The Morning Chronicle was first established by William Woodfall in 1769. It became a more successful newspaper after it was acquired by James Perry in 1789. Perry, a supporter of the Whigs, recruited well known radicals such as Richard Sheridan and Henry Brougham to write for the newspaper.
Perry's support for parliamentary reform brought him into conflict with the authorities and in 1793 was charged with seditious libel. Defended by Thomas Erskine, the jury decided that he was "guilty of publishing, but with no malicious intent". The judge refused to accept the verdict and after another day's discussion, decided he was "not guilty". Perry and Gray were less fortunate in 1798 when they were found guilty of libelling the House of Lords and sentenced to three months in Newgate Prison.
Sales of the Morning Chronicle gradually increased and by 1810 the newspaper had a circulation of 7,000. Perry was now able to recruit Britain's best radical journalists, including William Hazlitt and Charles Lamb. Perry continued to be hounded by the government and in February 1818 was charged with Leigh Hunt and The Examiner for criticizing King George III. Perry defended himself well in court and was found not guilty.
James Perry was succeeded by John Black who employed Henry Mayhew, James Grant and John Stuart Mill on the newspaper. In August 1834 Black gave a permanent job the young Charles Dickens, on a salary of five guineas a week. Claire Tomalin, the author of Dickens: A Life (2011) has argued: "Black was a Scot, a friend of James Mill and follower of Jeremy Bentham, and he ran the Morning Chronicle as a reforming paper, and set out to rival The Times, encouraged by a tough new owner, John Easthope, a Liberal politician who had made a fortune on the stock exchange. Dickens would be a key member of the team taking on The Times." A friend of Black claimed that "I have often heard Black speak of him (Dickens), and predict his future fame." Another recalled that Black had "the highest opinion of his original genuis."
John Stuart Mill, was another supporter of Black and wrote: "I have always considered Black as the first journalist who carried criticism and the spirit of reform into the details of English institutions. Those who are not old enough to remember those times can hardly believe what the state of public discussion then was. People now and then attacked the Constitution and the boroughmongers but none thought of censuring the law or the courts of justice and to say a word against the unpaid magistracy was a sort of blasphemy. Black was the writer who carried the warfare into these subjects… And by doing this he broke the spell."
Charles Dickens was one of twelve parliamentary reporters employed by Black. He later wrote about reporting on speeches made by politicians outside of London: "I have often transcribed for the printer from my shorthand reports, important public speeches in which the strictest accuracy was required... writing on the palm of my hand, by the light of a dark lantern, in a post chaise and four, galloping through a wild country, all through the dead of night."
R. Shelton MacKenzie, the author of Life of Charles Dickens (1870), argued that John Black was "of great learning and remarkable memory, with very liberal political opinions". He also pointed out that a "ten-line leader would have appalled him, by its brevity, for he resembled some of the old world soldiers, in his predilection for charging in long columns... His plan in writing a leading article, was to meditate upon it from morning until night, and then write two or three heavy sticksful, closing with a quotation, at least a column in length, from Bayle, Pascal, Thomas Aquinas, Dun Scotus, or some other light writer."
Charles Dickens wrote to John Forster about his experiences working on the Morning Chronicle: "There never was anybody connected with newspapers, who, in the same space of time, had so much express and post-chaise experience as I. And what gentlemen they were to serve, in such things, at the old Morning Chronicle! Great or small, it did not matter. I have had to charge for half-a-dozen break-downs in half-a-dozen times as many miles. I have had to charge for the damage of a great-coat from the drippings of a blazing wax-candle, in writing through the smallest hours of the night in a swift-flying carriage and pair. I have had to charge for all sorts of breakages fifty times in a journey without question, such being the ordinary results of the pace which we went at. I have charged for broken hats, broken luggage, broken chaises, broken harness - everything but a broken head, which is the only thing they would have grumbled to pay for."
Dickens enjoyed working for John Black: "Returning home from exciting political meetings in the country to the waiting press in London, I do verily believe I have been upset in almost every description of vehicle known in this country. I have been, in my time, belated on miry by-roads, towards the small hours, forty or fifty miles from London, in a wheelless carriage, with exhausted horses and drunken post-boys, and have got back in time for publication, to be received with never-forgotten compliments by the late Mr. Black, coming in the broadest of Scotch from the broadest of hearts I ever knew."
In 1834 John Easthope, a a Liberal politician who had made a fortune on the stock exchange, purchased the Morning Chronicle from William Innell Clement for for £16,500. According to Peter Ackroyd the daily newspaper had "under its previous owner had somehow lost its way." He was considered to be a difficult employer and in February 1836, Charles Dickens led a short, successful strike against Easthope in February 1836 over the terms of employment of his journalists.
Black had a terrible temper and when John Arthur Roebuck published a pamphlet, The Stamped Press and its Morality, criticised those newspaper owners and editors who accepted the 1815 Stamp Act that had placed a 4d tax on newspapers. John Black was so upset he challenged Roebuck to a duel. Roebuck accepted and although shots were fired at the meeting, no one was injured.
John Black also agreed to publish Dickens' short stories. Over the next few months five of Dickens' stories appeared in the newspaper. Dickens called Black "my first hearty out-and-out appreciator". A friend of Black claimed that "I have often heard Black speak of him (Dickens), and predict his future fame." Another recalled that Black had "the highest opinion of his original genuis." These stories were so popular that they were collected together and published as a book entitled Sketches by Boz (1836).
In 1849 Henry Mayhew suggested to the editor, John Douglas Cook, that the newspaper should carry out an investigation into the condition of the labouring classes in England and Wales. Cook agreed and recruited a team that included Mayhew, Angus Reach, Shirley Brooks and Charles Mackay.
It was the first time in history that a project like this was undertaken by a newspaper. The country was divided into six broad areas and writers were sent to investigate. This included Henry Mayhew (London), Charles Mackay (Birmingham and Liverpool), Angus Reach (Manufacturing Districts) and Shirley Brooks (Agricultural Districts). It is not known the names of the journalists who wrote about the other two areas: the Mining and Manufacturing Districts of South Wales and North Wales.
The Morning Chronicle ceased publication in 1862.