The St. Helena Advocate, 1852

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About the object

  • The St. Helena Advocate is a newspaper written by passengers on the SS Great Britain and published during the ship’s ten-day stop on the island of Saint Helena.
  • Only four pages long, the newspaper features multiple sections including items for sale, letters written to the paper’s editor and complaints about the ship’s captain!
  • On the front page it states that “an edition of the Advocate will be published every day (except Sunday) during the stay of the Great Britain at St. Helena, for the express accommodation of her passengers”.
  • This copy of the newspaper, published on Monday 27 September 1852, was owned by William Rance, a steerage passenger and was sent to his family in London.

The Story

Read all about it!

Passengers on board the SS Great Britain often created newspapers to keep themselves entertained whilst on the long voyage to Australia. These papers would feature articles, letters, poems, and adverts, written by the passengers. With no facilities on board to print them, multiple copies of each newspaper were written by hand and shared between the passengers.

The St. Helena Advocate was created during the SS Great Britain’s unexpected stop at the island of Saint Helena. The paper features multiple sections, each focused on different aspects of the passengers’ day to day lives on board the ship. The paper’s leading (main) article, which was copied from another SS Great Britain newspaper, is critical of Captain Matthews. It accuses him of using too much coal and blames him for delaying the journey by going to Saint Helena to get more.

The third page is taken up by an article detailing a meeting between passengers from the Fore Saloon and the ship’s First Officer, Mr Cox. The meeting had been called after a letter was sent to Mr Cox, which featured a long list of complaints from the passengers. The letter was published in the paper and includes complaints that the food was “served up in such a state, beef like rags swimming in fat or else nearly raw” and that the conditions of the toilets were “most liable to create and foster disease”.

The newspaper also featured an “all’s well” section in which passengers gave their names in the hopes that their families back home would know that they were in good health. With the delay in the journey to Australia, the paper’s editors were able to get the St. Helena Advocate printed in James Town, the capital of Saint Helena. This allowed passengers, including William Rance, to send copies of the newspaper home to families.

Continue the story

A remote island

On its first trip to Australia, the SS Great Britain was running low on coal and instead of continuing to Cape Town, South Africa to refuel, Captain Matthews decided to go back on himself and head for the island of Saint Helena.

Allan Gilmour, a steerage passenger on board the SS Great Britain, described Saint Helena in his diary as “a barren sterile rock, where scarcely anything of the nature of living green is to be seen on the whole of its northward extent”. The island in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean became famous when the former French leader Napoleon Bonaparte was sent to live there, in exile, from 1815 until his death in 1821.

With the SS Great Britain remaining at the island for ten days, whilst it loaded enough coal to continue the journey, its passengers were able to go ashore and explore. Passenger Edward Towle wrote in his diary that “The novelty of seeing a strange country is full compensation for the loss of time we have to submit to”. He went on long walks and witnessed a cricket match between passengers and officers from the British army base on the island, which the ship’s team lost. Towle and several other passengers also made time to visit Napoleon’s former home and tomb during their visit.

Extra Resources

  • Our Collections Officer, Mollie, tells us more about The St. Helena Advocate in this Archive in Five video:

Find out more about this object and others like it in our online Collection.

watch this short video to find out more about the object

The first page of the St. Helena Advocate. BRSGB2011.0984 – Courtesy of the SS Great Britain Trust This object was chosen, researched and written in collaboration with Future Brunel Zahra.