Having established that it’s likely that the news of the Madeleine Smith trial reached Australia via the India/Sri Lanka route, I thought I’d look to see if there were any searchable digitised newspaper resources available for South African papers.
I decided not to bother searching for English language newspapers in India itself as 1857 was the year of the Indian Rebellion (or Mutiny for the less politically correct) and newspaper publication might well be disrupted or records missing.
However I do know from reading histories of the 1857 events that there was no overland telegraph link from India to Europe, and as there was no Suez canal, the mail would have come the long way round via the Cape of Good Hope, where the British had a well established colony.
So, I thought we might get an anchor date by looking for online archives.
The National Library of South Africa has archives on microfilm only – fair enough, they have other priorities, and while the British Library has some online resources from the correct period, which can be searched remotely, you need a readers’ card to access them, and getting a readers’ card requires registration in person, which kind of breaks the remote access model.
I will be in London later this year, so I guess I could shoehorn a visit to St Pancras into the trip but it does seem a lot of extra work for a very simple search query…