Bengal Gazette (also known as ‘Original Calcutta General Advertiser’) was the first English language newspaper printed not just in India but Asia as well. The paper served as an important record of political and social changes in the Indian sub-continent. Founded in 1780 by Irishman James Augustus Hicky, it carried reports on subjects ranging from war, political developments in England and India and life in Calcutta. It provided a platform for readers to send in letters, which were then published.
Widely known to have a satirical tone, Hicky provided criticism and commentary on the East India Company’s policies in India, often criticising the Company’s treatment of Indians. The paper provided disadvantaged people from Indian, Anglo-Indian and English backgrounds a space to raise their grievances in the hope that it would garner the Company’s attention.
The paper gained popularity in the Indian sub-continent, as well as outside, with copies being circulated as far as the United States of America. Praised for being non-partisan in his writing, Hicky used his large readership to focus on issues that troubled the masses, ranging from the atrocities of war to municipal problems in Calcutta.
The paper’s tagline, of being ‘open to all parties but influenced by none’, came to be the cornerstone of its popularity. Regardless of Hicky’s neutral stance, he often was harsh in his criticism of English officials, accusing them of corruption and fraud. He was strongly anti-war and his writings challenged the popular belief that Indians were uncouth or savages. His editorial stances indicated that he believed Indians to be competent and kind in a manner that the English Generals were not.
Masthead Image for Hicky’s Bengal Gazette- Image Source: Heidelberg University Library.
Hicky was often jailed for his unabashed criticism of Governor-General Warren Hasting’s wife. However, he continued to publish his paper from jail and had the sympathy of his readers. To silence Hicky, Governor-General Hastings funded a rival publication, called the India Gazette. This competition, coupled with the Company seizing its press and equipment, ultimately drove the Bengal Gazette out of business in 1782, ending its short two-year stint.
Recently, the 238th anniversary of the paper was celebrated by journalists across the nation in a tribute to Hicky’s contribution to unbiased journalism in India.
(This post is authored by Smirthi Bhaskar (5th Year, Gujarat National Law University) - an intern at CLPR.)