The Navy and Army Illustrated (1895-1903) was a venture by the media magnate George Newnes. It came out every week and cost 6d – it was by no means a cheap magazine but placed at a “respectable” price point, its paper good quality and its illustrations crisp. There were even photographs!
It is interesting as, while the appeal of a magazine called The Navy and Army Illustrated may at first seem limited to the armed forces (and hence we might regard it as a professional periodical), it was actually intended to promote “a national and patriotic purpose” in a general (male) audience by bringing the armed forces into the comfort of people’s homes.
As the issues of the periodical we have on this site show, it was lavishly illustrated with a tendency to glamorise military and naval life. It was in fact a recruiting journal for the army and navy aimed really at young men. It wasn’t run by the government but by private business. Why should a private business want to support the army and navy so much?
Let’s start with the publisher, the private business behind the venture.
George Newnes (1851-1910; later Sir George Newnes) founded Newnes Publishers which became an enormous global media industry. In 1881 he had started Tit-Bits which set a new trend in weekly publishing for the harried commuter short of time and in need of light entertainment. He started many newspapers and magazines but the most famous of his creations is the Strand, in which Sherlock Holmes became truly famous for the first time. In 1897 Newnes Publishers was worth the then fabulous sum of a million pounds and he had offices across the globe. George Newnes himself became extremely wealthy and a noted philanthropist, anticipating Bill Gates and others by a 100 years.
That said, Newnes was hardly soft-hearted. It was clear to him that money was to be made from glamorising what was often a brutally dangerous set of jobs – the navy and army. If nothing else, he was keen to support the military as it protected the trade routes that his paper empire was built on. He needed to import the raw materials to make his newspapers and magazines, and did a huge trade in exporting those newspapers and magazines. At the same time, Newnes and his company were tagging on to a new pro-imperialist drive by the government in the 1880s and 90s.
The adverts – usually a good sign of the kind of readership a periodical is aimed at – were in fact addressed to a general (male) readership which we would expect for a recruiting newspaper. Typically for this period, even the adverts emphasised glamour. The figure of the naval and military man was sold as a model for men to aspire to both physically and morally, willing and able to dress impeccably and sacrifice himself for his country.
The stories were exciting, tub-thumping pro-imperialist adventures, imaginatively illustrated (as we would expect from the publisher of the Strand). You can find a parody of of these stories here, where The War of the Worlds is rewritten as if it had appeared in the Navy and Army Illustrated.
The single issues of The Navy and Army Illustrated we present here are not continuous. Apart from issues 196, 197 and 198, they are separated by weeks and months. The gaps demonstrate that even when the paper and printing are good quality, individual numbers are very fragile. Whoever bought them may have thrown away the missing numbers, or used them to light fires, or perhaps never bought them. The gaps also show us how precious individual numbers are, as if the individual issues had been bound into volumes, the binder might well not have kept the adverts that form so striking and attractive feature of this magazine, and which contribute so powerfully to its identity.
To see the whole of issue 57 in Metabotnik, click here.
To see the whole of issue 68 in Metabotnik, click here.