Subscribe to the FREE HistoryBuff.com Newsletter     
The Beginnings of Illustrated Journalism

The first actual attempt to illustrate the news of the day occurred in a tract dated 1607. It had the rather lengthy title "Woeful News from Wales, or the lamentable loss of divers Villages and Perishes (by a strange and wonderful Flood) within the Countye [sic] of Monmouth; which happened in January last past, 1607, whereby a great number of her Majesties subjects inhabiting in these parts are utterly undone."

From this date tracts and pamphlets and newsletters without number were embellished with wood cuts of quaint and curious character, but it is those which were concerned with murderers that had the greatest vogue. These murder pamphlets began in the seventeenth century, were immensely popular in the eighteenth and only died out with the establishment of regular illustrated newspapers in the middle of the 19th century.

A tract dated 1613 is peculiarly worthy of note. It is entitled "Three Bloodie (sic) Murders. The first committed by Francis Cartwright upon William Storre, M. Arts, Minister and Preacher at Market Rasen, in the Countie [sic] of Lincolne [sic], &c." The pamphlet is mainly occupied with the circumstances relating to the murder of the Reverend William Storre, who was killed by one of his parishioners, a young man named Cartwright.

While these pamphlets were numerous enough throughout the seventeenth century, the first real suggestion of an illustrated newspaper was the "Swedish Intelligencer," printed in London in 1632. For example, in one issue, it gave full accounts of the exploits of Gustavius, and was illustrated with his portrait, a bird's eye view of the siege of Magdeburg, a plan showing how the King of Sweden and his army crossed the river Lech into Bavaria, and a plan or bird's eye view of the battle of Lutzen, where Gustavius was killed. The portrait, the siege of Magdeburg, and the battle of Litzen were engraved of copper plates; but the passage of the Lech was a woodcut.

In tracing the genesis of illustrated journalism it is hard to say where the pamphlet ends and the newspaper begins, but it might very reasonably be insisted that the glory belongs in part to the "Mercurius Civicus, London's Intelligencer." which appeared in 1643, and which contained a constant succession of illustrations bearing to the English Civil War.

The "Faithful Post" of 1653 contained a woodcut portrait of Van Gallen, Admiral of the Dutch Fleet, and in another number an illustration of a comet or "Blazing Star" seen in Germany.

A broadside printed in 1683 to note the great frost contained a roughly executed woodcut that represented a street of booths opposite the Temple. On one side are men skating, sliding, riding on sleds. Coaches are driven across the ice as sledges.

The idea of illustrating current news seems never to have been absent from the mind of newspaper proprietors. In the "London Post" for July 23, 1701, is a map of the seat of war in Italy and the "Daily Courant" for September 8, 1709, contains a large map of Mons. In the "Dublin Journal" for May 14, 1746, there is a plan of the battle of Culloden.

The "London News", in its issue of May 4 1724, a woodcut representing an eclipse of the sun. In the "Grab Street Journal" for October 29, 1730, there is a page of woodcuts of the arms of the City Companies, and in another number, a copperplate portrait of the Lord Mayor of London.

The "Daily Post" of March 29, 1740 is interesting as an early example of a daily paper attempting to illustrate current events. It contains a long account of Admiral Vernon's attack on Porto Bello.

In 1748 the "Penny London Post" gave a diagram of public fireworks on the occasion of the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle. A dispute between France and England in 1758 led to an attack upon Fort Fouras, which was illustrated in "Owen's Weekly Chronicle."

The "St. John's Chronicle" of 1765 published an illustration of a "strange, wild beast" which troubled the peace of some villagers in the South of France. It was reported to have devoured women and children, and to have spread terror through the entire region. The animal, which was probably a hyena that had escaped from a traveling show, set all Europe talking before it was killed by a hunter

Both of London's Sunday newspapers, "Observer" and the "Sunday Times," gave many news illustrations in their early years. The "Sunday Times" published a woodcut of Nelson's funeral car in their January 10, 1806 issue.

When Napoleon Bonaparte was banished to St. Helena in 1815, the "Observer" published a view of the island.

More distinctively and avowedly an illustrated paper than either the "Observer" or the "Sunday Times" was the "Weekly Chronicle," which was first published in 1836. The "Weekly Chronicle," although it illustrated other subjects, made criminal records its favorite field.

After the founding of the "Illustrated London News" in 1842, the "Observer", the "Sunday Times", and the "Weekly Chronicle" gradually abandoned the practice of including illustrations in their issues.