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October 2, 1842

cover page of Bell's Penny Dispatch published on October 2, 1842

Bell's Penny Dispatch





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Bell’s Penny Dispatch was a one-penny, unstamped, Sunday publication. It contained little general news, giving preference to the serialization of novels, and a ‘sensational’ engraving printed on the front page of each issue. The publication had no ties to any of the well-known Bells in the publishing world (John Bell, Robert Bell, or John Browne Bell). Several changes of title appeared on the front page masthead: The Penny Sunday Chronicle, People’s Weekly Advertiser, Sporting and Police Gazette, and Newspaper of Romance; and (The) Penny Dispatch. People’s Weekly Advertiser, Sporting and Police Gazette and Newspaper of Romance. However, every other page inside each issue had the running title: Bell’s Penny Dispatch and Sunday Chronicle.

The colophons of each issue stated that the newspaper was printed for the Proprietors by William Dugdale, however, it seems likely that Dugdale was both. By the 1840s Dugdale was already an established publisher, printer, and bookseller of politically subversive publications and pornographic literature, and had ties to the radical political movements of the day. He used the Penny Dispatch to advertise his other publications, published under the name of Henry Smith of 37, Holywell Street, Strand.

Editorials in the publication often dealt with social and topical subjects, including slavery, and critiques of the hierarchy of the established church. An article covering the funeral of the murdered chartist, Samuel Holberry, also clearly outlined the papers’ stance on the social issues of the time. Covering the Parliamentary report on The Condition and Treatment of the Children employed in the Mines and Colliers of the United Kingdom (1842), the newspaper published graphic, harrowing pictures of the use of child labour in mines, for five weeks running, under the headline: ‘Murder of the Working Classes’. The pictures were captioned and accompanied by long articles, demanding social and economic justice for children, and the end of exploitation.

Lighter material was also covered in the newspaper, including regular features on theatre and musical performances, which often included ‘Sketches of popular performers’. Articles on sport featured less frequently. The paper was closely aligned with the Odd Fellows, and announcement relating to the organization were regularly printed on page 2 of each issue.

Much of the content of the publication was given over to serialization of novels, such as English versions of Balzac’s Sister Theresa [La Duchesse de Langeais] and The two Poles [La Fausse Maitresse]; or, the serialization of The Green Man [L’homme vert], by Jules Janin. Arthur Genevay’s short story: Sarah. A Venetian love story, and The Queen of Cyprus [i.e. Catherine Cornaro], or, The Venetian Bride. An Historical Romance, both appeared in the paper in March 1842. A Paul de Kock novel, The Man with Three Pairs of Breeches, was serialized, while regular advertisements offering his other novels for sale appeared separately. An issue in late July 1842 announced that the whole of Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary would be published, and indeed large number of pages in subsequent issues were given over to this.

Detailed accounts of murders and police involvement were frequently included, with the prominent engravings on the front page of each issue which aligning the publication with penny dreadfuls (and much later photo-journalism). To attract the eye of the would-be purchaser, the picture was often of a sensational, moralistic, pornographic, or violent nature. For example the ‘Dreadful Conspiracy and attempted violation’ (of a young lady of family and fortune in the West of England) offered both sensation and attempted rape as subjects. As for violence, plenty was on offer with ‘The Death of Stefani – a Corsican Brigand’, and ‘Terrible explosion of D’ Ernest’ Fire-Work Manufactory’, while the ‘Dreadful Suicide of the Earl of Munster at his house, Belgrave Square’ offered readers a sad end for the natural son of William IV.

Illustrations formed an important part of the publication, and often projected conservative moral values. These included a series of ten prints, issued by James Northcote in the 1790s, entitled: ‘Diligence and Dissipation’, with individual images entitled ‘The modest girl and the wanton’, and ‘Good advice from an old servant’. A later series of illustrations, published over five weeks, depicted scenes of domestic harmony, including ‘A summer’s evening;, or the happy home’; ‘An English cottage; Sunday evening’; ‘Youth and Age; or, the first Lesson’; Returning from the market; a village girl’; and ‘The beggar’s petition’. These were originally by Richard Westall, and were engraved by Edward Calvert.

While there is no certain date for cessation of the paper, it seems likely it ended in October 1842, possibly due to lack of sales. Dugdale continued to publish other types of material, suggesting perhaps that there were more lucrative.

Ed King, The British Library

For this newspaper, we have the following titles in, or planned for, our digital archive:

  • 1842–42 Bell's Penny Dispatch, etc :

This newspaper is published by an unknown publisher in London, London, England. It was digitised and first made available on the British Newspaper Archive in Jul 10, 2021 . The latest issues were added in Jul 10, 2021.