Circulating the African Journal: The Colonial Press and Trans-Imperial Britishness in the Mid Nineteenth-Century Cape

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South African Historical Journal

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University of Cape Town

In 1843 William Sammons founded the peculiarly named Sam Sly's African Journal (1843–1851) in Cape Town. Claiming to be a ‘register of facts, fiction, news, literature, commerce and amusement’, the African Journal was a hybrid newspaper and literary and satirical periodical aimed at an Anglophone immigrant readership. Studies of the press have emphasised its role as a discursive agent in forming imagined communities of identity, but this has tended to focus on isolating nations or localities rather than noting the global context. However, recent scholarship on the British Empire has moved beyond nationally focused histories towards examining metropole and colony within the same mutually constitutive frame. This article draws on the conception of the circulation of newspapers as a significant means for negotiating geographies of identity in the empire, but seeks to broaden the focus beyond networks of competing official, humanitarian and settler discourses. This involves examining the materiality of the colonial press – its local and global circulation and readership, and the nature of its diverse content ranging from imaginative literature, to letters and editorials – to shed light on how the African Journal's readers negotiated their identity, cultural attachment and respectability as colonists of British descent poised on the empire's periphery.