A glimpse at the old newspapers is really a literary version of time travel and provides the best view of what times were like a century ago.
Even people who are not greatly interested in history find the contents of the old newspapers intriguing. In my career I have seen casual visitors become so engrossed by the descriptions of local events, politics, world news and even the advertising, that after having spent hours at a microfilm reader, they would ask: “Where did the time go?”
The newspaper was, in its heyday in 1898, before competition from radio, television, and the internet, the main information provider. In fact, in Dawson City during the gold rush, there was an abundance of newspapers: The Klondike Nugget, the Yukon Midnight Sun, the World, the Dawson Daily News, even the Yukon Catholic.
Then there was the Klondyke Miner and Yukon Advertiser, which lasted barely one year before disappearing from the scene altogether. Not many issues of this little known newspaper have survived, so the recent discovery by a scholar in Australia is worthy of note.
Dr. Robin McLachlan, who spent his childhood in the Yukon, teaches at Charles Sturt University in New South Wales. He recently visited the Yukon to gather information on Australians who participated in the gold rush of 1898.
Back in Australia, McLachlan found a bound volume of the first 20 issues of the Klondyke Miner and Yukon Advertiser in the State Library of New South Wales (The “y” in Klondyke was replaced in the banner by an “i” after a few months).
So how did a treasure like this end up in a collection on the other side of the planet? The answer, according to Dr. McLachlan, lies in the fact that the three founders, John Meiklejohn, William V. Somerville, and John Rees, were Australians. Is it possible that one of these men took the bound copy of the newspaper back to Australia with him when he returned home?
Binding the issues of a newspaper was a common practice in the newspaper business. In fact, an almost complete bound set of the Dawson News was copied onto microfilm many decades ago. As a result, it has long been one of the prime sources of information for historical researchers.
The publishing partnership didn’t last long. Both Meiklejohn and Rees had left the business by the end of December, 1898 (The first edition of this rag hit the stands September 10th). Meiklejohn left the territory for London, then South Africa, and eventually returned to Australia.
Rees purchased and took over the running of a rival newspaper, The Yukon Midnight Sun. Eventually, Rees is said to have committed suicide.
That left Somerville to run the now renamed Klondike Miner, which he did for another few months. The newspaper finally stopped its presses in August of 1899, and it is possible that the printing plant was sold to the Dawson Daily News, which opened for business about the same time.
How this remarkable and unique document came to reside in a library half a world away may forever remain a mystery. We are nevertheless thankful that it did.
Why don’t we glance through the pages of the Klondyke Miner?
Below the elegant banner at the top of the front page are a mixture of advertisements and topical news items. There are no screaming headlines announcing important or controversial topics.
As a matter of fact, the headline, announcing that a quarter of the city’s business section burned to the ground on October 14th, is buried on page three of the October 15th edition.
Fire had always been a concern to Dawsonites, and a month before the major conflagration, the burning of a cabin belonging to Dick Lowe on Second Avenue prompted the Miner to comment upon the need for an efficient fire force to use the newly arrived fire-fighting equipment.
Prophetically, the Miner warned that a fire could destroy the food warehouses holding the city’s food supply, causing great hardship. Fortunately, the October fire stopped short of the warehouses of the NAT&T and Alaska Commercial Company stores, and winter famine was averted.
The article described in detail the damage inflicted, the heroic efforts of the North-West Mounted Police and others, and even the comic sight of men and women staggering around the scene drunk. The drunkenness was caused when onlookers partook of liquor from bottles and casks rescued from one of the buildings threatened by the fire.
Other news in the Miner included comings and goings of the fleet of river boats, gossip from the creeks, police and court items, suicides and drownings, notes on gambling and prostitution, and reports on the hospitals and the state of health of the citizens of Dawson.
There are plenty of references to the Australians in the pages of the Miner, but given their mainly American and Canadian audience, they didn’t overplay this angle.
The advertisements proclaim the opening of saloons and theatres, the services of food provisioners, mining brokers, and suppliers of hardware and industrial products. One regular advertisement, that of A.A. Marks of New York, proudly announced a quality line of artificial arms and legs. The firm was obviously expecting considerable demand for their product resulting from the expected epidemic of industrial accidents.
An illustrated ad, the first placed in the Miner, appeared around Christmas offering the newest technology in aid of good health. Just two doors down from the Oatley Sisters’ Dance Hall, J.E. Cockram was selling “Edison Electric Belts,” with a guarantee to cure all your health problems, from rheumatism and paralysis to scurvy, kidney troubles and “lost manhood.”
With the application of electricity still in its infancy, and its properties not fully understood, many thought that the current from one of these contrivances would cure every ailment known to mankind. Well it certainly cured the manufacturer’s bank balance.
The Miner was quick to announce ever popular reports of new mineral discoveries including coal deposits and gold finds at the Copper River, Ophir Creek and Tagish, to name but a few.
Miners were hungry for news from the Outside, and the Miner obliged by relating the latest on the British forces in Egypt (the October 1st edition included an article on the fall of Khartoum), the Dreyfus affair in France, Alaskan boundary negotiations between Britain and the United States, and the Spanish-American War.
The news reports included the formation or proceedings from a wide range of social organizations, including a miners’ association, the Knights of Pythias, Elks Club, the Imperial Order of Redmen, a law association and various social clubs. It seems when the miners weren’t out mining and prospecting, they were joining clubs for social contact.
This is a remarkable collection of Klondike news that adds to the already extensive record that users have long enjoyed. Dr. McLachlan has kindly arranged for copies of the microfilms to be made available to both the Yukon Archives and the Dawson City Museum.
Why not check it out? It is fascinating glimpse into life in gold-rush Dawson City.
Michael Gates is a local historian and sometimes adventurer based