BUSINESS ECONOMICS June 16-30, 2014 53 BUSINESS ECONOMICS June 16-30, 2014 52

Andrew Otis
IN FOCUS IN FOCUS
n Abhijit Ganguly
Contemporary Indian media is considered to be one of the
most vibrant and freest of the world. But Andrew Otis is not
exactly interested in contemporary Indian media. He is
interested in the history of Indian journalism and what made
it what it is today. Andrew Otis is a Fulbright-Nehru
Researcher. Using his Fulbright research, he is writing a book
on the first newspaper in Asia, Hicky’s Bengal Gazette, printed
from 1780-1782 in Calcutta. Andrew is a 2011 graduate of
the University of Rochester, with a B.A. in History and
Political Science, studying abroad in South Africa and India.
He interned for National Public Radio and worked for both
the University of Rochester and University of Cape Town
student newspapers. He also had a research grant to study
colonial newspapers at the British Library in London.
What led him to this research? Andrew says, “I was at my
University in 2011, looking for a topic for my thesis when
I came across a dusty brown notebook at the basement of the
University library. It was William Hickey’s notebook, lawyer
for the founder of Hicky’s Bengal Gazette, James Hicky. I
found this interesting story where he mentions he walks to
the Calcutta jail and he meets James Hicky, who he calls a
wild Irishman. I thought: Who’s this James Hicky guy? I’m
a journalist, I like history. So, it was a great topic for me!”
He goes on to add, “What Hicky is known for is his libellous
journalism, But what Hicky really emphasized, and why he’s
important, are ideas of Freedom of the Press, liberty of the
subject, and freedom from tyranny. He sacrificed everything
for these ideals. Governor General Warren Hastings imprisoned
him for four years. His newspaper embodied the first place
in British India where you could have public discourse--to
have free flowing ideas between people. I think his sacrifice
for freedom inspires Indians today.”
Hicky’s newspaper was the first in British Indian history that
advocated freedom of discussion. It had never happened
before that people could write in a newspaper and publicly
voice their ideas, for liberty, for equality of the subjects.
There are many references about the liberty of the European
merchant class in Calcutta able to do private trading on their
own. His contributors, using pseudonyms, frequently wrote
on issues of freedom and justice before the law. For instance,
"If the Spirit of the Magna Charta is not quite Extinct, he will
receive full Redress: but if Law and Justice are annihilated,
if the British Constitution is destroyed from its Foundation,
if Liberty is irrecoverably lost—Every Englishman should
join in the Sentiment of Cato, Indifferent is my Choice to
live or die." --Britannicus, June 2, 1781 in Hicky's Bengal
Gazette
Interestingly one of Hastings’s last acts as Governor General
was to free Hicky! It appears that when Hastings left India,
he had nothing to fear from Hicky.
What was the reason Hastings prohibited Hicky’s newspaper
from being able to go by post? Andrew explains, “Hicky
wrote about Warren Hastings’s wife’s corruption. That a man
Simon Droze, an important merchant, in November 1780,
invited Hicky to meet Marian Hastings, so that she would
give protection for his newspaper. Hicky wouldn’t do this
and wrote an article about what a terrible man Simon was.
In return Warren Hastings banned Hicky’s newspaper. At the
same time Warren Hastings gave the Indian Gazette free
postage.” It was clearly an attempt to stifle Hicky’s newspaper.
While researching Hicky’s trials for libel at the National
Library, Andrew came across the notebooks of a judge, Justice
John Hyde, who presided over Hicky's trials. But the judge
wrote parts of his notebooks in antiquated shorthand that no
one could decipher. Andrew has been working with Carol
Johnson, a Professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology
to decode Justice John Hyde's shorthand. If Professor Johnson
can break the code, then historians can read Hyde's notebooks
and greatly increase our knowledge of Bengal in the 18th
century.
Early newspapers were like family trees. Printers at one press
What Hicky is known for is his
libellous journalism, But what
Hicky really emphasized, and
why he's important, are ideas
of Freedom of the Press, liberty
of the subject, and freedom
from tyranny. He sacrificed
everything for these ideals.
Governor General Warren
Hastings imprisoned him for
four years
trained their assistants who often went on to establish their
own presses.
James Hicky trained at least two other printers, Paul Ferris
and Thomas Jones. They both went on to found their own
printing presses, and trained other printers. However, from
this second to third generation, things are murkier. It is unclear
exactly who trained who.
Andrew elaborates, “Many British had munshis, Indians
educated in many disciplines to help them translate and
understand Indian languages. The most famous of them is
Panchanan Karmakar. Two of the first printers in Hoogly,
Bengal, Nathaniel Brassley Halhed and Charles Wilkins,
around 1778, taught Karmakar how to chisel matrices and
cast types. They printed the Grammar of the Bengali
Language, the first book in Bengali.”
With the arrival of Baptist Missionaries, Panchanan
transitioned to the Serampore Mission Press where he trained
other Indians in printing. His son-in-law, Manohar improved
Panchanan’s Bengali types. Manohar made types for fifteen
of India’s regional languages as well as Chinese. Manohar’s
son Kirshna also founded his own press.
“The moral of the story is that Bengalis learned how to cast
types, and how to operate a printing press with the aid of
Europeans. But the skills of an editor--that's different. Agood
editor needs to be a critical thinker and I think that’s innate
and doesn’t come from a European teaching you how to
operate a lever. The first Bengali editors like Ram Mohan
Roy were transformational. But where did they get their
skills? Why did Roy found a newspaper? Those are questions
I plan on investigating.” signs off Andrew.
The last is justice John Hyde's
shorthand, Puisne judge on
t he Supreme Court of
Judicature at Fort William. I
am sending this shorthand to
a cryptologist in the United
States to decode. I hope that
Hyde's notebooks will be
useful for historians. Hyde’s
notebooks (1774-1796) are
t h e o n l y r e ma i n i n g
comprehensive legal records from the 18th Bengal. His
shorthand, if we can break it, will help others better
understand Indian history.
The moral of the story is that Bengalis
learned how to cast types, and how
to operate a printing press with the
aid of Europeans
Raging against the Raj: The
First Newspaper in Asia