In 1750, an unknown contributor wrote to Edward Cave, publisher and printer of the Gentleman's Magazine, proclaiming '…your magazines are now become oraculous, and discuss questions in divinity, philosophy, morality, mathematicks, and through the whole chain of science, even down to manage and farriery'.

Praise was certainly due to Edward Cave's Gentleman's Magazine, which he began in January 1731. Printed at St. John's Gate in London, it was a 'repository of all things worth mentioning'. It was the first 'magazine' in the modern sense. It was also the most important periodical in 18th century England, reflecting in its pages the diversity of Georgian life, politics and culture. Writers such as Dr Johnson, John Hawkesworth, Richard Savage, and Anna Seward were just a few of the thousands who contributed to it. At 6d per issue, it was an outstanding bargain.

Dealing with almost every imaginable fact and fantasy, it was the first source to refer to. This fact truly makes the Gentleman's Magazine the 18th century answer to Google. Every page is a surprise in this early searchable hard-copy database.

Special Collections, University of Otago Library, is fortunate to have an entire run of the Gentleman's Magazine from 1731 to 1866. It remains an inexhaustible mine of information for scholars of eighteenth century life, and because of the wealth of genealogical information and records, it has become an important resource for family historians. Please enjoy this exhibition.

Edward Cave

Edward Cave (1691-1754) Founder of the Gentleman's Magazine, the first English 'magazine'

Edward Cave was born on 27 February 1691 in Newton, near Rugby, Warwickshire, where his father, Joseph, was the village cobbler.* In 1700, Cave attended Rugby School, but left during his early teens. After brief employment as an Excise-collector clerk, he left for London. In 1710, he was indentured to printer Freeman Collins, who sent him to Norwich, where he managed and published a local newspaper. Collins died just before Cave completed his apprenticeship. On his return to London, Cave was employed as a journeyman for Tory printer (and future Mayor of London) John Barber. It was at this time that he came under the influence of some of the leading Tory controversialists and writers, including Daniel Defoe. On 18 September 1716, Cave married Susannah Newton, and supposedly through her influence, secured employment in the Post Office. He did, however, continue printing, and also turned his hand to reporting. By 1729, he was located at St John's Gate, Clerkenwell, and in January 1731, he began the Gentleman's Magazine, which not only became the most important periodical in the 18th century, but was also the first of that publishing type, the magazine. It secured him wealth and recognition. In February 1745, Cave resigned from the Post Office on the grounds of ill health, and on 10 January 1754, after recurring bouts of illness, he died at St John's Gate, aged 62. His estate passed to his sister Mary Henry, his brother-in-law David Henry, and his nephew Richard Cave. Edward Cave was unflagging in his interest and support of the Gentleman's Magazine and through it he liberated minds, widened the interests of his fellows, and educated a wide range of readers. This is his legacy.

*C. Lennart Carlson claims 1692 for Cave's birth.

The Gentleman's Magazine (1731-1922)

The Gentleman's Magazine began modestly: seven octavo half-sheets filled with extracts from London newspapers and periodicals and edited by Cave under his editorial pseudonym, Sylvanus Urban (an anagram of the Latin words urbanus for city and sylva for forest or woodland). The woodcut of St John's Gate, from where he operated, was to remain an iconic title-page image for many years. Announced in early January and appearing in early February 1731, it would always be a retrospective magazine.

Cave was an astute, hard-working editor, who enlarged the magazine's content to increase sales and capture readers. Commercial information, parliamentary reports, original contributions from correspondents and writers, political and current affairs, including the pioneering use of maps, popular science and technology, social gossip, the Americas (flora and fauna), and births and deaths all featured. Priced at 6d, the magazine reached a circulation of about 9000 in the late 1730s, and was rumoured to reach 15,000 copies per month during Sir Robert Walpole's fall in 1742. Over the years there were various title changes and editors (John Nichols; John Bowyer Nichols; John Gough Nichols): The Gentleman's Magazine or Monthly Intelligencer (1731-1735); The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle (1736-1833); The Gentleman's Magazine (New Series: 1834–June 1856); The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Review (New Series: July 1856– May 1868); and The Gentleman's Magazine (Entirely New Series: June 1868 –1922). The magazine was a great success, and spawned both imitators and competitors.

Current Affairs


The Americas


Dr Samuel Johnson

Other Contributors

Advances in Science, Technology & Natural History


John Nichols

Gossip & The Sensational

Deaths & Obituaries

The Quirky



Imitators & Competitors