The Daily Telegraph & Courier was founded by Colonel Arthur Sleigh to air a personal grievance against the Duke of Cambridge, the future Commander-in-Chief of the British Army. Joseph Moses Levy, the proprietor of the Sunday Times, agreed to print the newspaper. The first edition of the newspaper was published on 29th June, 1855. The venture was not a success and when Sleigh was unable to pay his printing bill, Levy took over the newspaper.
In 1855 there were ten newspapers published in London. The Times, at sevenpence, was the most expensive and had a circulation of 10,000. Its two main rivals, the Daily News and the Morning Post, both cost fivepence. Levy believed that if he could produce a cheaper newspaper than his main competitors, he could expand the size of the overall market.
Levy appointed his son, Edward Levy-Lawson, and Thornton Leigh Hunt, to edit the newspaper. When he re-launched the newspaper on 17th September, 1855, Levy used the slogan, "the largest, best, and cheapest newspaper in the world".
Soon after joining the newspaper, Thornton Leigh Hunt wrote a report on the possible future of the Daily Telegraph. Hunt wrote: "We should report all striking events in science, so told that the intelligent public can understand what has happened and can see its bearing on our daily life and our future. The same principle should apply to all other events - to fashion, to new inventions, to new methods of conducting business."
After a couple of months the Daily Telegraph was outselling The Times and by January 1856, Levy was able to announce that circulation had reached 27,000. The early Daily Telegraph supported the Liberal Party and progressive causes such as the campaign against capital punishment. It also urged reform of the House of Lords and the banning of corporal punishment in the armed forces.
Thornton Leigh Hunt recruited a group of highly talent journalists including George Augustus Sala, John Le Sage, and T. P. Connor. Hunt and Edward Levy-Lawson copied the approach of James Gordon Bennett, the owner of the highly successful New York Herald, in reporting unusual and sensational stories. Some examples of early headlines used by the newspaper included "A Child Devoured by Pigs", "Extraordinary Discovery of Man-Woman in Birmingham" and "Shocking Occurrence: Five Men Smothered in a Gin Vat".
In its early days the Daily Telegraph gave considerable space to the reporting of crime stories. For example, a report on one murder case in 1856, filled a quarter of the newspaper. In 1864 the public execution of Catherine Wilson, got three columns of detailed description. Harry Levy-Lawson admitted that this reporting was not always unbiased as the accused might be "described as 'a man of sullen aspect' or even 'of dissolute and repulsive appearance' or when the penman took a kindlier view 'a gentleman-looking man having the appearance of a foreigner'."
On the death of Thornton Leigh Hunt in 1873 Edwin Arnold became the new editor of the Daily Telegraph. His views were less liberal than Hunt and the paper began to question the policies of the government led by William Gladstone. Arnold was particularly upset by attempts to cut defence expenditure and claimed that Gladstone would "fling half our Empire overboard and jettison India herself in order to teach Britain modesty." Whereas Hunt used to describe Gladstone in the Daily Telegraph as the "People's William", Arnold favoured the more imperialistic policies of his Conservative opponent, Benjamin Disraeli.
Edwin Arnold recruited staff that shared his political opinions and worked closely with Ellis Ashmead Bartlett, a strong advocate of British Imperialism in the House of Commons. Under the editorship of Arnold circulation of the newspaper continued to grow. In 1870 the daily average circulation was 196,855 and by 1877 it had risen to 242,215.
Arnold had a deep love of exploration and persuaded the proprietor, Edward Levy-Lawson, to spend large sums of money to obtain dramatic stories. This included joining with Bennett of the New York Herald to finance Stanley's search for David Livingstone in Africa. The Daily Telegraph also largely financed Sir Harry Johnson's exploration of Kilimanjaro.
John Le Sage was one of the star reporters of the Daily Telegraph . His reputation as a reporter was enhanced by being the first British journalist to provide an account of the entry of the German Army into Paris in January 1871. Edwin Arnold, sent him to report on the coronation at St Petersburg of Alexander III (1881). The following year he covered the expedition against Ahmed Orabi, and was received in audience by Pope Leo XIII and by Sultan Abdul Hamid.
In 1881 the Daily Telegraph made newspaper history when it helped solve a murder. William Gold, a wealthy businessman, was murdered on the London to Brighton train. A reporter working for the newspaper, carried out his own inquiries and believed he had discovered the killer. However, the man, Percy Lefroy, had left his lodgings. After obtaining a photograph of the Lefroy from his landlady, the newspaper published the first portrait block to appear in any newspaper. As a result of the picture, twenty-nine different men were arrested. However, this included Lefroy and he was later convicted and executed for the crime.
J. B. Firth, the biographer of John Le Sage, has argued "He did not, however, achieve marked distinction as a writer at the Daily Telegraph. Le Sage's talents were better displayed in an executive capacity." Le Sage enjoyed a good relationship with, Joseph Moses Levy, the owner of the Daily Telegraph, and his son, Edward Levy-Lawson, who took over in 1888. For almost forty years Le Sage was managing editor and was known as the "autocrat of Peterborough Court". He held conservative views and argued strongly against attempts to give the vote to working-class men and women's suffrage.
William L. Courtney replaced Edwin Arnold as editor of the Daily Telegraph in 1899. One of his first moves was to recruit J. L. Garvin from the Newcastle Chronicle. Garvin became the newspaper's most important journalist and was was given assignments such as the funeral of Queen Victoria and the Coronation of Edward VII. Garvin also accompanied the Prince of Wales (the future George V) on his tour of India.
During the First World War, under the system introduced by Lord Kitchener at the War Office, Sir Philip Gibbs, was the Daily Telegraph's correspondent on the Western Front. Other journalists who reported the war for the paper included Ashmead Bartlett (Gallipoli), G. T. Stevens (Salonika) and W. T. Massey (Palestine).
The newspaper also published several works by Rudyard Kipling during the war including Fringes of the Fleet, The New Army and France and War. After the war the Daily Telegraph developed the idea of serializing books including several on the First World War. This included War Diaries (Sir John French), War Memories and Naval Adventures (Sir Robert Keyes) and the Fifth Army (Sir Hubert Gough). The newspaper also serialized the memoirs of Herbert Asquith and David Lloyd George.
John Le Sage, managing editor of the Daily Telegraph, gave full support to the government during the First World War and in 1918 he was rewarded when David Lloyd George arranged for him to have a knighthood. During the war, Captain Battine, a cavalry officer was the Telegraph's military correspondent. He was followed by Charles Repington (1919-25) and Basil Liddell Hart (1925-35).
In 1927 Lord Burnham, who was heavily involved in political work, decided to sell the Daily Telegraph to Sir James Berry in 1927. Berry now controlled two national and six provincial morning papers, eight provincial evening papers, eight provincial weeklies and about seventy periodicals.
Berry was raised to the peerage (Baron Camrose) in 1929. Over the next few years he concentrated on restoring the fortunes of the Daily Telegraph. On 1st December 1930 he reduced the price from 2d. to 1d. and within a few weeks the circulation doubled to over 200,000. In 1937 Camrose purchased the right-wing Morning Post. This was then amalgamated with the Daily Telegraph.
Sir James Berry had been brought up as a Liberal but by the 1930s he was a progressive Conservative. He broke with Neville Chamberlain over appeasement and became a strong supporter of Winston Churchill. On the outbreak of the Second World War, Camrose served for a short period as Minister of Information.
Throughout the war Viscount Camrose continued to work on improving the sales of the Daily Telegraph. He took great care with the appointment of staff and was also personally involved in the layout of the newspaper. In 1939 Camrose made the decision to carry news on the front page of the paper. That year the circulation of the newspaper was 830,000. Sales continued to grow and by March 1947, sales reached over a million.
Viscount Camrose, died in Southampton on 15th June 1954. His eldest son, John Seymour Berry, inherited his title and his second son, Michael Berry, became editor-in-chief and chairman of the newspaper.