Looking for the colonial audiences of the Illustrated London News in digital newspapers archives of former British colonies, 1842-1850.

Thomas Smits
Radboud University

In self-referential articles, the Illustrated London News – the most renowned illustrated newspaper of the nineteenth century – often referred to the importance of colonial audiences for its success. The paper presented itself as a visual link between the colonies and Britain. As the introduction to the thousandth issue has it: ‘To our colonies this Journal has an interest, which can be claimed by no other. The Australian or the Canadian settled in remote districts, (…), and who has perhaps lost all hope of ever again beholding the land where he was born and where his fathers are buried, looks forward with more pleasure to the arrival of the Illustrated London News than to that of any other, whether daily or weekly paper.

However, the actual size and importance of several colonial audiences has remained somewhat obscured. The many references to colonial readers in the Illustrated London News could also be explained as a form of cosmopolitan rhetoric, aimed at readers in Britain. Based on research in the open-access digital newspaper archives of Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda and Singapore, I will show that the Illustrated London News actively sought and found a sizeable colonial readership. Exactly the same advertisement, placed by the paper itself, can be found in numerous colonial newspapers in the second half of the 1840s. In addition, advertisements of colonial wholesalers and retailers of the Illustrated London News can be used to show how the paper was distributed in the colonial context. Rather than being a massively distributed national newspaper, the Illustrated London News was an imperial phenomenon, unevenly linking the different parts of the British Empire.

Newspapers and Periodicals in Britain and Ireland from 1800 to 1900