Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Shipwrecks, passenger lists and newspapers

While the earlier local press is an invaluable source for material on shipwrecks, as well as for passenger lists (though not always accurate or very detailed) the difficulty in Natal papers is that the originals have not been digitised. 

Some microfilm copies exist e.g. at Killie Campbell Library, but it is extremely hard to search for a chance reference to an event recorded on microfilm as an entire page cannot be scanned by the eye while searching. It is so much easier to tackle the original newspaper pages, especially as one gradually becomes familiar with where the shipping columns, for example, are placed in the paper so one doesn't necessarily have to plough through an entire edition - with all its distracting and irrelevant avenues.

Original Natal newspapers going back to the earliest Natal Witness, Natal Mercury etc are held in the Pietermaritzburg (Msunduzi) Library, previously the Natal Society Library. Serious researchers are allowed to peruse these though obviously you need to know which edition to order up. Some are in poor and fragile condition, though strangely enough the earlier the better as paper quality decreased as the years advanced.

Nevertheless, it would be ideal to preserve the originals whatever their condition and the best method would be to scan them digitally, This is not a priority in the present Natal and one wonders if it ever would become so. Few of the powers-that-be would consider the copying of a lot of colonial newspapers at all important. And so the originals will eventually become unusable and a great resource will be lost. Scanners of the size required are very expensive and whoever is using them needs to know what they're doing. Perhaps the Mormons might look on our plight with favour?

Meanwhile we can only look on in envious awe at online e-newspapers such as the Australian Papers Past or Trove, all free to access, searchable and wonderfully clear to read. It is something to set as a goal for our own newspapers - or is it an impossible dream?



Very relevant post. Thank you Mole.

Mole said...

Thanks Andrew. I have numerous family historians asking how they can access SA newspapers online. Apart from the tip of the iceberg as presented on the eGGSA site there is simply nothing digitised hence nothing visible online. One has to do the old-fashioned thing, pre-internet days, and go to the original papers - not possible for everyone, of course, but worth hiring a researcher to search for you (though might work out expensive as impossible to give an estimate in advance of search time). Don't neglect the pay to view sites which offer overseas newspapers online - many of these include SA events and I have had particular luck in this regard.