Thomas Fox Davies, the father of print news in Barrie, was one of those people who went forth and did things.
My feeling is that he may have been one of those boys who rarely sat still, had a habit of acting before thinking and had a head full of ideas about goals and adventures.
At 15, the lad from Manchester, England began an apprenticeship with the Manchester-Salford Advertiser newspaper. From 1835 until 1841, Davies served his time and learned the printing trade.
During his last few years with the Advertiser, he was fortunate enough to be able to work on a novel piece of equipment that his employer had just purchased.
The cylinder press had only recently begun to replace the old-style flatbed printing press in England. The Advertiser was the first news publication in the country outside of London to acquire such a machine and Davies was the first man in the shop to be trained on it.
After completing his apprenticeship, 21-year-old Davies decided to see the country. He took a 600-mile walk around the land, taking odd jobs in the printing line.
He was especially proud of a short stint at Oxford University where he printed the school newspaper. Each university student, including royalty and nobility, was required at some point to take their place manually turning the press crank as Davies ran the machine.
In 1843, after seeing enough of his birth land, Davies decided he needed to go to America. The ship’s manifest for the Xylon lists the young compositor as one of its passengers. Six weeks after leaving Liverpool, Thomas Davies stepped onto the pier at New York City.
Davies headed inland to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he quickly got work. There was just too much adventure to be had in this new land, so Davies took a holiday the following year and headed south to see what New Orleans was all about.
During that trip, Davies decided to tag along with a group of traders heading up the Red River in a steam boat into what was known as Indian Territory. The Choctaw people, with whom they had intended to trade, were not especially happy to see them. Only recently had the people been forced from their traditional lands in Mississippi and resettled in a flood prone area of Oklahoma.
Recent floods had further antagonized the Choctaw so the traders thought it best to leave. On the return trip to New Orleans, the flood swollen river was so treacherous that all the cargo was lost.
In a calmer part of the river, Davies was intrigued by his first sighting of alligators. In an effort to make a trophy of one, Davies fell into the water among the creatures and had to be pulled out by the traders.
Back to his job in Cincinnati he went. Still, other adventures called to him and Davies took a month long leave of absence to have a peek over the border and see what was going in that wild place called Canada.
The first week of that leave was spent in transit. Five steam boats and one train later, Davies landed in Toronto.
What’s the first thing you might want to see on a first visit to Toronto? Well, if it’s 1844, and you’re an eager young printer, you go visit Peter Brown, father of George Brown, who was then running the brand-new Globe newspaper.
Mr. Brown told Davies about his newly acquired Hoe brand cylinder press and lamented that even though he was eager to have one in his shop, he didn’t know of one man in Canada who could run it.
I can picture Thomas Davies slowly raising a hand as Peter Brown spoke.
Davies was begged into staying to set up the machine and then convinced to be its pressman. Legend has it that Davies made a trade altering suggestion to the Hoe brothers as they visited the Globe one day.
Thinking of the calico cloth printing machines back in England, which ran from endless sheets run through rollers and cut by a mechanical scissor, he asked why newspapers couldn’t be done in this web fashion as well.
The Globe did well to keep Davies for three years. Of course, his mind often wandered to new adventures and in time his feet followed.
In 1847, Simcoe was a newborn district in the middle of thick woodlands. This place called Barrie had been appointed county town and the fledgling community officials were looking at ways to really put their hometown on the map.
Each week, the Barrie Historical Archive provides BarrieToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past. This unique column features photos and stories from years gone by and is sure to appeal to the historian in each of us.