RANKIN, WILLIAM, printer and newspaperman; d. October 1837 in Demerara (Guyana).
Nothing is known of William Rankin before his appearance in Prince Edward Island in the early 1830s. He was likely a kinsman of Coun Douly Rankin*, a prominent Islander and an opponent of the colony’s administration; it is probably significant that Coun Douly’s son George spent 30 years in Demerara, where William would die. William first enters the historical record on 8 July 1835 when he testified at a trial in Charlottetown involving John Henry White, a printer and publisher. William stated that he had been a printer about eight years, that he had worked for White from December 1833 to the following July, and that he had then gone to work for James Douglas Haszard*, another newspaperman. On 2 Feb. 1836 William announced in Haszard’s Royal Gazette plans to publish in Charlottetown a weekly newspaper on “liberal and patriotic principles.” He produced the first issue of the Prince Edward Island Times on 26 March 1836, in his printing shop. His opening editorial observed that such a paper “has been long and loudly called for, and we trust it will not be unkindly received by those whose voices brought it into existence.” The real question, as he would subsequently discover, was not whether he was well received by friends, but how he would be treated by the other side.
Despite initial problems caused by the failure of all his type to arrive, Rankin’s paper was professionally laid out and edited, demonstrating his considerable experience at the task. From the outset he made its political emphasis clear by closely aligning it with Coun Douly Rankin and the Escheat party. He attacked the Council and its supporters in the House of Assembly, who opposed escheat, as a “baseless Fabric of Tyranny.” The paper called for “Reform and Liberty,” advocating such measures as the establishment of a literary society, a mechanics’ institute, and a newspaper reading-room in Charlottetown. It reprinted material from reform newspapers in Nova Scotia and the Canadas in an obvious effort to relate the escheat movement to other political stirrings in British North America
Beginning with the second issue, the Times carried a column of Gaelic verse as a regular feature. Most of its local material consisted of provocative letters to the editor from pseudonymous correspondents, although one on 10 May 1836 criticizing the agent of the 6th Earl of Selkirk, William Douse*, for exploiting tenants appeared over Coun Douly Rankin’s initials. The Times was highly critical of the Royal Gazette, with which it traded invective personal and political over that spring and summer. The comments of Veritas about the administration’s paper were typical of the tone of the exchange: “The habits of the caterpillar and the reptile were still conspicuous on its pages; and its principles were redolent of the muckworm, it smelled of the dirt.” Rankin complained in June that the post office was arresting the progress of copies of his paper to outlying subscribers, and the “whole Tribe of proprietary agents,” which the Times openly attacked, was obviously restive over the paper’s editorial opinions and exposés.
The last available copy of the Times is dated 9 Aug. 1836, and is undoubtedly its final issue. The Royal Gazette explained the cessation when it reported laconically on 13 September that a case for an assault on William Rankin, The King v. Douse, had been dismissed in magistrate’s court because of the nonappearance of the complainant. Rankin had apparently already departed from the Island, and he died of yellow fever in the Caribbean a year later. Prince Edward Island was not ready in 1836 to support and tolerate a newspaper as blatantly political and outspoken as the Times, and William Rankin was clearly a victim of intimidation by those he had publicly criticized in its pages.
P.E.I. Museum, File information concerning William Rankin. Report of the trial held at Charlotte-town, Prince Edward Island, July 8th, 1835 . . . (n.p., n.d.; copy at PANS), 4–5. Prince Edward Island Times (Charlottetown), 26 March–9 Aug. 1836 (copy at PAPEI). Royal Gazette (Charlottetown), 2 Feb., 19 April, 13 Sept. 1836. W. L. Cotton, “The press in Prince Edward Island,” Past and present of Prince Edward Island . . . , ed. D. A. MacKinnon and A. B. Warburton (Charlottetown, ), 113–20.