- Irish Journalists in the Intellectual Diaspora: Edward Alexander Morphy and Henry David O’Shea in the Far East
The formation of an influential diaspora from among the learned and professional classes remains one of the most remarkable, and least acknowledged, patterns of Irish migration in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A wave of professional migration followed the expansion of Irish higher education with the opening of the Queen’s Colleges in 1849, and middle-class graduates—many of whom were Catholic—used Ireland’s position within the empire to forge careers and to escape the social and economic confines of their time and place. Taken as a group, the intellectual and professional diaspora—comprising individuals with some university education, a degree, or professional qualification—succeeded in attaining influential positions in the colonial services. This group also played a significant and often disproportionate role in the growth of the knowledgeable professions and English language print culture throughout the empire.1
That Irish writers played a prominent role in the country’s diaspora is not surprising, given Ireland’s tradition of literary excellence. Numerous recent studies have begun to examine the work of Irish journalists, travel writers, and newspaper editors in relation to the expansion of print culture in North America, Southern Africa and Australia.2 The impact of this literary diaspora on the British Empire was ore diffuse and widespread. [End Page 75]
As early as the late eighteenth century, Irish publishers and journalists had begun to establish themselves in emerging centers of global commerce, stretching from Africa and India to the treaty ports of China. Late eighteenth-century Calcutta was especially popular with Irish publishers like James Hickey and Hezekiah Delany, who catered to the large Irish military and commercial presence, with some even supplementing their income by writing wills.3 The Irish publishing empire expanded throughout the late nineteenth century with the establishment of Messrs. Kelly and Walsh—one of the leading English language publishing houses in all of East Asia—in Shanghai in 1876. In addition to their publishing expertise, the Irish literary diaspora were also innovators who developed specialized knowledge and pioneering cutting-edge methods of journalism and news reporting.4 For example, William Howard Russell, the famous Times war correspondent is widely credited with “inventing” the style of journalism known today as embedded reporting.5
The widely celebrated career of Lafcadio Hearn (1850–1904) provides a useful starting point for the study of Ireland’s impact on print culture in late-nineteenth-century Asia.6 Hearn, escaping the social confines of middle-class Catholic Ireland, became a well-known literary eccentric, journalist, and ethnographic pioneer.7 Fascinated by “the odd, the queer, the strange, the exotic, the monstrous,” Hearn developed his own ethnographic style, which enabled him [End Page 76] to move in unusual subcultures.8 This quest eventually led him to Japan where, on assignment with Harper’s Weekly, he took a Japanese wife and adopted local customs, language, and dress. By the time he died in 1904, Hearn had not only written a number of influential monographs on Japanese culture, but had also successfully passed himself off as a “‘curious-looking’ Japanese man from some remote part of the Empire,”—undoubtedly a remarkable feat.9 Hearn’s talented and prolific literary career was certainly exceptional—meriting the considerable scholarly attention it receives—but his choice of career was not. He lived in as a period of intense fascination with the Far East, contributing to the discourse Edward Said would later define as Orientalism. Hearn enjoyed the highest profile of such émigrés, but the Irish professional and intellectual diaspora included numerous other ambitious journalists and writers. The vast majority of their lives, especially those in the Far East, have yet to be documented.
Two such journalists, Henry David O’Shea and Edward Alexander Morphy, left Ireland in the 1880s and eventually became well-known newspaper editors in Shanghai (O’Shea) and Singapore (Morphy) at the turn of the century. Morphy and O’Shea’s careers demonstrate the diffuse spread of Irish immigrant and commercial networks throughout the informal British empire in Asia, as well as illustrating the opportunities available to educated middle...