James Silk Buckingham

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James Silk Buckingham and his Contribution to Indian Journalism

Transcript of James Silk Buckingham

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  • Table of Contents


    James Silk Buckingham________________________________________________________ 1

    Contribution to Indian Journalism ________________________________________________ 2

    Buckingham vs. Hickey ________________________________________________________ 6

    Buckingham vs. Raja Ram Mohan Roy ____________________________________________ 8

    References _________________________________________________________________ 9

  • Pg. 01

    James Silk Buckingham

    James Silk Buckingham

    The newspapers came to India as an alien product, as one the benefits of

    British colonialism. The initial strength and power for launching of newspapers

    was directly fostered in England. James Augustus Hickey has the distinction of starting

    the press in India. Later, James Silk Buckingham got the title for being called as the

    Pioneer of true Indian Journalism. He infused a new light to Indian Journalism. He was

    the trailblazer among the Europeans who fought for liberal Press in India.

    In 1821, his Travels in Palestine were published, followed by Travels Among the

    Arab Tribes in 1825. After years of wandering he settled in India, where he established

    a periodical, the Calcutta Journal, in 1818. This venture at first proved highly

    successful, but in 1823 the papers outspoken criticisms of the East India Company

    led to the expulsion of Buckingham from India.

    Buckingham continued his journalistic ventures on his return to England. He started

    the Oriental Herald and Colonial Review (1824) and Athenaeum there. He was a

    prolific writer. He travelled in Europe, America and the East, and wrote many useful

    travel books, as well as many pamphlets on political and social subjects.

    At the time of his death in London, Buckingham was at work on his autobiography, two

    volumes of the intended four being completed and published.

    James Silk Buckingham

  • Pg. 02

    Contribution to Indian Journalism

    Contribution to Indian Journalism

    Buckingham was born in 1784 near Cornwell in England. Son of Christopher

    Buckingham, his was a chequered career-- as a jailor, printer, book-seller,

    mariner and editor. In 1813 he offered his services to the Pasha of Egypt to explore

    the Isthmus of the Suez to trace as far as possible the course of ancient canal.

    Thereafter he was given a commission by the Pasha to establish a trade between India

    and Egypt. But the venture did not succeed owing to unwillingness of the Bombay

    merchants. In June 1818 he commanding the Humayoon Shah when he was asked

    to sail to Madagascar coast for the purpose of giving convoy to some ships carrying

    slaves. Rather than embark on such an obnoxious quest, he surrendered his

    command. This gesture, widely applauded in Calcutta, did not escape the notice of the

    Company authorities and the other leaders of the society in Calcutta. It inspired the

    public to read the journal in which he had recorded some impressions of his travel in

    Palestine. His literary ability caught the imagination of John Palmer, head of the well-

    known mercantile house of that name, palmer felt that the merchants of the city should

    have their own paper to air their problems. He requested Buckingham to accept the

    editorship of the newspaper. Buckingham gave his consent. On September 22, 1818

    Buckingham published a prospectus of a newspaper to be entitled the Calcutta

    Journal or Political or Literary Gazette.

    The prospectus announced: The state of the Press has been a subject of surprise, of

    disappointment, and of regret to all strangers on their first arrival in India: and the

    impression of its imperfections gradually loses its force after a long residence in the

    country, yet some of its ablest apologists and most zealous supporters acknowledged

    its reform to be desideratum.

    The Calcutta Journal appeared as bi-weekly with eight pages on Oct 2, 1818. The first

    issue came out with a quotation from Bacon in bold letters, which was declared to be

    the motto of the paper. It stated, A forward retention of custom is as turbulent a thing

    as innovation and they that reverence too much old times are but a scorn to the new.

    The paper was presented a wide selection of news and drew the attention of the

    On September 22,

    1818 the prospectus

    of a newspaper was


    The Calcutta Journal

    appeared as bi-

    weekly with eight

    pages on Oct 2, 1818.

    The motto of the

    newspaper was

    stated as, A forward

    retention of custom is

    as turbulent a thing as

    innovation and they

    that reverence too

    much old times are

    but a scorn to the


  • Pg. 03

    Contribution to Indian Journalism

    people and the authorities to such prevailing grievances as the insufficient state of the

    police and the allegations that certain persons in European dress were making the

    streets of Calcutta unsafe at night. The correspondence columns were thrown open to

    any who had grievances to air.

    As an editor, Buckingham said, he considered it his Sacred right to admonish

    Governors of their duties, to warn them furiously of their faults and to tell disagreeable

    truths. He courageously faced all odds, followed the motto scrupulously and

    performed his duties fearlessly. The paper was the success from its very first issue.

    The paper, well conducted, independent and cleaver, become a talk of the town

    in no time. Buckingham was a Whig and most of his reprints from the British papers

    were in condemnation of the Tories. He also gave a proof of his literary bent of mind

    by introducing Byrons Childe Harold and Don Juan and Scotts Ivanhoe to

    Calcutta readers1. As a sailor he was interested is development of new means of

    communication. He drew attention in his columns to the North-west passage, Red sea

    route, steam navigation, and the possibility of a voyage by air from Bombay to London.

    A champion of free trade, Buckingham campaigned for the abolition of East India

    Companys monopoly. In his view the whole continent of Asia should be opened to the

    unrestricted competition of whoever was willing to risk his health and fortune.

    The government and the papers which he criticized in his prospectus now joined

    hands to crush him. Undaunted, Buckingham soon converted his bi-weekly into the

    first daily of Calcutta on May1, 1819 under all the disadvantages of a combined


    1 Modern History of Indian Press, p 42 (Sunit Ghosh)

    As an editor,


    considered it his

    Sacred right to

    admonish Governors

    of their duties, to

    warn them furiously of

    their faults and to tell

    disagreeable truths

    through his


    On May1, 1819 the

    Calcutta Journal was

    converted in to the

    First Daily of


  • Pg. 04

    Contribution to Indian Journalism

    Quite expectedly, the existing newspapers in Calcutta received this newspaper with

    violent opposition. Rev Samuel James Bryce, who owned the Asiatic Mirror, openly

    cast doubts on the moral standard of the new editor. His allegations were based on

    the fact that Buckingham had demonstrated the steps of a quadrille on Sunday-

    apparently a heinous offence against Bryces ideas of Sabbath. But the counter

    statements given by Buckingham resulted the death of Asiatic Mirror.

    The financial success of the journal enabled it to have its own building constructed, a

    new improved Columbian Press imported from England together with English, Greek,

    Hebrew and Arabic fonts. The value of the enterprise in 1822 was estimated at 40,000

    pounds. According to Margarita Barns, Buckinghams yearly income was about eight

    thousand pounds, he may be called on of the leading pioneers of modern journalism

    in India.2

    Buckingham late emphasized on news of local conditions rather than talking about

    fashion, social elites or criticism of popular people. He was fearless in writing against

    certain Indian customs like Sati system. Parda and child marriages. He started giving

    prominence to news and views published in Bengali and Persian and started printing

    the summary into Calcutta Chronicle. He advocated the policy of freedom press &

    2 The Indian Press, p 96 (Barns)

  • Pg. 05

    Contribution to Indian Journalism

    expression. He was of an opinion that free press is required to keep a check on the

    working of the government.

    In 1819 he again targeted corrupt system of East India Company by making adverse

    comments on the appointment of Hugh Elliot as the Governor of Madras. An infuriated

    Elliot asked the Calcutta authorities to punish the editor. The Government at Fort

    William sent a warning to the editor with which was enclosed a copy of Press Rules of

    1818. But Buckingham carried on his tirade and spared none in his attacks. Not even

    the Chief Justice, the Governor of Madras or the Lord Bishop of Calcutta.

    Libel suits were filed against him. He was also threatened and physically assaulted.

    Despite heavy odds Buckingham had so long held aloft his ideal of press freedom. But

    his fortune suffered a jolt after Hastings regime came to an end. John Adams became

    the officia