Banning of Colombo Journal First English Newspaper

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By 2018-01-14

By Bandula Gunaratne

It was a Christian prayer book that was printed first with the use of Sinhala letters by Gabriel Scarder, who served at the Dutch ordnance depot in this country. However, after that there has not been any evidence to suggest that any more books had been printed in the Sinhala language by Scarder.

After the British captured the Southern coastal belt areas of Ceylon back in 1796, the British took ownership of all resources and properties that were under the name of the Dutch.

It can be presumed that Scarder's printing press too may have been taken over by the British.
It was Fredrick North who came here as Ceylon's first British Governor.
Having understood the need for a sound communication system towards the smooth functioning of the regime, he began this country's first printed communication
quarterly on 15 March 1802.

It was known as Ceylon Government Gazette and this is now acknowledged widely as the first ever news statement published in Ceylon.
However, a mainstream English broadsheet newspaper was introduced by the printing press after the lapse of another three decades.

This was the newspaper 'Colombo Journal' which was first published on 7 January 1832. Englishman Sir Robert Wilmot Horton, who was a Member of the British House of Commons for a number of years, until it was dissolved in 1830, arrived in Ceylon as the new Governor in 1831.

After his arrival, before the lapse of even three months, he became instrumental in starting the newspaper, Colombo Journal.
As the new Governor, Horton was tasked with implementing the recommendations made by the Colebrooke Commission in 1829, to settle the public agitation which had taken place in the country.

Horton who was a liberal minded individual was also famed as a fan of arts and culture during the Victorian era. He was also the architect behind the introduction of Executive and Legislative Councils and the abolition of the service tenure system.
It was also during the term of Governor Horton that a horse drawn carriage postal service was inaugurated for the first time in Asia from Colombo to Kandy. When he arrived in the country, though the Ceylon Government Gazette was being published it failed to address issues which cropped up in the economic, political and social sectors.

The Colebrooke Commission had also understood the need for communication for the masses and this prompted Governor Horton to introduce the Colombo Journal on 7 January reducing the Ceylon Government Gazette to a quarterly publication.
The first ever publication of the Colombo Journal took the format of a tabloid newspaper and its first ever editor was George Lee with civil servant Henry Tuskell serving as Lee's assistant. Tuskell had also been the Private Secretary of Governor Horton.

Governor Horton had written articles to the Colombo Journal under various pseudonyms as it was under his direction the paper was started and he did not also feel comfortable seeing his name in print. It is said that several notable journalists at the time had contributed articles and feature stories to the Colombo Journal and among them were George Turner, Dr. Henry Marshall, John Forbes, H.W. Knighton and Captain Anderson to name a few.

After one year the Colombo Journal had become the undisputed leading English newspaper of the country carrying the views of liberals, the opinions of independent literary scholars and controversial articles of the then British officials who had served in the regime. However, certain high ranking officials of the British regime did not take kindly to some of the articles that were published and took offence. By December of 1833 there was huge pressure that was brought on the publishers of the Colombo Journal and they were issued the ultimatum of dispensing with the publication.

The Colombo Journal which had become a popular read among the country's English-speaking populace issued its final copy on
31 December 1933 ceasing to become a newspaper from that day onwards.

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