (Nov. 1844–Apr. 1846). This is surely one of the most important radical papers to have gone missing.

43 Isle of Man Times, 20 Feb. 1847.

44 Isle of Man Times, 12 Feb.–4 Mar. 1848. John Marshall, editor of the leading conservative paper that took advantage of Manx privileges, dismissed Bowring as “one of that small coterie who live upon grievances, real or imaginary….How he came to be the patron saint here we know not,” Church of England Journal, 30 Sept. 1846. Unfortunately, there are only brief references to Manx matters in SirBowring, John, Autobiographical Recollections (London, 1877), pp. 19, 82 and 212–13.

45 Isle of Man Times, 5 June 1847.

46 The Deformed Transformed,” Manx Liberal, 5 May 1849.

47 Isle of Man Times, 29 Jan. 1848. Relations between Shirrefs and Curphey deteriorated rapidly following A Row with the Local Press,” Isle of Man Times, 16 Oct. 1847.

48 Our Weekly Gossip,” Athenaeum, 15 Jan. 1848.

49 11 and 12 Viet., Cap. cxvii.

50 See, for example, Temperance Gazette, Oct. 1848.

51 People's Press, no. 33, 25 Dec. 1848.

52 Manx Liberal, 9 June 1849.

53 Cubbon, , Works Relating to the Isle of Man, 2: 1158.

54 Manx Liberal, 9 June 1849.

* This is an extended version of a paper presented to the 24th Annual Conference of the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, Washington, D.C., 21–23 November 1991. I would like to thank Professor Joel Wiener for his helpful comments on the first draft.

The Neglected “Unstamped”: The Manx Pauper Press of the 1840s*

  • John Belchem


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