Paul Ferris was born in 1766 at Fort St George. Madras, the son of Paul Ferris and Agnes Daniel. He trained as a printer under James Augustus Hicky at his printing office in Calcutta and was one of Hicky’s assistants along with Archibald Thompson in the establishment of Hicky’s Bengal Gazette, India’s first English language newspaper, printed from 1780-1782.
18th-century printing works from A Picaud, La Veille de la Revolution, (Paris 1886).General Reference Collection 9225.l.12 BL flickr
In 1792 Ferris and Thompson founded their own newspaper, the Calcutta Morning Post, and were later joined by Morley Greenway as a co-owner. In June 1818 they acquired the Calcutta Gazette, which had been in circulation since 1784 as the Government’s official news circular. Shortly after this acquisition, the Calcutta Gazette ceased publication, with its last edition being printed on 29 September 1818.
Ferris also went on to establish his own printing press, Ferris & Co, and a bookselling business in Calcutta. By 1802 Ferris & Co were acting as the Calcutta agents for the Mission Press in Serampore.
In 1815 Ferris printed a new edition of John Miller’s The Tutor in English and Bengalee, first published in 1797. It was published with an addendum stating that it had been ‘carefully revised and corrected by a professional pundit’. The ‘professional pundit’ was Ganga Kishore Bhattacharji, a publisher of Bengali works who was just starting to work with Ferris. In 1816 Ferris & Co became the first printers to produce an illustrated book in Bengali, a narrative poem Annada Mangal written by Bharatchandra Ray in 1752-1753 and published by Ganga Kishore Bhattacharji.
Ganga Kishore would go on to publish numerous Bengali works with Ferris & Co including Ingreji byakaran (An English grammar), Daybhaeg (Hindu inheritance law) and Bidyasundar (a courtly romance), which was also the first Bengali book to be accompanied by woodcut illustrations.
Danish settlement of Serampore viewed from the opposite bank of the River Hooghly - pen and ink drawing by Frederic Peter Layard (1842) British Library WD4359 British Library Online Gallery
Paul Ferris died in Serampore on 29 June 1821 at the age of 55. He had married Ann Esther Mullins in 1800 (she died in 1845 in Bombay), and the couple had seven children together. He also had three children prior to his marriage, a son Paul and two daughters Frances and Ann.
Paul Ferris’s obituary is somewhat intriguing as it suggests that, despite the success of his various enterprises, he may have been struggling financially prior to his death: ‘Mr. P. Ferris - in his age 55 years - formerly Editor of Calcutta weekly newspaper, The Morning Post and owner of Calcutta Biblioteck-circulating Library and during the last years reduced to the necessity of keeping a sort of school at this place for Boys and Girls’.
The references in the obituary to the two other initiatives, the Calcutta Bibliotek circulating library and a school, are interesting as no other records of them appear to exist. There was however a Calcutta Library Society with its own lending library, which was established in 1818. It is perhaps possible that this may be the ‘Bibliotek’ referred to in the obituary, but Ferris’s name does not appear in records as one of its founders.
Curator, India Office Records
Paul Ferris, Memorial at Fort William Burial Ground
‘Glimpses of Serampore (1810-1820)’, published in Bengal Past and Present, Vol. 46 1933 Jul-Dec. British Library Shelfmark: Ac.8603
Hicky’s Bengal Gazette: PENN.NT330 NPL
Calcutta Morning Post: Asia, Pacific & Africa SM 32