REMEMBER THIS: Adventures in Printing—Part One

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Thomas Fox Davies, who apprenticed at the Manchester-Salford Advertiser in England, was considered the father of print news in Barrie

Thomas Fox Davies, the father of print news in Barrie, was one of those people who went ahead and got things done.

My guess is that maybe he was one of those boys who rarely sat still, used to act before he thought, and had his head full of ideas about goals and adventures.

At 15, the boy from Manchester, England, began an apprenticeship with the Manchester-Salford Announcer newspaper. From 1835 to 1841, Davies served his time and learned the trade of printer.

During his last years with the Advertiserhe was lucky enough to be able to work on new equipment that his employer had just purchased.

The cylinder press had only recently begun to replace the old flat press in England. The Advertiser was the first news publication in the country outside of London to acquire such a machine and Davies was the first man in the workshop to be trained on it.

After completing his apprenticeship, 21-year-old Davies decided to see the country. He walked 600 miles around the earth, taking odd jobs in the print line.

He was particularly proud of a short stint at Oxford University where he printed the school newspaper. Every university student, including royalty and nobility, at some point had to take their place by manually turning the crank of the press as Davies operated the machine.

In 1843, having seen enough of his native land, Davies decided he must go to America. The ship’s manifesto for the xylon lists the young composer as one of its passengers. Six weeks after leaving Liverpool, Thomas Davies stepped onto the New York Pier.

Davies headed to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he quickly found work. There were simply too many adventures to be had in this new land, so Davies took a vacation the following year and headed south to see what New Orleans was like.

On this trip, Davies decided to follow a party of traders up the Red River in a steamboat into what was called Indian Territory. The Choctaw people, with whom they intended to trade, were not particularly happy to see them. It was only recently that people were driven from their traditional lands in Mississippi and resettled in a flood-prone area in Oklahoma.

The recent floods had upset the Choctaw even more, so the traders thought it best to leave. On the return trip to New Orleans, the flood-swollen river was so treacherous that all cargo was lost.

In a calmer part of the river, Davies was intrigued by his first sighting of alligators. In an effort to make a trophy out of it, Davies fell overboard among the creatures and had to be pulled out by traders.

Back at his job in Cincinnati, he went. Still, other adventures called, and Davies took a month’s leave to peek over the border and see what was happening in this wild place called Canada.

The first week of this leave was spent in transit. Five steamships and a train later, Davies landed in Toronto.

What’s the first thing you’d want to see on a first visit to Toronto? Well, if it’s 1844 and you’re an avid young printer, you’re going to pay a visit to Peter Brown, father of George Brown, who then ran the brand new World newspaper.

Mr Brown told Davies about his new Hoe brand cylinder press and lamented that although he was eager to have one in his shop, he did not know a single man in Canada who could operate it.

I can imagine Thomas Davies slowly raising his hand as Peter Brown spoke.

Davies was begged to stay to set up the machine, then convinced to be his pressman. Legend has it that Davies made a business modification suggestion to the Hoe brothers while they were visiting the World one day.

Thinking of the calico cloth printing machines in England, which operated from endless sheets passed through rollers and cut by mechanical scissors, he asked why newspapers could not also be printed in this way.

The World did well to keep Davies for three years. Of course, his mind often wandered to new adventures and in time his footsteps followed.

In 1847 Simcoe was a new district amid thick forests. This place called Barrie had been named the county seat, and leaders of the fledgling community were looking for ways to really put their hometown on the map.

Every week the Barrie Historical Archives offers BarrieToday readers a glimpse into the city’s past. This unique column features photos and stories from years past and is sure to please the historian in all of us.

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