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When the plague was raging in London in 1665, King Charles II moved his court to Salisbury and then to Oxford, where in the midst of the war with the Dutch, he approved the first issue, on 13 November, of a newspaper called The Oxford Gazette. When the court returned to London early the following year the newspaper came with it and was first published as The London Gazette on 5 February 1666.
The Gazette was originally intended to provide authorized news of contemporary events and was (and still is) effectively a government controlled newspaper, bearing at its head the words "Published by Authority", the first editor, Henry Muddiman, being given a position in the office of the Secretary of State and free postage on incoming and outgoing mail.
The Gazette came out twice weekly, on Mondays and Thursdays, except for a short period in 1709-12 when three issues were produced each week. Its circulation was never large, being intended mainly for state officials at home and abroad, and for merchants and lawyers. It is now produced every weekday.
For the first century or more the paper contained much foreign news, together with reports of shipping movements and matters of interest to English traders, but there was also coverage of some local matters and many advertisements of a wide-ranging nature, many quite unofficial, such as those for books and medical cures, with descriptions of runaway apprentices mixed with those for deserters.
Movements of army and navy personnel featured widely in the 18th century, as did reports of loyal addresses at times of national or local difficulty or celebration. The latter may occasionally bear numerous signatures; one from the citizens of Barnstaple to the King, viewing with "horror and detestation" the "ungrateful and unnatural" rebellion in America in 1775, for instance, has more than 150 signatures. Reports of threatening and seditious letters also appear, often followed by statements of immunity for those giving information about them and of rewards for the apprehension of their authors.
In due course, the Gazette became the normal place in which to advertise things like bankruptcies, dissolutions of partnerships, and official sales of property. Other matters were subsequently required to be advertised there by Act of Parliament. In the 19th century the paper was used to give publicity, sometimes in extensive supplements, to many additional government concerns.
Some of the subjects of interest to genealogists are described below.
From the late 17th century until very recent times the London Gazette recorded the date on which the English officers of state took their oaths of office. This date may range from a day or two to several weeks after the date of the letters patent of appointment. The creation of peers, baronets and knights are also recorded.
However, details of the appointment of government and other officials, such as justices of the peace, of church and legal appointments and promotions, although frequently seen in the pages of the Gazette, are erratic and far from consistently given.
The promotions of navy, army (both regular army and militia) and air force officers usually can be found. An officer's commission was not considered official until he was "gazetted" - meaning that he was listed in the London Gazette.
A list of officers killed and wounded at Waterloo appeared as a supplement to the Gazette on 1 July 1815 but other ranks did not normally appear until about the time of the Crimean War when full lists of casualties were given. Lists of money due to their dependents were also publicized there, as they were in the First World War.
Gallantry awards (to all ranks) have appeared since the middle of the 19th century. There are many thousands for the two World Wards but the entries usually only give the name of the person and his or her unit. A citation may be included for some of the higher awards such as the Victoria Cross or the Distinguished Conduct Medal; occasionally these appear after the original notice. The first awards of the Victoria Cross were announced in the Gazette for 24 February 1857.
Those mentioned in dispatches are also listed, and from 1843 these include other ranks. From 1914 all recipients of honours and awards have been listed. The names of the Royal Warrant Holders are published annually; these are the tradesmen who supply the various Royal Households and have received a Warrant entitling them to use the appropriate Royal Arms.
In the 18th century, the loss or capture of Royal Navy or merchant ships was reported as soon as news came to hand, as when the Beulah, from New York, laden with mahogany and fustick (a wood used in tanning and dyeing), was blown onto Saunton Sands, near Braunton, in the night of 12-13 November 1764, with the loss of three passengers and most of the crew, which was reported on 20 November.
Captains, Mates and Civil Servants
With the introduction of certificates of Competency for Masters and Mates of merchant vessels in 1845, they were published in the London Gazette and the entries there show the date and place of birth of the master or mate, his ticket number, class of certificate, his present or last previous service, and the date and place of the examination. They are last shown in 1850.
In a similar manner, those who passed the Civil Service examinations were also listed when these were introduced in 1855. These lists, which only show the name of the candidate, continued for many years.
Sales of Property
From the earliest days of the Gazette notices were inserted of official sales of property of bankrupt, and of disputed estates, the latter normally by order of the Court of Chancery.
For example, the estate of bankrupt Martha Elizabeth Burnard, of Bideford, merchant, dealer, chapwoman, was advertised in 1834, and reveals a timber and shipbuilding yard, limekilns on the beach at Oarkham, houses in the town, a share in one ship at Appledore and a mortgage on another. All are described in some detail with the names of the tenants.
During the Napoleonic War notices of the sales of captured ships and their cargoes appear in great number, with the exact date of capture, followed by notices of the dates fixed for the distribution of the proceeds or prize money to the "officers and company" who were "actually on board the said ... at the capture", three years being allowed for the claimants to come forward. Notices about prize money continue until 1866.
Dissolution of Partnerships
Although there was never any legal requirement to do so, from about 1750 it became customary to list dissolutions of business partnerships in the London Gazette, and by 1850 about 1,500 a year were appearing.
For example, in 1828 the following appeared: "The partnership between John Miller, late of Loughborough, in the County of Leicester, but now of Barnstaple, Devon, and John Oram, of Chard, Somerset, lace manufacturers, and carried on at Chard, Loughborough and the Town of Nottingham under the firm of John Oram and Company, and at Barnstaple and Nottingham under the firm of John Miller and Company, was dissolved 28th May 1828".
The listings, not being obligatory, are not so complete as those of bankrupts.
From almost its earliest days notices about bankruptcies began to be published in the London Gazette and in the course of the 18th century it became standard practice to publish a formal statement there, showing the name, address and occupation of the bankrupt. In 1785 some 500 were listed; by 1850 the number had grown to about 2,000 a year. It is from these notices that the lists published in the Gentleman's Magazine, The Times and other periodicals derive. Entries in the period 1820-43 were also reprinted in George Elwick, The bankrupt directory 1820-1843 (1843) [FHL microfiche 6085602-9].
By the end of the 18th century the notices contained details of the days set for the hearing of the disclosure of assets, for the creditors to prove their debts, for the meetings of creditors to approve sales of property (usually briefly described) and so forth, and for the final distribution of any dividend. From the 1830s there are entries also for Scotch bankrupts and the meetings of their creditors.
The publication of broadly similar notices relating to the various stages of bankruptcy proceedings continues to the present day and in view of the destruction and thinning of bankruptcy material at The National Archives may be of great value to the family historian. Since 1844, orders for the winding up of limited companies have also been published in the Gazette.
Between 1813 and 1861 (and less frequently in earlier times) notices of the date and place of the hearing of petitions from insolvent debtors, usually but not always in prison, regularly appear. The later ones even include groups of insolvent debtors in the East Indies. In December 1813 the Gazette had listed all the insolvent debtors then in prison.
The entries frequently show previous movement from place to place, as when in 1828 the petition of Thomas Whittingham was heard at Reading. He was formerly of Cheltenham, currier and leather seller, of five different addresses in London and Middlesex; shoe manufacturer of Southwark; baker of Richmond, Surrey; grocer of Walworth; shopkeeper of three more addresses; looking-glass manufacturer of another; brass turner, and then of Bridgwater, Bideford, Salisbury and Abingdon, shoemaker. He appeared again in 1831 with an even longer array of past addresses and trades.
Lists of the various funds worth more than £50 which were being administered by the several divisions of the High Court of Justice, some of which go back to the late 17th century, were published as supplements to the London Gazette every five years between 1877 and 1938, usually in March. The first list of Dormant Funds in Court, published as the second supplement to the Gazette of 27 February 1877, is very uninformative. There are copies of the more informative 1911 and 1923 supplements in the Family History Library [2 vols. 942 P2df]. These are complete lists of all the funds existing in those years.
The lists do not provide information about the sums involved and further detail will only be provided (by the Court Funds Office, 22 Kingsway, London WC2) on payment of fees and to those who can show a beneficial interest in the funds.
In the 20th century it became customary in cases of uncertainty, for executors of wills and administrators of estates to advertise in the Gazette for creditors and potential beneficiaries. Missing persons have at all times occasionally been advertised for in its pages
The first supplement to the London Gazette of 27 February 1877 is a 755-page list of the partners in the 93 banks then in existence, showing their names, addresses and occupations.
Changes of Name
Royal Licences and private Acts of Parliament authorizing people to change their surnames have been published in the London Gazette from early times and are indexed in W.P.W. Phillimore and E.A. Fry, An Index to Changes of Name, 1760-1901 (1905, reprinted 1969) [FHL 942 D4p]. The licences often also authorize a change in armorial bearings, though the arms themselves are not described in the licence or in the Gazette entry.
The more usual deeds poll of change of name have been enrolled (since 1903) on the Enrolment Books of the Supreme Court (in J18 at The National Archives, Kew), but since 1914 more detailed regulations have required their advertisement in the London Gazette. Some other declarations of change of name without a deed poll are also advertised there. In many instances the forenames as well as the surnames are changed.
Prior to 1844 some Letters Patent of denization were published in the Gazette and since 1886 those who receive naturalization certificates have been listed there.
In the past complete sets of the London Gazette were not easily found, particularly for the earlier years, and the contemporary indexes, which only commence in 1787, had many subdivisions and omissions. However, scanned images of the whole of the Gazette from its commencement in 1665 to the present day with a facility to search for any word or name have recently become freely available at http://www.gazettes-online.co.uk and are of great value to the genealogist.
The Edinburgh, Dublin and Belfast Gazettes
Very similar government gazettes were also published for both Scotland and Ireland. The Edinburgh Gazette was founded in 1680 and The Dublin Gazette in 1705. The latter covered all of Ireland until January 1922 when the official publication of the Republic of Eire was renamed Iris Oifigiuil. A separate Belfast Gazette had commenced publication on 7 June 1921. As with the London Gazette, both the Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes are to be found from their commencements online at http://www.gazettes-online.co.uk and may be freely searched for any word or name.
There are many examples of the contents of the London Gazette in Marjorie Snetzler,London Gazette: Devon Extracts (published by Devon Family History Society) [FHL 942.35 B3d] the two parts of which include (1) all the entries relating to people and places in the north Devon parishes of the Archdeaconry of Barnstaple 1665-1850, and (2) those for Plymouth, 1665-1765, all extracted by the late Ralph Hall.
This article is adapted from Anthony Camp's article 'The London Gazette' in Family Tree Magazine (UK), vol. 15, no. 11 (September 1999) pages 25-26. The standard work on the London Gazette is P.M. Handover, A History of the London Gazette, 1665-1965 (HMSO, 1965) [FHL 942.1 B3h].
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