Old Belfast Newspapers: The mid 19th century
From the Belfast Mercury to the Morning Post.
The Belfast Mercury
Shortly after resigning the editorship of the Northern Whig, James Simms established a rival paper, published thrice weekly from 6 Winecellar Entry. The first issue was dated Saturday, March 29, 1851, and consisted of four pages with seven columns to the page, priced at 4p. The Mercury advocated ‘every measure that might seem calculated to enlarge the true freedom, advance the intelligence, elevate the morals, and improve the social and physical condition of the people.’ In 1854, it became the first provincial daily paper in Ireland. However, Simms died in 1858 and his last days were embittered by severe mental affliction induced by laborious devotion to the duties of his profession.
The Mercury was then taken over by the Ulster Printing Company, formed by some of the leading merchants of the town. In 1859, the company moved to premises at Arthur Street, which had been erected to print the Commercial Chronicle. There Durham Dunlop published the Mercury until November 2, 1861. W and G Baird then took over the premises as a job printing establishment.
The Ulsterman was started on November 17, 1852, by Denis Holland, who had edited the Northern Whig for a short time after James Simms. It appeared every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and contained four pages of seven columns each. It was printed and published by JP O’Hara at 3 North Street, and sold at 4p per copy. Between 1855 and 1856, Holland also published the Morning Post.
In 1857, open air preaching caused great excitement in Belfast, and Holland took an active part in the controversy. One of the leaflets issued from The Ulsterman office ran: ‘Catholics of Belfast, assemble on Sunday and stamp out for ever street preaching at the Custom House steps and the quays adjourning.’ Fierce rioting developed and continued for several weeks.
One bookkeeper for the paper was Richard Piggot, later well known as ‘Piggot the Forger.’ While in Belfast, he met a woman called ‘Lydia’ who he reputedly later murdered in America. During the early years, frequent contributions appeared from the pen of a young Donegall Street solicitor named Charles Russell, later Lord Russell of Killowen. Another contributor was John Edward Piggott, son of Chief Baron Piggott. Under Piggott’s influence, Holland dropped the Ulsterman and transferred his attentions to The Irishman, a weekly started in July 1858 in Dublin.
The Morning Post
The Morning Post started as a thrice weekly in 1853, the property of two brothers named Robert and Daniel Read from Holywood. The publishing house was based at 6 Crown Entry, Belfast.
The most famous member of staff was Robert Arthur Wilson, better known as ‘Barney Maglone,’ who was previously connected with the Boston Republic, the Dublin Nation, the Enniskillen Impartial Reporter, and the Londonderry Standard. He is remembered for his eccentric appearance, dressed in a toga or cloak. A fellow journalist once described Wilson as ‘a little dark man with a stubbly beard that would have required shaving once a day, but only got it once a month.’ He died on August 10, 1875, and was buried in the City Cemetery, where a handsome monument was erected over his grave by public subscription, recalling ‘an able journalist, a gifted poet, a fearless and unflinching advocate of the rights of the people.’
Based on articles by Albert Campbell. © The Glenravel Local History Project