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"St. George’s masterplan unveiled," read a bold heading in The Royal Gazette one day last month. "On-street alfresco dining, a waterfront hotel and two marinas with space for visiting multi-million dollar yachts are among concepts featured in a new masterplan for St. George’s.

"A grand vision of the future has been captured on a draft blueprint for the transformation of the town, presented in today’s Royal Gazette for the first time, which would see Ordnance Island become a centrepiece visitor attraction."

We'd never heard of Ordnance Island, but guessed it must be somewhere near the mouth of London's River Thames. We were wrong. The Royal Gazette, with a coat-of-arms showing the lion and the unicorn fighting for the crown on its masthead, is published thousands of miles from Buckingham Palace, in Bermuda, a group of small islands in the Atlantic.

Bermuda's only daily newspaper has proudly carried its impressive name since 1828. These days, it prints more than 16,000 copies, and claims to reach more than 90 percent of the adult market.

Bermuda, 568 miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, is further north than the Caribbean islands. It's not just one island at the apex of the infamous Bermuda Triangle, as many people imagine, but comprises about 180 islands. Causeways or bridges connect seven of the largest.

Bermuda's paper is by no means the world's only Royal Gazette. There are three others in Canada's maritime provinces, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, which were politically distinct until joining the Canadian confederation in 1867. But they're not nearly as interesting.

Nova Scotia's Royal Gazette began life as the Halifax Gazette, Canada's first newspaper, and the third oldest on the North American continent. It's still published as the Province's official weekly government record of proclamations and other statutory notices.

Similarly, on Prince Edward Island, the Royal Gazette's official website proclaims "As outlined in the Queen's Printer Act 'all advertisements, notices, and documents whatever relating to matters within the control of the Legislature and that are by any law required to be published, shall be published in the Gazette unless any other mode of publication is prescribed by law.'"

New Brunswick's Royal Gazette is bilingual, and has an interesting coat-of-arms.

"The supporters on either side of the shield are white-tailed deer with antlers, each with a small shield or escutcheon suspended from a friendship collar of Maliseet wampum, the original of which is in the New Brunswick Museum," the Government website explains.

"One shield bears the Union Badge representing the British connection in New Brunswick's history and the early English, Scots and Irish settlers; the other bears the Royal Arms of France, the symbol of public authority during the French regime, and refers to the French settlement in the province."

Finally, we discovered an ancient and highly-esteemed publication called The London Gazette. No Royal in its title, but its masthead does bear the royal coat-of-arms. "Registered as a newspaper, Published by Authority, Established in 1665," it says, which makes it the world's oldest English-language newspaper.

Here's an extract from the London Gazette's account of its history:

The Gazette came about because of two momentous events: the Great Plague and the decision of King Charles II to remove his court - effectively the government of the time - to Oxford.

The London Gazette started life as the Oxford Gazette and after a few months changed to its current title. At the outset, it met the need for authoritative news and in this served both the Crown and the Executive.

It had incomparable sources of information from overseas; in peace time, its “foreign correspondents” were the British embassies abroad; in time of war the British generals themselves.

The first news of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo was carried in the Gazette, and when the newly founded Times stopped its presses to carry the news of this famous battle, it was the despatch which had been published as a Gazette Extraordinary which was reprinted in full.

In recent times The London Gazette has evolved to reflect the trends and needs of the legal process and the readership. Today it is a newspaper only in a very specialized sense, but its role in publishing official information is still a significant one.

Though the imposing legend “Published by Authority” which it has always borne may be no more than a relic of the ancient Licensing Acts, those words have come through the processes of time to acquire a greater significance as a uniquely authoritative place of record, in print and now online.

The world's oldest newspapers, still in circulation, all founded in the 17th century, are:-

1 Post och Inrikes Tidningar (Sweden) 1645
2 Haarlems Dagblad (Netherlands) 1656
3 La Gazzetta di Mantova (Italy) 1664
4 The London Gazette (UK) 1665
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Story first posted January 2006

Copyright © 2006

Eric Shackle

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