The first English newspaper in India was published on January 29, 1780, which is nothing but the Bengali Gazette, founded by James Augustus Hicky. It was an English weekly magazine published in Calcutta and the first newspaper to be printed in Asia.
This Bengal Gazette newspaper was a fierce critic of then-Governor General Warren Hastings.
James Augustus Hicky the man behind India’s first English newspaper:
James Augustus Hicky was a “soldier”, a poor Irish man who expressed his identity in India. He can only live in Calcutta’s “Black Town”, but not between the privileged bungalows and gardens. He was sent to public prison for being in debt, first for failed business, and later imprisonment for libel.
The story of this short but very influential newspaper and the theatrical personality of that period are set fascinatingly in many books.
Hicky’s Gazette is an anti-corruption and pro-independence spokesman for the tyranny of its time. People relied on it to detect and expose “abuse, fraud, and abuse of power.
Hicky adapted and embraced ideas about life, freedom, and the right to pursue happiness that came through Western Europe and the United States.
Hicky’s relentless exposure of the abuse of power in government and the judiciary, as well as bribery and widespread corruption in government contracts, angered most top government activists.
First English newspaper in India | Bengal Gazette:
Hicky began publishing Hickey’s Bengali Gazette on 17 January 1780, first printing a prospectus announcing that he would begin printing a newspaper.
When it was started in 1780, Hicky gave voice to the underprivileged with his newspaper.
Hicky’s Bengali Gazette or the original Calcutta General advertiser, which became an instant sensation. To that extent, Governor-General Warren Hastings sought to reduce its rapidly growing influence.
The idea for the first English newspaper in India:
The idea for the newspaper in India was first bought by a Dutch adventurer named William Bolts, but Hicky is the first who did this.
The newspaper is important for its provocative press and the struggle for free expression in India.
Bengal Gazette as Calcutta General Advertiser:
It was also known as the ‘Calcutta General Advertiser’ and people remember it as ‘Hicky’s Gazette’.
As you know the name of the newspaper is Calcutta General Advertiser, that is why this newspaper shares numerous advertisements and real facts and headlines about corruption in the East India Company.
Hickey’s newspaper was sold for one rupee, which was very high in the 1780s, that price was equal to newspapers in England.
It is printed weekly, four or five pages long, with two or three news and commentary letters, and two other advertisements. The printing press is located at Radha Bazaar 67, Calcutta.
Unlike many newspapers of the time, the newspaper discussed taboo topics such as female masturbation and advocating for the rights of the poor and the right to tax with representation.
The policy of Hicky’s Bengal Gazette:
Hickey initially maintained a neutral editing policy (his motto was “open to all parties, but Influenced by None”) but after learning that rivals associated with the East India Company were planning to launch a rival newspaper India Gazette, he changed his editorial stance.
Hickey’s Bengali newspaper is known for its sarcastic and provocative writing style.
It was a strong anti-war and anti-colonial and usually mocked East India Company leadership for their expansionist and imperialist purposes.
Struggles faced by Hicky and his Bengal Gazette newspaper:
Hickey accuses East India Company employee Simeon Droz of backing the India Gazette as punishment for Hickey’s refusal to pay a bribe, and Marian Hastings, wife of Warren Hastings.
Bengal Gazette’s competitor by East India Company:
In retaliation for Hicky’s accusation, Hasting’s Supreme Council banned Hickey from sending his newspaper through the post office and ordered to stop the mails cut from it.
The competition from the establishment, that Hickey targeted, came later that year. With the support of Hastings, the rival Paper was distributed free of charge and via the Indian Postal System without postage.
The India Gazette, founded by Bernard Messink and Peter Reed, presented British superiority, the vision of the East India Company, and the upper class.
Its advertisements were for private boat rental companies, as well as for dogs, garden houses, and diners.
There was a popular and repetitive advertisement for buying and sending diamonds called the “Home to England” to corrupt companies and many of their contractors.
Hicky was jailed for criminal charges:
Hicky’s newspaper gave more voice about the injustices perpetrated by the British and Native, Anglo-Indian, ordinary people, than the harvest of souls, the plunder of evangelical clergy engaged in trade, and the harvest of men.
Hickey’s Gazette is also famous for its humorous pieces, satire, and human interest stories.
Soon the killers, fortunately, found over time, arrived for Hickey in the dark of night. Hickey, in turn, turned the heat on the press.
Through anonymous articles using various nicknames such as Cassius and Britannicus, Fighting the expansion battles started by Warren Hastings was not a good idea as it sacrificed common soldiers for his “personal dreams of victory”.
This and similar pieces took Hicky to the brink of “treason,” especially the articles printed in his paper that suggested the revolt and the plot.
Hickey said Hastings’ order violated his right to free speech, and accused Hastings of corruption, tyranny even erectile dysfunction.
As a result, Hickey was slapped with defamation charges against both Hastings and a wealthy clergyman Kiernander, and his bail was set at Rs 40,000, more than double his annual income. Hickey was thus forced to remain in prison.
Hicky’s printing press was auctioned and sold to the India Gazette:
The newspaper continued, however, with Hicky running it from inside the jail and published with a sarcastic bite everyone who had persecuted him, including those in the judiciary now.
After a tumultuous trial, a 24-member arbitral tribunal, many of the East India Company men, handed down a non-guilty verdict.
Hickey’s Bengali Gazette ceased publication on 30 March 1782, when its types were seized by order of the Supreme Court.
The following week, its types and press were publicly auctioned off and sold to India Gazette.
Karma is a boomerang for Warren Hastings:
Next came the karmic revenge for the hostings. The East India Company Act of 1784 imposed strict restrictions on the powers of the Governor-General and subordinated his actions to control from the crown.
After three decades in India, Hastings decided to go home. But, as a public relations gesture, it was not before asking the Supreme Court in India to pardon Hicky for the remaining fines and let him go free.
Hicky was released after the destruction of his reputation:
After an eight-year parliamentary trial, by the House of Commons and the Lords – in July 1795, Warren Hastings was finally released.
But not before his reputation and fortune were destroyed. Hickey died at sea in 1802 abroad on the ship Ajax on his way to China. But clearly, he is not the only protagonist in this play.