Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Fascination of Old Newspapers: 1

I love browsing through old newspapers. They are goldmines, full of snippets of information that give a contemporary eye view The reports and the advertisements enable us to glean life as it was at that moment in time.  It  is not textbook history, recorded in the conventional manner, but the content  is full of vigour on many varied aspects of life for ordinary people in the 19th century - and essential background material in adding colour to  writing family history narratives, beyond the basic names and dates. 

The  “Random Gleanings” below have been drawn  from old newspapers of the Scottish Borders, grouped by topic.   In this first of a series,  I will be taking a look at:
Accidents,  Art & Entertainment, Crime and Punishment and Emigration

“SELKIRK - CARLISLE MAIL OVERTURNED.  On Saturday morning, about half-past one o’clock, the Carlisle mail, when about a mile and a half beyond Selkirk, on its way from Edinburgh, was suddenly overturned, and several of the passengers considerably injured.  In particular, one gentleman named Waterson, and another named Macdowall, both inside passengers, had each a leg broken. Among the inside passengers was Mr. R. B. Blyth of Edinburgh, who escaped with a slight bruise on the left side. Messrs Waterson and Macdowall being rendered unable to proceed on their journey were conveyed back to Selkirk, where they still remain under surgical treatment. It is not exactly known how the accident occurred.” (Kelso Chronicle:  12 April 1833) 

HAWICK - SERIOUS ACCIDENT AT WILTON MILL.  It becomes our painful duty to record a serious accident that occurred at the above establishment on the forenoon of Wednesday last. While David Fiddes, scourer, was in the act of oiling part of the shafting that propels one waulk-mill, a pump, and a washing mill, his right hand and arm unfortunately became entangled between two iron wheels, which completely crushed them to jelly. Fortunately, he extricated himself in an instant; otherwise his life would at once have been forfeited. Being immediately taken home, he was promptly attended by Drs. Douglas and Lee, who at once proceeded to amputate the mutilated limb, about midway between the wrist and the elbow. The poor sufferer stood the operation with unshaken firmness; and so far as the present is concerned, his life is out of danger. No blame can be all attached to the proprietors, as the wheels were completely boxed in; and the only cause of regret is the temerity of the suffering patient, who ought to have oiled the shafting when at rest, and by no means when in motion. We hope that in future greater caution will be observed, so that these calamities may be of rare occurrence, if not altogether obviated.”

(Kelso Chronicle:  7 March 1845).


“KELSO - PANORAMA OF THE WAR:   From an advertisement in another part of our impression, it will be seen that Mr Burford intends to visit this town next week, with his panorama of the war in the Baltic and Black Sea. This work of art, comprising 16,000 square feet of canvas, and moved by machinery, gives a representation of some of the most interesting events in the present fearful struggle. At the present time it can scarcely fail to be an object of attraction to our townsfolks.” (Kelso Chronicle:  3 August 1855) 

 “HAWICK – PHOTOGRAPHY:  Who will venture to say that this is not the age of inventions, and improvements on old inventions – decidedly an age of progress? Amongst the more recent discoveries in science, photography attracts at present more attention than perhaps any other. Every one has heard of it, and not a few of every class know something about it. Even men who, from the nature of their employment, were least likely to turn their attention to it, are nevertheless studying the art not only for pleasure, but many of them with a view to profit, and already have they to a certain extent realized their object.  Even in this comparatively small town several individuals, by remarkable perseverance, aided it is true, by good natural talents, have become adepts in the art..  (Kelso Chronicle:  3 August 1853)

“LILLIESLEAF - MAGIC LANTERN ENTERTAINMENT. A very interesting and amusing entertainment was given by Mr Birrell in the Currie Memorial Hall on Friday evening. Several short stories were read, and beautifully illustrated be means of a powerful oil lantern A number of comic and catastrophic slides were also exhibited. The whole entertainment was much enjoyed by over 250 children from the village and district, and several; ladies and gentlemen. Mrs Birrell rendered valuable assistance in the manipulation of the slides.”  (Southern Reporter:  10 March 1892)


 “HAWICK - DARING ROBBERY:  Betwixt Friday evening and Saturday morning last, two excellent webs of blue and white plaiding check, each of them upwards of 50 yards in length, were taken off the tenters of Messrs. Dickson and Laing, Wilton Mill. A reward of £10 has been offered for the discovery of the perpetrators of this heinous offence, who there is reason to believe, from the state the tenters were left, have not been unaccustomed to the work.”  (Kelso Chronicle:  16 May 1845) 

 “SELKIRK:  In the Sheriff Court of Selkirk, on the 11th inst,. Mary Bell, who was accused of theft at Mountbengerknow on the 29th January, last, was brought before the Court and a Jury, and having confessed her guilt, she was sentenced to three weeks’ imprisonment in the Jail of Selkirk, from this date. ----- James Dryden, residing in Selkirk, was brought before the Sheriff-Substitute on the 7th instant, on a complaint at the instance of the Inspector under the Poor Rates for the parish, for having deserted and failed to maintained his wife, and was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment in the prison of Selkirk. (Kelso Chronicle: 13 March 1846)

“HAWICK – PILFERING:  A boy of the name of Miller was taken into custody, and lodged in the jail here on Saturday, for stealing eggs out of a cart. We think some plan should be adopted for bringing the idle boys that frequent our streets into industrious habits, as it is a well known fact that all the boys who have been convicted and banished from this town for the last twelve years, commenced their career in crime by stealing from fruit carts and pilfering from shops.”  (Border Watch:  14 May 1846)

 “BERWICK - SMUGGLING OF WHISKY:  On Saturday last the excise officers made a seizure of six bottles of whisky concealed in a gentleman’s luggage, who came hither by the North British Railway, and was proceeding to London."
(Kelso Chronicle: 4 Sept. 1846)

 “STATISTICS OF GREENLAW PRISON FOR THE YEAR 1848.  Committals 148; males 186; females 12, of which there were committed for assault 71, theft 24, riotous conduct 13,  begging 7,  malicious mischief 7,  sheep stealing 1,  rape 1,  illegal fishing in the Tweed 1,  poaching 5, falsehood, fraud, and wilful imposition 3,  deserting wife or child, under the New Poor Law Act 2,  culpable homicide 1, contempt of court 1,  robbery 1, lying down on the North British Railway 1,  indecent exposure 1, harbouring vagrants 1, breach of trust and embezzlement 1,  bigamy 1,  females deserting their children 2, deserter 1, lunatics 2.  The committals for 1847 were 78 males and 19 females (97) - 1848 thus exhibited the startling increase of 51 over the preceding year. 

The number of cases of assault stands very high, 71, being 42 above the number for the same offences for 1847 – almost all these may be said to have originated in intoxication. While nearly one-third of the males in the preceding list could neither read nor write, it is worthy of remark that only one-sixth of the females were so deficient.

The greatest number confined at any one time during the year was 30, nearly double the greatest number in the proceeding year. In comparing this report with the return for 1847, and more particularly with some of the former years, the great increase (51) would seem to place the formally peaceable agricultural county of Berwick in a very unfavourable point of view, were not that a great proportion of the crimes have been committed by strangers called into the county by the demand for labourers on the lines of railway formed and in the course of forming.”  (Kelso Chronicle: 2 March 1849)

"DRUNK IN HAWICK. Yesterday- Before Provost Milligan. Gilbert Oliver, labour, Baker Street, who was considered to be past redemption, having made his 66th appearance, was sentenced to three days imprisonment for being drunk.” Hawick Express:  4 January 1890)

Note:  Bearing in mind that Hawick had around 15 churches, a Salvation Army Corps, several mission halls, Christian Brethren, and a long established Total Abstinence Movement, it is surprising therefore, that Provost Milligan should consider that Gilbert Oliver was “past redemption".


“HAWICK - EMIGRATION. There is likely to be a very considerable emigration from this Town to Australia during the present summer. The parties are generally masons, joiners, and mechanics, and the most industrious and sober men in the place. It is very probable that the circumstances of several parties from this neighbourhood having realised large fortunes in a very short period may have some influence in producing this movement.

As a proof we may state that upwards of 60 chests of drawers belonging to families about to emigrate have been sold by public roup during the course of the present spring, and there are yet a good many safes to come before Whitsunday. Many of those who have gone have left their families behind them, so eager are people to get away from the mother country. Nearly 50 have departed this week, all of them in good spirits. These are chiefly for Australia. Their departure has given occasion to numerous marks of respect. There have been emigrants’ balls, emigrants’ suppers, and not a few testimonials of a more solid description have been given.”.  (Hawick Monthly Advertiser:  4 May 1854) 



 FREE PASSAGES are granted to FEMALE SERVANTS, Housemaids, Laundresses, Cooks, &c., of good character, between 17 and 35 years of age, on payment of £1 for ship it, and fare to depot in London, all of whom are in great demand in the Colony, and receive wages from £20 to £50 per annum, and board and lodging. An experienced Matron accompanies each steamer, and on arrival, passengers are received into the Government depot, free of cost.

Assisted passages are also granted to approved females, such as nurses, seamstresses, &c., and to labourers whose labour is connected with the land, such as ploughmen, gardeners, miners, navvies.


Forms of application, rates of passage, handbooks, and all other information may be obtained on application to


Westminster Chambers,

                                          1 Victoria Street, London, S.W.

(Advertisement in the Hawick Express:  30 November 1889) 

Over the coming months, look out for further 
Random Gleanings from Newspapers Past

With a big thank you to local historian Gordon Macdonald  for his contributions. 


  1. Tanks for your interesting post, I love reading old news papers too. So easy to get side tracked from your research focus when reading the old news :)

  2. The digitisation of newspapers is making them so accessible which is great for family history. Sometimes though we don't get the same picture as we used to when we researched from reading cover to cover - maybe not as efficient but we learned more about the times by slowing down and appreciating what our forebears were reading.

    1. Many thanks for your comments, Anne. I agree I have found digitized newspapers invaluable in my family history research. Unfortunately none of the Scottish Borders newspapers mentioned above have been indexed or digitized, so it does mean a slow progress on a microfilm reader to find items of interest. On the other hand you do get an overview of what was preoccupying readers at the time in terms of politics, local issues, social events, advertisements etc. which adds to a wider appreciation of what the era was like.

  3. I love old newspapers! I've found murders (victims and killers), plane crashes, shipwrecks, and descendants of Spanish conquistadors. I look at the front page of whatever paper includes a pertinent article. I once found one of my sister-in-law's ancestors there with Hubert H Humphrey when he was running for president (who lost to Richard Nixon in 1968).


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World Wide Genealogy Team