FALL 2013

The Illustrated London News Online Archive

BC Libraries recently purchased The Illustrated London News Online Archive, a full-text database of every issue of The Illustrated London News (ILN), the world's first fully illustrated weekly newspaper. The first issue of the ILN appeared on 14th May, 1842. It might be said that before the ILN people didn't really know what the rest of the world looked like. Newspapers and other journals had certainly existed for many years (it's interesting to consult the database Eighteenth Century Journals). However, with few exceptions these were solely text with only the very occasional woodcut. People were used to reading speeches by the well-known politicians of the day but without any idea what these individuals looked like. But now with the publication of the ILN the public could not only read the words of politicians and other famous individuals but actually see images of the personalities themselves. Thus, such representations brought reality to people, as well as to places and events, that up to then readers could only imagine. Another prominent first for the ILN occurred on 22 December, 1855 when in its Christmas Supplement it published the first color images ever printed in a British newspaper.

The circulation of the ILN in its first year of publication was 60,000. This rose to a peak of 300,000 in the 1860s when it was by far the most popular newspaper among the British middle classes. It was published weekly until 1971, monthly until 1989, bimonthly until 1994 and then twice a year until it ceased publication in 2003. The ILN database, a resource that covers the whole of Victorian society as well as the complete twentieth century includes every issue from the first in 1842 together with all special numbers and reports. It comprises about 260,000 pages, over 7,000 issues, and more than 1.5 million images. The text of every article and caption is full-text searchable. One may view, print and save articles as a separate page or as part of the original published layout next to the other articles, illustrations and advertisements. Searching is quite sophisticated and accommodates Boolean and proximity search operators and wildcards. In advanced search mode one may also search specifically by contributor, article title and caption, date, illustrations, features, news etc.

Newcastle and Gateshead Great Fire 1854 Newcastle and Gateshead Great Fire 1854
Handcoloured woodblock engraving from the Illustrated London News, 14th October 1854

The ILN is a wonderful compendium of social, cultural and political history with excellent coverage of arts, science, literature, theatre, media, sport, disasters, fashion, royalty, exploration, transport, ceremonies, war, advertising and more. Crime reporting was always a particularly popular feature. Important Victorian events that the paper covered to great interest from the public included the Great Exhibition of 1851, the French Revolution of 1848, the laying of the transatlantic cable, the funeral of the Duke of Wellington in 1855. The ILN even published plans for the Crystal Palace before Prince Albert himself had seen them. War was particularly well covered and included the Crimean War, the American Civil War, the Boer War, World Wars One and Two, the Vietnam conflicts. The ILN allows one to read first hand accounts of major developments in the history of transport from the invention and evolution of the automobile to the historic flight by the Wright Brothers in 1903 to space travel in the twentieth century. The history of fashion with its myriad of changes is well represented and especially so in the numerous advertisements for evening wear, sportswear, undergarments, mourning garb, jewelry, cosmetics etc. One can research the history of sports in Great Britain, from the common to the more unusual ones of pig-sticking and cock-fighting. Particularly fascinating is the history of discovery and exploration with detailed accounts of the exploits of Livingstone, Stanley, Burton, Franklin, Shackleton, Scott and others. One can research the course of politics and political figures, the progress of medicine, science, technology, the growth and evolution of industry and trade, the development of the arts and the humanities.

The Great Sea-Serpent The Great Sea-Serpent,
from an 1850s issue of the Illustrated London News

The ILN is also a wonderful treasury of fiction and poetry by many well-known authors. Prominent names include J.M. Barrie, Agatha Christie, Wilkie Collins, Joseph Conrad, Arthur Conan Doyle, H. Rider Haggard, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, W. Somerset Maugham, Robert Louis Stevenson, Anthony Trollope and H.G. Wells. G.K. Chesterton wrote for the "Our Note Book" column for over thirty years. The work of American writers also appeared in the ILN and includes that of Henry James, Stephen Crane, Bret Harte, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and William Dean Howells.

The first issue in 1842, costing sixpence, had sixteen pages and 32 wood-engravings. It sold 26,000 copies. Among the numerous articles were reports on the great fire in the city of Hamburg, on military engagements in Kabul (titled Cabul) during the First Anglo-Afghan War, on Queen Victoria's fancy dress ball at Buckingham Palace.There were theatre and book reviews; a report from the Royal Academy Exhibition on sculptures; a column on horticulture; announcements of births, deaths and marriages; an article on the origin of the mail-coach system. An article entitled "Antidote for the Slave-Trade" reported that "The slave-trade is now indelibly branded by civilized Europe as infamous in those nations that allow it, iniquitous towards man, and wicked defiance of the Almighty." In a letter to the editor from Paris under the heading "Fashion" we are told that "White is but little worn at present by our élégantes for the promenade, but it enjoys their patronage in our salons." There was also a report of a court case that involved a fracas between two Irish women drinking tea together "with all the evidences upon them of having been recently engaged in pugilistic contest. The complainant in particular had her face so tattooed by the nails of her adversary, that she resembled a New Zealand squaw." Thus, one might observe that this first issue of the ILN already displays some of the stereotypes of the Irish and of colonial races that were common in Victorian media.

Skibbereen 1847 by Cork artist James Mahony Skibbereen 1847 by Cork artist James Mahony (1810-1879),
commissioned by Illustrated London News, 1847.
Illustrating the Great Famine.

The Illustrated London News brought an exciting, informative and entertaining new vision to the Victorian middle class. By the twentieth century it had become an institution, though as the years went by it naturally had numerous competitors and, of course, lost its innovative cachet. Still, it lasted until the following century its last issue appearing in 2003. The Illustrated London News Online Archive is certainly a diverting and pleasurable tool to dip into. However, it is far more than that. It is also a powerful scholarly resource that will potentially be of significant research and pedagogical use to numerous faculty and students in a variety of discipines.

Brendan Rapple
Collection Development Librarian