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GOSSIP, WILLIAM, publisher, bookseller, and journalist; b. in 1809 in Plymouth, England, son of William G. and Mary Ann Gossip; m. Anne Catherine Coade, and they had four sons and three daughters; d. 5 April 1889 at Halifax, N.S.

Early in the 1820s William Gossip accompanied his parents and sister to Halifax where his father, a 2nd lieutenant in the Corps of Royal Engineers, was stationed. It would appear that young Gossip received a sound general education. About 1831 Gossip moved to Pictou where, in the strongly partisan religious and political climate of the day, he published and edited the Pictou Observer. A Conservative organ sympathetic to the Burgher section of the Presbyterian church, the Observer faced stiff competition from the Colonial Patriot. George Munro*, who was to become a benefactor of Dalhousie University, served as an apprentice on Gossip’s paper. By 1834 Gossip had discontinued the Observer and returned to Halifax. He established a stationery, bookselling, and publishing business there and in June 1834, with his brother-in-law John Charles Coade as a partner, he began a new weekly, the Times. During its 14 years of life, it was undoubtedly the most highly regarded, moderate, and influential of the Conservative newspapers in Nova Scotia. In 1847, at a time of heated arguments over the granting of responsible government to the colony, Gossip and Coade started another more partisan weekly, the Standard and Conservative Advocate, which was meant primarily for readers outside the capital. Both newspapers stopped publication in 1848.

From 1848 to 1858 Gossip published the Anglican Church Times as well as continuing with his stationery and bookselling business. The Church Times spoke with a less certain voice than Gossip’s earlier publications: the major battles against religious and political privilege had subsided, and the paper’s editorial voice reflected the contributions of several clergymen as well as those of Gossip. A member of the Nova Scotian Institute of Natural Science, he served on its council in various capacities. He was also the first editor of the institute’s annual Proceedings and Transactions, serving from 1863 until his death. He published several papers on such topics as anthropology and the geology of Nova Scotia. On occasion he lectured to the Halifax Mechanics’ Institute and in 1883 he presented a paper before the Royal Society of Canada. His work was scholarly and he possessed a clear and uncluttered writing style.

Many of Gossip’s views and opinions can be gathered from his newspapers, especially the Times. Politically he considered himself “decidedly Conservative, in the proper sense of the term.” He valued tradition and the British connection. Yet he could accept change or even call for reform if he saw the need, and realized that the political turmoil of the 1830s and 1840s reflected a deep social and economic malaise among Nova Scotians. Human behaviour fascinated him and he was tolerant of other races and religions; he disliked wrangling and abhorred violence. Gossip took pride in his province and its resources, human and material, and in 1838 he saw the scheme of federal union proposed by Lord Durham [Lambton*] as a threat to both. In religion Gossip was a faithful member of the Church of England, although he did not favour its privileged position. He put great store by family ties and loyalty and had both a deep sense of responsibility to individuals as well as to society and an abiding belief in honesty. Photographs of Gossip reflect a kindly, serene, and alert personality. Normally a rather quiet man, he could be righteously indignant with individuals or practices which he considered unfair. He gave unstintingly of his time and talents to numerous community activities.

In an age of reforming zeal, the role of a moderate conservative such as Gossip might not seem to stand out, but his newspapers were important in Nova Scotian politics and their survival shows he must have spoken to a sizable cross-section of public opinion. Having achieved a modest degree of financial success he left a flourishing stationery business, a tidy sum of money, and stock (valued at about $14,500) to his wife, surviving children, and a sister living in the United States. He seems to have been universally liked and respected.

Gertrude E. N. Tratt

William Gossip published the following papers in the Nova Scotian Institute of Natural Science, Proc. and Trans. (Halifax): “The affinity of races,” 3 (1871–74): 288–315; “Anniversary address, 1876,” 4 (1875–78): 225–32; “Anniversary address, 1879,” 5 (1879–82): 99–111; “Enquiry into the antiquity of man,” 1 (1863–66), no.3: 80–102; “On the antiquity of man in America,” 2 (1867–70), no.3: 35–77; “On the occurrence of the Kjoekkenmoedding, on the shores of Nova Scotia,” 1 (1863–66), no.2: 94–99; “Paper,” 6 (1883–86): 155–66; and “Report . . . May 1883,” 6 (1883–86), no.2, app.: i-xii.

Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), no.3833, original estate papers of William Gossip. PANS, MG 9, no.41: 67; Photograph coll., W. H. Gossip. St Paul’s Anglican Church (Halifax), Registers of baptisms, burials, and marriages, 8 April 1889 (mfm. at PANS). J. G. MacGregor, “Opening address,” Nova Scotian Institute of Natural Science, Proc. and Trans., 7 (1886–90): 319–20. Church Times (Halifax), 1848–58. Evening Mail (Halifax), 13 March 1896. Halifax Evening Reporter, 3 Sept. 1867. Halifax Herald, 13 Aug. 1883, 6 April 1889, 29 July 1896. Novascotian, 19 July 1852. Pictou Observer (Pictou, N. S.), 1831–34. Standard and Conservative Advocate (Halifax), 1847–48. Times (Halifax), 1834–48. D. A. Sutherland, “J. W. Johnston and the metamorphosis of Nova Scotian conservatism” ({{ma }}thesis, Dalhousie Univ., Halifax, 1967). G. E. N. Tratt, “A survey and listing of Nova Scotian newspapers with particular reference to the period before 1867” ({{ma }}thesis, Mount Allison Univ., Sackville, N.B., 1957). D. C. Harvey, “Newspapers of Nova Scotia, 1840–1867,” CHR, 26 (1945): 279–301. J. S. Martell, “The press of the Maritime provinces in the 1830’s,” CHR, 19 (1938): 24–49. Harry Piers, “A brief historical account of the Nova Scotian Institute of Science, and the events leading up to its formation; with biographical sketches of its deceased presidents and other prominent members,” Nova Scotian Institute of Science, Proc. and Trans. (Halifax), 13 (1910–14): lxxxiv.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Gertrude E. N. Tratt, “GOSSIP, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 21, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gossip_william_11E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gossip_william_11E.html
Author of Article: Gertrude E. N. Tratt
Title of Article: GOSSIP, WILLIAM
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1982
Year of revision: 1982
Access Date: September 21, 2014