Reported On This Day 280 years ago (May 8 1739): Prime minister is very ill

The front page of the Belfast News Letter of April 27 1739 (which is May 8 in the modern calendar)
The front page of the Belfast News Letter of April 27 1739 (which is May 8 in the modern calendar)
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From the Belfast News Letter of April 27 1739 (which is May 8 in the modern calendar):


This Morning, Sir Robert Walpole was taken dangerously ill, and went to Bed directly.

[The early Belfast News Letters are not only an insight into early newspapers, they are also an insight into early democratic politics. Robert Walpole is considered to have been the first prime minister, and he was prominent at a time in politics, after the restoration of the monarchy, in which parliament was superior in powers to the king or queen, and in which the House of Commons was emerging as more powerful than the House of Commons. Gradually over the century that followed, the franchise would also be extended.

The 1738 and 1739 papers refer to Downing Street, which was even then the prime ministerial base, and to the very phrase ‘prime minister’, albeit no in this report. Walpole, who had been in post since 1721, was aged 62 at the time of this report. He would survive this illness, and remain as premier until 1742]

On Saturday last one John Day was committed to Newgate by Justice Fowke, for ravishing a Girl of 11 Years old.

Bristol, April 14.

On the 16th Inst. the Assizes began at Taunton for the County of Somerset, when one Thomas Brock was indicted for a Rape on the Body of a little Girl, about 11 Years old, of which she died.

It seems the Deceased had made her Information before her Death, but unfortunately forgot to swear thereto; by which means the Prisoner escaped his deserved Punishment, and only sentenced to suffer four Months Imprisonment.

By the John, Capt. Paul, from St. Kitt’s we hear, that the small Pox and yellow Fever rages in a cruel Manner in that Island, and sweeps off great Numbers of the Whites; and to aggravate their Afflictions, they are in perpetual Apprehension of the Negroes Insurrection.

Yesterday came Advice to the Admiralty Office that the Deal-Castle Man of War, which had been ordered home from Ireland, was arrived in the Downs.

Abstract of the Votes of the House of Commons of England.

Mercurii II Die Aprilis, 1739.

The House was moved, that the Resolution of the House of Yesterday, for granting to his Majesty the Sum of Five Thousand Pounds to be paid as a Reward to Joanna Stephens, upon a proper Discovery to be made by her for the Use of the Publick, of her preparing her Medicines for the Stone, might be read;

And the same being read accordingly; Ordered, That a Bill be brought in pursuant to the said Resolution; and that Mr. Townshend, Mr. Francis Fane, and the Lord Cornbury, do prepare the same.

[This is an extraordinary glimpse of 18th century medicine. There was no cure for gallstones and very little pain relief. Mrs Stephens’ reported cure for the condition was constantly in the papers, and here Parliament is proposing a £5,000 reward for her ‘cure,’ which is about £1 million in today’s money]

DROPT on the Turnpike Road, between Belfast and Ballylessan, a Gold Watch, Kirkpatrick Maker, Dublin; with two Seals, the one an Onyx set in Gold.

Whoever brings the said Watch and Seals to the Printer hereof, shall have two Guineas Reward.

DUBLIN, April 24.

On Friday Night the 20th of April, his Majesty’s Barge of Skerries, Mr. George Weston, Surveyor, made a very large Seizure of an Isle of Man Wheey, consisting of 80 Anchors of Brandy, Two Tunns of Tobacco, and a large Quantity of Tea near the Island of Lambey.


Lieutenant Chaplain hath lately taken a very large Whale on the Sea Coast, between Ballyshannon and Killibegs, in the County of Donnegall: It measures above 70 Foot between the Point of the Head and the Tail; this large Fish must certainly produce a vast Quantity of Oyl, as well as Whalebone, which will be a great Advantage to this Kingdom, as it will keep Money in the Nation, which we used to send to Holland for those Commodities.

As this is the second Whale that Mr. Chaplain hath taken, it is to be hoped, he will meet with all proper Encouragement from the Lovers of this Country.

Yesterday a great Cause was tried in the House of Peers which has been 20 Years depending between two Brothers, whose Names were Edgeworth, for an Estate in Ireland, being an Appeal from a Decree in that Kingdom, when their Lordships were please to affirm the said Decree, with a 120l. Costs.