Nineteenth Century Journalism: History of “The Borderer” and “The Argosy”

In the June 19, 2002 centennial issue, the history of this newspaper was featured. During the course of researching the topic, information concerning earlier Sackville newspapers was uncovered. Although The Tribune and The Post dominated the local scene from 1902 through to amalgamation on June 3, 1946; their predecessors also merit attention. Two interesting nineteenth century examples will be highlighted in this Flashback.

The founder of journalism on the Tantramar was Edward Tryon Bowes (1813–1868). His weekly newspaper The Borderer and Westmorland and Cumberland Advertiser was established in 1856. With such an unwieldy name, the paper was usually referred to as The Borderer. For most of the next twelve years, it was the only newspaper between Saint John and Halifax. The sole exception was the Westmorland Times, published briefly in Moncton. The Borderer was later merged with the Chignecto Post in 1879 to form the new Chignecto Post and Borderer. The newspaper was renamed the Semi-Weekly Post in 1896. From 1905 until 1946 it was known as The Sackville Post.

Edward Tryon Bowes, son of one William Bowes, was born c. 1813, probably at Tryon PEI; which would explain his unusual second name. Unfortunately his place of birth cannot be verified, since provincial records do not extend this far back. Because the same information is also mentioned in a posthumous tribute to Bowes, [Chignecto Post, September 1895] it is no doubt accurate. His father was in the military and served for a time as an officer at Fort Cumberland before its decommissioning in 1833. Bowes came to Middle Sackville sometime in the 1840s and opened a private school in a building situated near the first store of Joseph L. Black. Later, the school was relocated nearer to Morices Pond now Silver Lake. This was an important phase in his early career, as he was later to use the columns of The Borderer to champion the cause of free public school education.

The content of The Borderer was summarized in a caption which claimed it included all the requisitions of a useful and acceptable fireside companion. A perusal of surviving copies illustrates that this was not an idle boast. The entire front page was usually devoted to literature and poetry. The second page contained local and international news, plus letters to the editor. Then as now, this correspondence encouraged debate on issues of the day. The subscription rate was six and three pence per annum payable in advance. If payment was delayed until the end of the year, the charge was seven shillings.

The remaining pages of The Borderer were given over to advertising and notices. Examples of local firms buying space were: Andrew Ford, J.L. Black, Abner Smith (tannery), Dixon and Company, Mariner Wood and Robert Hallett (photographer). Others from the Amherst side of the border included: Dunlap Bros., Ltd., W.D. Main & Co., Amos Page (watchmaker), Charles J. Townshend (attorney at law) and the Temperance Hotel operated by W. H. Rogers. Interspersed were notices of sheriffs sales, along with advertisements for patent medicines; each guaranteed to cure a wide variety of ailments.

The years of Bowes’ editorship (the late 1850s and 1860s) were crucial in the history of the British North American colonies. It was the time of the Civil War in the United States, the threat of the Fenian Raids and the debate over confederation. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Bowes always attempted to summarize all aspects of contentious issues. Reading between the lines, one suspects that Bowes leaned toward the anti-confederate cause, as witnessed by his report on the results in New Brunswicks provincial election of 1866. Noting that four anti-confederates had been elected in Westmorland, Bowes editorialized: We never felt hopeful that the people would endorse [confederation]. However, we kept our journal free and impartially allowed it to be a medium of communication on both sides of the question.

Two years earlier, Bowes briefly lowered his guard concerning confederation in a report on the Charlottetown Conference of 1864. As a staunch Methodist, he was shocked and appalled by what went on. This time he resorted to an editorial in verse:

Reader you know as well as I,
How there amid scenes of revelry,
At festive boards, at midnight balls,
With dance and song, in lordly halls,
Whereer they turned, on every hand,
They met the wizard with his wand,
He sparkld in the ruby wine,
He glittered in the dresses fine,
Yet there, amid such scenes they laid
The cornerstone of what they said,
Would make us all a mighty nation,
And christend it confederation.

Readers of The Borderer did not need an interpreter to guess the identity of the wizard. It was, of course, John A. Macdonald; soon to be prime minister of the mighty nation. While this doggerel verse would never win a poetic award; it did appeal to Borderer readers who relished Bowes cartoons in words.

Edward Tryon Bowes died Aug. 29, 1868, and without his experience and leadership, The Borderer was never quite the same. Although the newspaper ceased publication in 1879; memory of Bowes achievements lingered. Writing in 1895, an anonymous acquaintance paid the following tribute: Bowes was held in respect for his honesty, straightforwardness of purpose and personal charm Times without number, farmers and others in dispute would submit their grievances to Mr. Bowes arbitration, and very few if any of his decisions were ever disregarded. Many a lawsuit was avoided through his efforts. Unfortunately, we do not have a complete run of The Borderer during his tenure as editor. However, from the copies that are available, its clear that he took his role as an advocate of the people very seriously. The title: Founder of journalism on the Tantramar was well and truly earned.

Meanwhile, in January 1875, another Tantramar publication, happily still with us, was founded. The Argosy, or as it was more formally known at first, The Eurhetorian Argosy served the faculty and students at Mount Allison. Understandably, its main focus was the university community; however, some local events were covered. As a point of interest, the lead article in the first issue was an amusing sketch of Sachweil, a sleepy little town in the Duchy of Brunswick

Appearing monthly for several decades, The Argosy was heavy on original prose and essays. Of equal importance was the opportunity for aspiring writers to see their work in print. Many articles were undoubtedly reworked class papers and essays; nonetheless, they provide valuable insight on the social issues of the day.

By way of illustration, two articles in the May 1884 Argosy focussed on topics with 21st century overtones. One, entitled Ici Parlons Franais was a reasoned plea for bilingualism. The writer, identified only as DS, noted that there were few countries, such as Canada, where French and English were so freely spoken. Obviously drawing upon a visit to the gallery of the House of Commons, the writer concluded that Your average French Canadian member when speaking English, is apt to be constrained; he is often looking for a word. When he wants to have a genuine oratorical blow out, he uses his mother tongue.

Moral issues were frequently tackled by budding Argosy journalists. In the same issue the blight of bribery and corruption in federal and provincial politics was exposed. The author W asked rhetorically: When only wealthy men have the ability to buy their seats, how many members represent the political thought of their constituencies? Those elected by such means grossly misrepresent the majority of the people. W looked forward to the day when the high priests of corruption are ousted, disqualified, disenfranchised, and removed. Then and only then may we expect a more equitable result [in elections.] Its just as well that W is not around in 2003; as crime and corruption in high places still dominate the news.

In common with The Borderer, poetry held a place of importance in the columns of The Argosy. The March 1892 issue featured a tribute to Charles G. D. Roberts, written by Harry A. Woodworth. Entitled Roberts Poetry of the Tantramar; he compared Roberts with Bliss Carman. It was Woodworths view that anyone reading the poetry of Carman would never think of him as the poet of Grand Pr; while Roberts will be known to posterity as the poet of the Tantramar.

Journalism in the late 19th century was dominated by men. For the first quarter century of its existence Mount Allisons Eurhetorian Society, publisher of The Argosy, was an exclusively male bastion. The first female Allisonian to break this monopoly, was Lucy Dorothea Webb. A music graduate in 1897, she was to join the faculty of the Conservatory as an instructor in violin; and later taught at Lewisbury College in West Virginia. Clearly, by end of the 19th century, the winds of social change were beginning to blow across the Tantramar.

Newspapers such as The Borderer and he Argosy are valuable historical sources. Nevertheless, a cautionary note must be struck. Not everything that is seen in print can be taken as fact. Even the occasional error has crept into the pages of the Sackville Tribune Post! Canadian historian Peter Waite once summarized the significance of newspapers in our understanding of the past. They report and inform, they comment and criticize; and in the broadest sense they reveal the diversity, not only of people and politics, but of life itself.

I am indebted to Flashback reader, Edward C. Bowes (originally from Dorchester and now living in Saint John) for suggesting that his great-great-grandfather, William Tryon Bowes be featured in a column. Mr. Bowes also provided helpful information on the career of his distinguished ancestor. Thanks must also go to the staff of the Mount Allison Archives for their assistance.