Thursday, June 25, 2009

Book Review: "The First Printing in Jamaica"

Douglas McMurtrie's 1942 pamphlet The first printing in Jamaica consists of a short essay by McMurtrie on the roots of printing on the island of Jamaica, followed by a four-page facsimile of the earliest extant example of Jamaican printing, the second edition of A Pindaric Ode on the Arrival of his Excellency Sir Nicholas Lawes, Governor of Jamaica, &c.

McMurtrie argues that previous interpretations of the precise timing of the establishment of the first press in Jamaica (Robert Baldwin's) are not quite right, and bases his new timeline on the 1936 discovery of the two earliest known issues of The Weekly Jamaica Courant, the first newspaper printed on the island. Numbers 10 and 11 of the paper (30 July 1718 and 5 August 1718) were discovered in the British Museum collections as part of a binding, and this allowed the date of the first number to be extrapolated as 28 May 1718.

Governor Lawes - who had in October 1717 suggested to the Council of Trade and Plantations that a press ought to be established in Jamaica - arrived on the island in March or April 1718, and McMurtrie suggests that perhaps Baldwin and the first Jamaican printing press accompanied the governor to his post. He agrees with previous writers that the Pindarique Ode was the first job printed in the colony, with this second edition following very soon thereafter (the only known copy being regarded as the "earliest extant independent issue of the press in Jamaica").

Printed on large, high-quality paper, this is a pleasing production.