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Relative of Bermuda’s first printer tours St George – Dec 28, 2023

Jessie Moniz Hardy

Printing Press - St Georges Historical Society

Seeing history: Brian Stockdale, left, looks at the replica printing press in the cellar of Mitchell House in St George with volunteer David Ker. Mr Stockdale’s ancestor, John Stockdale, was the younger brother of Joseph Stockdale, Bermuda’s first printer, who set up shop Bermuda in 1783 (Photograph supplied)

“Visiting Bermuda has been on my wishlist for some time,” he said.

In November, he and his wife, Zizi, were finally able to make that trip, on the cruise ship Oceania Insignia.

“We started in Boston,” he said. “Then we went to New York and then to Bermuda and the Caribbean. That ticked a lot of boxes for us. My wife has always wanted to do a cruise to the Caribbean.”

However, their time in Bermuda was extremely brief.

“We got off the ship in Hamilton and expected to go around to St George the following morning,” he said. “It was a little choppy so the ship did not go.”

They took a taxi to the Olde Towne.

Having written ahead to the St George Historical Society, they were met by a contingent from the organisation including president Lyn Llewellyn, Gillian OuterbridgeJeannie Olander, Allison Outerbridge and Linda Abend.

The Royal Gazette caught up with the Stockdales as they visited Stockdale House on Printer’s Alley. It is now privately owned, and under renovation.

Joseph Stockdale was born in Caldbeck, Cumberland, England in 1755, the son of a blacksmith.

“He was working as a printer in London in the 1780s,” Mr Stockdale said. “He was probably doing quite well because he was asked to go to Bermuda to set up a printing press. It would have been quite an adventure for him.”

He arrived on the island in 1783, and rented what is now Stockdale House.

It is thought that he set up his printing press in a narrow, back room of the house, and built stairs to get to it.

He eventually took out a thousand-year lease on the house, for £180 and a peppercorn per year.

One of his first headlines on January 24, 1784 was “Preliminary Articles of Peace Between His Britannick Majesty and the States General of United Provinces signed September 2, 1783” – about the Treaty of Paris, formally ending the War of Independence and establishing the United States as a free and independent nation.

Like most newspapers from the period, advertising from the slave trade was part of the revenue stream.

In the same issue was a notice from a ship called Queen Charlotte offering to “ship Negroes” to “Charles-town”, and another asking for the return of a “run away negro woman” named Patience.

However, in the book Bermuda From Ship to Sail, writer H C Wilkinson suggests that Joseph Stockdale was in favour of ending the transatlantic slave trade, because he “systematically printed everything he could, advancing the cause of the unfortunate slaves. He also sold pamphlets of legal decisions, or outstanding sermons in their favour”.

However, Brian Stockdale had not seen anything showing the printer’s opinions on slavery.

The printer died on October 10, 1803, at age 49. Notice of his death was brief and tacked on to the end of an article about an insurrection in Ireland. He is buried in St Peter’s Churchyard.

Mr Stockdale’s three daughters, Frances, Priscilla and Sarah, ran the business until Sarah married another printer, Charles Rollins Beach.

He took over, moving the press to Hamilton in 1816, after the capital moved there.

Brian’s ancestor, Joseph’s younger brother, John, had an equally interesting life.

“He ran a publishing house in Piccadilly, London,” Mr Stockdale said. “American presidents such as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, came there to buy books.

“London was like the internet in those days. You can find everything there. These men ended up staying with John Stockdale, because he had the largest house in Piccadilly.”

He got a lot of information on this from a writer called Eric Stockdale.

“He was a circuit court judge,” Mr Stockdale said. “He must be about 95 now. He is no relation to us, but became interested in the Stockdales, because of the name.”

In 2005, Eric Stockdale published a book about John Stockdale called ‘Tis Treason, My Good Man!: Four Revolutionary Presidents and a Piccadilly Bookshop.

The book claims that John Stockdale was quietly pro American during the War of Independence.

Brian did not know if Joseph Stockdale shared his younger brother’s American leanings. “I wouldn’t think so,” he said.

While in Bermuda, Brian and his wife visited St Peter’s Church and the Printery. Volunteer David Ker demonstrated how it worked.

“I have never met a descendant of the Stockdale family before,” Mr Ker said. “It was quite a surprise when we heard that Brian was coming to Bermuda. It was great to make this connection.”

Mr Ker said it was good they came in November, because the museum is closed in December.

While at the Printery, Mr Stockdale also had the chance to see a silhouette made of Joseph Stockdale’s daughter Frances, on display.

The Stockdales spent a few hours in St George, before rushing back to their ship which left early due to bad weather.

After the visit Mr Stockdale thanked his new Bermuda friends for making his trip so memorable.

“The museum and house and everything there, was fantastic,” Mr Stockdale said afterward. “I was so pleased at how everyone looked after us. To be able to see as much as we did was so much more than we could have expected.”

He is unsure what he plans to do with all the information he has gathered on the Stockdales.

“I have thought about writing a book, but I am not really good at that type of thing,” he said.

People who are interested in his information can see it on, a subscription genealogy site. His username is bstockdale_1.