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275 years of reporting on national and world events

The Press and Journal is a regional paper, but it has also reported on important national and world events, triumphs and tragedies, for 275 years.

The Press and Journal is a regional paper, but it has also reported on important national and world events, triumphs and tragedies, for 275 years.
The Press and Journal is a regional paper, but it has also reported on important national and world events, triumphs and tragedies, for 275 years.

From the eruption of Krakatoa to space exploration and the death of Queen Elizabeth II, The Press and Journal has delivered news from around the globe to readers’ homes.

Each month, as we celebrate our 275th anniversary, we have been bringing you a timeline of articles showcasing how The P&J has told the stories of the north and north-east.
This month, we look at our coverage of momentous world events.
In the days before photojournalism and the internet, people relied on the detailed descriptions of intrepid journalists reporting for The P&J from the front line of some of history’s most significant events.

1783: The Treaty of Paris

The Treaty of Paris may not have had an immediate impact on Aberdeen, but it was nonetheless carried verbatim on the Aberdeen Journal’s front page on October 20 1783.

International geopolitics may have seemed a long way away from the Granite City, but the signing of the treaty was acknowledged as being of seismic importance.

It ended the American War of Independence – a conflict that involved Great Britain under George III – and recognised the United States as an independent nation.

The Treaty of Paris was printed in full on the front page of the Aberdeen Journal. Image: British Newspaper Archive.

The treaty was signed by David Hartley for Great Britain along with American negotiators John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and John Jay.

The agreement set boundaries between British North America (now Canada) and the United States, detailed fishing rights and made provisions for returning prisoners of war.

Acknowledging the importance of this event in UK and world history, the content of the treaty was carried verbatim on the front page of the Aberdeen Journal on October 20, 1783.

1835: Halley’s Comet passes by Earth

Every 76 or so years, Halley’s Comet is in Earth’s vicinity, and The Press and Journal has reported on the celestial phenomenon since 1835.

It’s the only comet with an orbital period of less than 200 years that can be seen with the naked eye.

The exciting events were recorded in The Press and Journal in 1835, 1909 and 1985/86.

A poem about comets the appeared in The P&J in 1909. Image: DC Thomson.

On September 22 1909, The P&J printed a substantial article about the impending arrival of Halley’s Comet.

It included a poem about a previous visit, describing the comet as “a wondrous orb” that burst “from the realms of space in radiant glory”.

Fast forward to 1985, and The P&J reported on a different age of space exploration.

By 1985, the coverage of the comet in The P&J detailed the latest advances in space exploration technology. Image: DC Thomson

The coverage featured scientific explanations, illustrations of the comet and photos of Nasa’s Giotto spacecraft which would come within 600 kilometres of it.

No doubt the comet will stir up the same intrigue and enthusiasm when it returns around 2061.

1883: Eruption of Krakatoa

In 1883, it was unlikely the average Aberdonian ventured much farther than the limits of the British mainland – let alone travelling as far as Indonesia.

The closest many Victorians would have got to paradise would have been through the imagination of Robert Louis Stevenson whose novel Treasure Island was published in 1882.

Krakatoa Island erupting in August 1883 from the book Chips From The Earth’s Crust published in 1884. Image: Design Pics Inc/Shutterstock.

Without widespread photography, people relied on stories, detailed accounts and descriptions to learn about world events.

And in 1883, when Krakatoa and the surrounding volcanoes between Java and Sumatra erupted spectacularly, it made headlines all over the world.

The P&J carried a graphic letter from New York in September 1883 describing the volcanic event – one of the deadliest and most destructive ever recorded.

Krakatoa’s eruption described in The P&J in 1883. Image: British Newspaper Archive.

At least 36,417 deaths were attributed to the eruption and the large waves it created. The P&J article predicted about 75,000 lives would be lost.

The newspaper report goes into detail about the violence of the eruptions, painting a vivid picture for readers about the loss of life, boiling seas and reshaping of the landscape.

1912: Titanic sinks

It’s an urban myth regularly circulated in Aberdeen that when the Titanic sank, The Press and Journal’s headline was “Local man lost at sea”.

Not so – this parochial perspective is a falsehood.

A photo printed in The P&J in April 1912 showing a side-by-side comparison of the tower of Marischal College and the Titanic to help readers gauge the sheer size of the vessel. Image: DC Thomson.

While the newspaper strives to provide readers with the most up-to-date local news, when it comes to world events and tragedies, they speak for themselves.

Titanic hit an iceberg on April 14, just four days into its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, sinking on April 15.

The following day, The P&J dedicated three columns to the disaster and gave an overview of “the sumptuous vessel”.

The Press and Journal’s coverage of the Titanic tragedy. Image: DC Thomson.

The tragedy sent shockwaves around the world. The ship was considered the pinnacle of engineering and had been deemed “unsinkable”.

It was considered the first major international disaster with a huge loss of life of people spanning many nations and social classes.

The P&J reported there were “no Aberdeen passengers on board” – a local man had booked his passage on the Titanic but transferred to a Liverpool steamer at the last minute.

The P&J reported on local links to the Titanic sinking. Image: DC Thomson.

As more news became available in the days afterwards, The P&J revealed that the wife and daughter of Aberdeen architect James Watt had been saved from the icy Atlantic.

While James Birnie Booth of Aberdeen was listed as a steward on board, and James Smith of Elgin was fourth engineer, neither man’s fate was reported.

1948: The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi

Poignantly, The Press and Journal reported “Gandhi is dead. The world will tremble for India” after his assassination on January 31 1948.

Gandhi was a lawyer and politician who led the independence movement against British Colonial rule in India.

He was considered the father of the country and promoted non-violent methods to achieve political and social progress.

The front page of The Press and Journal dated January 31 1948. Image: DC Thomson.

Although he had no links with Aberdeen, Gandhi studied law at the Inner Temple in London before becoming involved in Indian politics in 1919.

He was even imprisoned for two years for demanding the British withdraw from India.

After colonial rule ended, Gandhi wanted Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs to live harmoniously in India.

But not everyone was supportive of his ideology, and at an interfaith prayer meeting in January 1948, Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse shot Gandhi at point-blank range.

Tributes from all over the world were paid to Gandhi. Image: DC Thomson.

The fallout from Gandhi’s assassination was far reaching. Rioting in Bombay was witnessed by Jossleyn Hennessy, The P&J’s special correspondent in Delhi.

Hennessy reported in The P&J on how a nation reacted and spoke to a Hindu refugee who dramatically intervened in the shooting.

The refugee explained: “The assassin tried to shoot himself, but I knocked the automatic from his hand.”

1969: First moon landings

Nothing captured the minds of a generation like the moon landing when humankind achieved the seemingly impossible.

“Man has landed and walked on the moon” proclaimed The Press and Journal on July 21 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin took those first steps.

The front page of The Press and Journal reporting on the moon landing in 1969. Image: DC Thomson.

As The Press and Journal didn’t have a photographer on hand on the moon an illustration was used instead to make the front page stand out.

The P&J recounted the events of the day and Neil Armstrong’s thoughts.

Included is the immortal line “the Eagle has landed”, referencing the vehicle that transported the astronauts to the lunar surface from the command module.

A guide book from Aberdeen was sent to Nasa. Image: DC Thomson.

Elsewhere on the front page, the paper reported on Jock Nicoll, Aberdeen’s then director of publicity, who sent a copy of the Aberdeen Guide Book to Nasa to be included in the lunar landing.

It is unknown whether the book went on a space odyssey or is just gathering dust at Cape Kennedy.

1986: Chernobyl nuclear explosion

When The Press and Journal first reported that an accident had damaged an atomic reactor at Chernobyl in Soviet Ukraine, it was unclear how serious the incident was.

It took place during a safety test on April 26 1986 when the reactor core melted, leading to explosions and the destruction of the reactor building.

The P&J story highlighted high radiation levels in Nordic countries that “should not cause harm if it was ever carried to Britain”.

It was initially unclear what the true impact of the Chernobyl disaster was. Image: DC Thomson.

In a subsequent story, the Soviet Union claimed only two people had died.

However, it soon became apparent that the incident was far more serious than the Soviets were admitting.

The P&J relayed fears in the West that the death toll could eventually be into the thousands and the contamination might cover a much bigger area.

The paper also reported on a Highland couple who were anxiously awaiting news of their daughter who was in Minsk as part of her language studies at Aberdeen University.

The P&J reported on a Highland couple who feared for their daughter who was studying near Chernobyl. Image: DC Thomson.

We now know the horrific and lasting impact the explosion had on the region and its citizens due to radioactive contamination.

Although fewer than 100 deaths have been directly attributed to the incident, some studies link the radiation with tens of thousands of cancer deaths over time.

And three decades on, babies are still being born with abnormalities and cancers.

It is reckoned it will be 20,000 years before Chernobyl is free of radiation and habitable once more.

1989: Fall of the Berlin Wall

The fall of the Berlin Wall was undeniably one of the most pivotal moments in modern history.

The Press and Journal captured the joy of citizens on both sides of the wall as it came down on November 9 1989.

It reported how East Berliners “came to enjoy the taste of freedom as the bulldozers moved in”.

The front page of The Press and Journal reporting on the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Image: DC Thomson.

Also reported was that Berliners “danced in delight” and “Champagne flowed at Checkpoint Charlie”.

The “Iron Curtain” through Europe had been ripped down, ending Soviet rule in East Germany and ultimately bringing the Cold War to a close.

Before officials lost count, an estimated 50,000 people had crossed the border by morning.

There were emotional scenes up and down the border as people moved freely and were reunited. For some younger citizens, it was their first glimpse of the West.

A crowd cheers as a young man takes a hammer to the wall on November 9 1989. Image: Action Press/Shutterstock.

Banks even stayed open late to dispense 100 West German Marks in currency as a welcome gift for each arrival.

The P&J story quoted Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as saying “the joy is mine” as she praised Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for sparking the move towards freedom in the Eastern Bloc.

The article also detailed poignant scenes including that of a Berlin department store which had a giant electronic sign reading “Hello neighbours from East Berlin. Welcome to Berlin”.

2001: 9/11 terror attacks

There are few events in recent times where you can remember the moment you heard the news, but the terror attacks on the World Trade Center is one of them.

On September 11 2001, Islamist extremists al-Qaeda co-ordinated four suicide attacks on the United States by hijacking commercial airliners.

The front page of The Press and Journal the day after the terror attacks. Image: DC Thomson.

Two planes struck the Twin Towers in New York, one crashed into the Pentagon and another crashed in rural Pennsylvania.

Within hours, the towers fell, killing 2,753 workers, tourists and firefighters.

Among those killed was Gavin Cushney who was working on the 104th floor of the North Tower, the first building to be hit.

A former P&J reporter spoke to the paper about what he had witnessed. Image: DC Thomson.

The P&J reported that Gavin hailed from Strichen and that his family later moved to the Isle of Lewis.

Former P&J reporter Jamie McIvor witnessed the attack while on holiday in New York.

He told the paper: “There’s not a mood of panic but a kind of stunned silence. Something terrible has happened and people don’t know how to react.”

Some of the powerful imagery in the aftermath of the terror attacks in New York. Image: DC Thomson.

2014: Scottish Independence Referendum

The build-up to – and the fallout from – the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 changed the country’s political landscape forever.

IndyRef, as it became known, was something that divided – and continues to divide – the people of Scotland.

An early edition of The P&J after the independence referendum hinted at a ‘No’ victory. Image: DC Thomson.

The referendum on September 18 2014 put Scotland’s future in the hands of its citizens, determining whether the nation would become independent of the UK.

The day after the vote, The Press and Journal reported that the Better Together campaign showed early signs of a narrow victory, according to the latest polls.

At that point, MSP for Gordon, First Minister Alex Salmond, appeared in a “bullish” mood.

A special souvenir edition of The Press and Journal carried the poll result. Image: DC Thomson.

However, the last edition of The P&J to be printed that morning showed a loss for the ‘Yes’ campaign, as 55% voted against independence.

The images spoke for themselves.

2016: Trump’s Election

The US 2016 presidential election was a fierce and bitterly fought campaign between Democrat Hilary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

The contest for The White House ended on November 8 2016 when Trump narrowly clinched victory.

The P&J’s front page about the US presidential election in 2016. Image: DC Thomson.

Considered one of the biggest upsets in American political history, the campaign was characterised by negative and divisive politics.

The P&J’s early edition after the polls closed reported how America had decided.

Later editions revealed the final result.

The P&J election special announcing Trump’s victory. Image: DC Thomson

Trump, of course, was no stranger to The Press and Journal.

He has close ties to Aberdeenshire through his golf resort at Menie – a development borne through a long and controversial planning process.

2020: Covid outbreak and lockdown

At the beginning of 2020, there were whispers of coronavirus in parts of the world.

But the threat was brought much closer to home with the first case of Covid confirmed in the north-east on March 1.

The first case of coronavirus confirmed in the north-east as reported by The P&J. Image: DC Thomson.

The Press and Journal’s front page carried powerful imagery of a woman in full PPE.

A haunting image, PPE is something we eventually became familiar with throughout the pandemic.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Scotland is well prepared for a significant outbreak of coronavirus but there is currently no treatment or vaccine. Early detection measures will continue to be vital in helping prevent the spread of the virus.”

TThe P&J front page reporting on the country going into lockdown. Image: DC Thomson.

With no vaccination available, the number of cases shot up and it wasn’t long before Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK into lockdown.

The measure was so drastic that The P&J’s front page simply read “Lockdown”.

Within weeks of the first case in Scotland, The P&J reported on March 26 that up to 50,000 people across the country had been infected.

The empty streets of Elgin: Video shows quiet rush-hour during lockdown

Throughout the pandemic, The P&J kept its readers up to date with key information about the virus such as the weekly death rate, hospital admissions and how the R number changed over time.

Our data journalists also pioneered a digital tracker, which was updated twice a week.

September 2022: The death of Queen Elizabeth II

The Queen always felt at home at Balmoral in the heart of Royal Deeside.

It was somewhere Her Majesty could escape duty and the Crown and simply be a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.

The Queen’s deep affection for Balmoral was rivalled only by the deep affection the surrounding community had for her in return.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh celebrated their silver wedding at Balmoral in 1972. Image: DC Thomson.

At Balmoral, the Queen had a degree of freedom. The surrounding hills and moors provided a unique playground for her children while growing up.

The Queen famously used to drive, walk and ride around the estate away from the watchful eyes of the world.

It was therefore poignant her last months were spent somewhere she loved so much, and that, ultimately, it was where she passed away on September 8 2022.

The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and their children Princess Anne, Prince Charles and Prince Andrew at Balmoral. Image: PA.

The Queen’s death shone the spotlight of the world on the north-east of Scotland, with The Press and Journal in a unique position to relay the sombre news.

We know The P&J is read by the royals at Balmoral, who like to keep a keen eye on the media, and the paper’s reporting of her death respectfully reflected the poignant end of an era.

And when the Queen’s cortege made its final journey from Balmoral, crowds lined the streets from Ballater to Bridge of Dee to say a final fond farewell.

The Press and Journal front page following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022. Image: DC Thomson

Read more from our 275th year anniversary series