Tag Archives: journalism

The Economist or The Political, Commercial, Agricultural and Free-Trade Journal

A catalogue of the archive of The Economist newspaper is now available online*.

Portrait of James Wilson

Hon. James Wilson by Sir John Watson-Gordon, oil on canvas, 1858, NPG 2189 © National Portrait Gallery, London

The archive was donated to the Bodleian Library in 2017 by The Economist Newspaper Limited. The newspaper, originally called The Economist: The Political, Commercial, Agricultural and Free-Trade Journal, was founded in 1843 by James Wilson (1805-1860), a self-educated businessman, economist and Liberal politician, to campaign for free trade. It was solely owned by Wilson for the first 17 years and he was Editor until 1849. The basis of the paper was a systematic weekly survey of economic data and it quickly became invaluable as a source of trade and financial statistics. Wilson wrote much of the paper himself, assisted by Richard Holt Hutton (1826-1897) and Walter Bagehot (1826-1877). (Bagehot became Editor in 1861.)

The archive has suffered from the bombing of the newspaper’s London offices in 1941, when many records were lost. The bulk of the archive thus dates from the second half of the 20th century. It contains an incomplete set of minutes of the Board of Directors of The Economist Newspaper Limited and related papers, from its incorporation in 1929 to 2015, and correspondence and papers of Managing Directors (later CEOs), Editors, and staff of editorial departments. Other records include materials relating to property, finance, staff, production, and promotion and marketing.

In 1847, James Wilson entered Parliament as MP for Westbury. From 1848 until 1852 he served as Secretary of the Board of Control, which oversaw the East India Company’s relationship with British India. He later served as Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Paymaster-General, and Vice-President of the Board of Trade. In 1859 he resigned his offices and his seat in Parliament to sit as the financial member of the Council of India. A bundle of letters received by Wilson and other items addressed to the Wilson family, 1838-1860, was passed to The Economist by Wilson’s great great granddaughter in 2008 and now forms part of the archive. This includes letters to Wilson from Earl Canning, Governor-General of India, Jan-May 1860, during Wilson’s time in India, tasked with establishing a tax structure and a new paper currency, and remodelling the finance system. Wilson sadly died of dysentery in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in August 1860 at the age of 55. These papers complement the correspondence of James Wilson and his family, 1840-1924, concerning political, literary and family matters, acquired by the Bodleian in 1979 (shelfmarks MSS. Eng. lett. d. 468-9), containing letters from Walter Bagehot and Lord Palmerston.

The archive also contains records of the celebration of the company’s 150th anniversary in 1993, and research for The Pursuit of Reason: The Economist 1834-1993 (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1993) by Ruth Dudley Edwards. This is an engaging and well-researched history of the newspaper and the personalities behind it. Incidentally, Dudley Edwards is known not only as a historian but also as a writer of crime fiction. One of her novels features a copy of The Economist as the murder weapon!

*Please note that the collection is not currently accessible as, following guidance from the UK Government and Public Health England, the Bodleian Libraries are now closed until further notice. Please do check the Bodleian Libraries website and Bodleian Twitter for the latest information.