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Michael James Whitty
By Michael Kelly
---His mannerisms of style, few leader-writers in or out
of London ever equalled Mr. Whitty for power of vivid
colouring, none was always so readable—his rapid flow
of epigrammatic wisdom and original axioms carrying
all before him.
Very few people in Liverpool will stop to inquire how
the Liverpool Police Force came into being, or how
Liverpool’s ‘Daily Post’ newspaper first appeared
on the newsstand in 1855.
Michael James Whitty was born in Nicharee, Duncormick,
Co. Wexford in 1795, son of a farmer, Maltster and
Shipowner, in the port of Wexford. Michael became a
journalist, police chief and a newspaper proprietor
more or less in that order.
Michael’s eldest brother was destined for the church
and had a private tutor in Greek and Latin and Michael
was allowed to share the lessons. Michael received his
education at St. Peter’s College, Wexford and at an
early age he became his father’s business assistant,
but the business failed.
He moved to Dublin in 1821, where he commenced his
literary career and it was here that he was to meet,
and later married Mary O’Neill. A short while after
his marriage he moved with his wife to London, where
he became a journalist. In 1823 he was appointed
editor of the ‘London and Dublin Magazine’ and in its
first volume there appeared an article on ‘Robert Emmet’
(see appendix) Michael, remained editor until 1827.
During this time he contributed largely to Irish
periodical literature, and was an ardent advocate
for Catholic emancipation. In 1822-24 he published
two volumes of ‘Tales of Irish Life’, illustrative
of the manners, customs and condition of the people,
with illustrations by his friend George Cruickshank.
Michael was great admirer of Shakespeare, Oisin,
Lord Byron and Moore and many other poets and the
following poem is an example of the poetry of
Thomas Moore, born Dublin, on the 28th May 1779.
Come, tell me where the maid is found,
Whose heart can love without deceit,
And I will rang the world around,
To sigh one moment at her feet.
Oh! tell me where’s her sainted, home,
What air receives her blessed sigh,
A pilgrimage of years I’ll roam
To catch one sparkle of her eye
Using a pseudonym ‘Captain Rock’, Michael published
‘Captain Rock in London or the Chieftains Weekly
Gazette for the year 1825’ and ‘Captain Rock or
The Chieftains Gazette for the year1827’.
Once more Michael moved on, this time to Liverpool,
in 1828, it was an expanding town. It was the home
of the British shipping industry in its golden age
of shipping. Up the river to the docks of the
River Mersey came the produce of the world and most
especially American cotton for the mills of Lancashire.
Downstream with the tide flowed all the manufactured
goods of the Midlands and the industrial North.
Michael accepted the post of editor of the newly formed
‘Liverpool Journal’ in 1830 and he continued as editor
until 1833. It was at this time that a dramatic change
came about in Michael’s life. It seemed to be out of
character when he put to one side his journalistic skills,
for what appeared to be an alien way of life.
He was appointed to the post of Superintendent of the
Night Watch. His duties were to organize a band of
untrained and badly disciplined men, whose job it
was to carry out police duties for the Corporation.
They consisted of 170 old and decrepit night watch men
and 52 Exchange police. Michael was a very big and
powerful man and stood no nonsense from his men,
even with his stature he was glad of a helping hand
at times, and he stayed in this post for three years.
Michael had served his apprenticeship well with his
part time police force, when in 1836, the Liverpool
Watch Committee, as a result of the 1832 Reform Act,
him and offered him the post of Head Constable.
Thus not only was he Liverpool’s first chief Constable
, but also the founder of the Police Force and
Fire Brigade in Liverpool. As Head Constable he was
regarded as the first full-time senior permanent
official of the Corporation, and the police force
itself was the first large body of municipal
employees. The town police body was organised on
February 29, 1836, and consisted of 290 men, 24 inspectors
and four superintendents, plus 40 fire-police men,
bridewell keepers and indoor officers.
About twelve months later the dock police was
amalgamated with the town police.
Michael’s first love was journalism and after eleven
years in this post as Chief Constable he retired on
the 22nd January 1847. On his retirement the town
council presented him with the sum of £1000.
This allowed him to devote the rest of his life to
journalism. Not that he ever ceased to be a journalist,
his connection with the ‘Liverpool Journal’ had not
been wholly severed during his service with the
Liverpool Police Force.
In 1848 Michael went on to purchase the
‘Liverpool Journal’, which had its premises at
18 Castle Street. He advocated the abolition of the
stamp act on newspapers, and other forms of duty on
newspapers. When a committee was appointed to enquire
into the effect of duties on paper and advertisements,
(usually called taxes on knowledge), Whitty,
in giving evidence, said that if they were repelled
he would publish a daily paper priced at one penny,
instead of price which ranged from three-pence to
sixpence. On the repeal of these taxes, he founded
in 1855 the Liverpool Daily Post, the first penny
daily paper published in the United Kingdom.
Michael also produced Whitty’s Guide to Liverpool
in 1868, and it was not long after this that the
Liverpool Daily Post passed out of his hands, and
the rest of his life was spent in retirement at
his home in Prince’s Park, Liverpool. With the
parting of Michael James Whitty hardly anything,
beyond the change in the imprint of the paper,
indicated a change of owner. For some months before
Michael’s departure he had ceased to play a part
in the production of the paper because of poor health.
The Porcupine wrote:
The local newspaper press is not so overstocked with
original ability that the final retirement of
“the father of the penny press” as he likes to call
himself and be called, should take place without a
public, if informal, acknowledgement of the hard work
he has performed in the pioneership of popular papers.
The Daily Post was not the first established,
of provincial dailies as the Northern Daily Times
claimed that distinction, but the Daily Post was to
prove the power of the ‘almighty penny’.
It was able to claim the credit of inaugurating,
outside of London, the establishment of cheap organs
of public opinion in every centre of the population.
The influence of Whitty to bring the penny press to
the poor man was to give him a wider view of the
world and the right to examine those in power.
In many ways Michael James Whitty’s penny Journal
continued the work of the Mechanics Institutes,
in bringing a wider picture of the world to those
who could not afford the Times. Mainly middle-class
radicals and philanthropists, catering for the
self-improvement among skilled workers founded the
mechanics institutes. They provided Libraries,
reading rooms and courses of lectures in the arts
and sciences. Kitty Wilkinson, that great Liverpool
Philanthropists was a firm believer in the
After 1850 mechanics institutes everywhere gradually
lost ground to libraries and more specialized
institutions of higher education. Michael brought
not just his penny journal to the people of Liverpool.
Also he encouraged them to be proud of their expanding
seaport and town on the banks of the River Mersey.
When Michael first entered Liverpool he set up home
in 3 Everton Hill and later he moved to 1 Gambier Terrace.
His last move was to a house he had built,
6 Princes Park Terrace. Amongst the treasured possessions
he took with him to his new home was a plaster bust of
Garibaldi the Father of Italian Freedom.
The Liverpool Daily Post is no longer a broad sheet but
it is still a well loved paper in the Liverpool and
North Wales area and refuses to get involved in the
sensationalism often attributed to most tabloid newspapers.
Two of Michael’s fourteen children chose their father’s
profession and became, respected journalists in their
own right. One of them was the London correspondent of
the Liverpool Journal. Edward Michael Whitty,
sometimes known as Ned Wexford, by his friends.
Alfred Whitty, was the other journalist in the family
and he was father of the actress Dame May Whitty.
Two of Michael’s daughters Anna and Sarah, remained
the guardians of their father’s remaining years.
They were intelligent women both talented in music
and literature Anna wrote a novel and many short stories.
Michael died at his home in Prince’s Park,
on 10 June 1873, and was buried at Anfield Cemetery
in the family grave.