Old Belfast Newspapers: The early 19th century

From The Banner of Ulster to the Vindicator

The Banner of Ulster

The Banner of Ulster was established on June 10, 1842, by the Rev William Gibson, minister of Rosemary Street Church and later a professor in the Assembly College. Its purpose was to give direction to the public on the Scottish church disruption controversy, and to uphold orthodox Presbyterian principals, which in those days met with scant courtesy from the Belfast press. 

The Banner was published on Tuesdays and Fridays at 3 Donegall Place by George Troup, a Scotsman who also acted as editor. The lead writers were recruited from the ranks of the reverend ‘fathers and brethren’ of the General Assembly.

After ten years, the paper was taken over by Samuel McCormick, manager of the commercial department, and James Robie, a member of the reporting staff.  However, financial difficulties soon menaced the new proprietors, and McCormick’s friends came to his relief. Robie retired and the firm became McCormick and Dunlop, the new partner being David Dunlop, a ‘stickit minister’ from Coleraine.  About this time, Durham Dunlop became editor and Alexander McMonagle one of the reporters. However, when the News Letter and Northern Whig became dailies, The Banner, as a thrice weekly only, declined, and ceased publication around 1870.

The Ulster General Advertiser

Founded in 1842 by Andrew McKendrick, a printer at Waring Street, Belfast, The Ulster General Advertiser was a weekly newspaper issued gratuitously. In 1852, the proprietor was John Wallace, who moved the office to Donegall Street, where it continued until the decease of the paper some years ago.

The Ulster Conservative

The Ulster Conservative was published by John Henderson of 15 Castle Place every Saturday morning. The first edition was dated January 4, 1845. It described itself as the largest family newspaper in Ireland, consisting of 32 columns of closely printed matter, ‘Although,’ runs a contemporary description, ‘its political tone is in strict accordance with the title, yet, by advocating principles and measures for and of themselves, and being totally unfettered by party, the “Ulster Conservative” may be safely taken as just a reflection of public opinion.’  

The yearly subscription was £1 on credit, and 18s in advance. However, the last edition of The Ulster Conservative appeared on June 27, 1846.

The Guardian and Constitutional Advocate

In 1827, Fortescue Gregg and Dr James Stuart, formerly editor of the News Letter, established the Guardian and Constitutional Advocate, a twice weekly, four pages paper with the avowed purpose of counteracting the Northern Whig. A fierce fight was carried on between the rival papers, furnishing occasion for some entertaining episodes. The Guardian also devoted considerable space to denouncing the Commercial Chronicle and the respectability of their subscribers.

The Guardian office was based at 108 High Street, Belfast, and was published until 1835.

The Northern Herald

A new weekly newspaper, the Northern Herald, made its first appearance on Saturday, September 28, 1833. It contained eight pages of four columns each and was printed by R Donaldson at 11 Arthur Square. First edited from London by two law students, its opening editorial address extends to almost five columns, outlined the ambitious programme:

‘We would teach the men of Ulster the blessedness of charity and union.  We would bring back the olden days when each looked upon his fellow with kindness and trustful affection.  We would harmonise the conflicting elements that distract society, awaken the better impulse of our nature, put away ignorance and that prejudice, religious and political, which is perhaps the worst among its hideous progeny of evils, knit up against the ties which have been rent asunder, and bind together our countrymen in brotherhood once more.’

The proprietor Charles Hamilton Teeling sought to revive the old fraternal spirit of the United Irishmen in his paper. Among the contributors were Gavin Duffy and Thomas O’Hagan, later the Lord Chancellor of Ireland.  The Northern Herald was in fact the first Roman Catholic newspaper published in Belfast. It ceased publication about 1836.

The Ulster Times

In the same year, the Ulster Times was established by George Davidson at Arthur Place, appearing on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings at the cost of 4p. With Isaac Butt acting as editor, the paper was strongly Tory in tone.

In September 1841, James Goudy became the Times proprietor, and three months later it became a morning newspaper.  Among Butt’s successors in the editorship were William McMechan, a well known Belfast lawyer and poet, and Alexander Markham, also a poet and author of McDonald, or the Avenged Bride. The Ulster Times continued until 1842 when John Mullan of 19 Russell Street was proprietor and printer.

The Vindicator

The Vindicator was Belfast’s second Roman Catholic newspaper. In 1839, some wealthy members of the local Catholic community asked Daniel O’Connell to nominate an editor.  O’Connell recommended TM Hughes, but Hughes declined and ultimately Charles Gavin Duffy, a young Monaghan man of 23 who was destined to play an important role in Irish and Australian affairs, was appointed. 

Neal McDevitt took charge of the paper for a short time, succeeded by the proprietor James McConvery. The failure of the Young Ireland policy adversely affected the fortunes of the paper, and after trying in 1849 to change publication to Mondays and Fridays, it became a weekly in 1850. Two years later the Vindicator ceased altogether.

Based on articles by Albert Campbell. © The Glenravel Local History Project.