New Zealand took to the two arts in a manner of fits and starts. In the earliest years of the colony the emphasis was on cartooning unadorned – the expression of ideas in conventional pictorial terms. The caricature of personality, generally speaking, was a later development. Black and white artists in New Zealand did not want for outlets for their energies when the country was still young. The provincial Punches, modelled on a Melbourne precedent that appeared in the 1850s with a very strong savour of the London variety, flourished in more or less degree for about three decades, from the sixties to the eighties. The newspapers at this stage were not very enthusiastic and the field was left largely to the local Punches, which, for all their common pattern and intention, were generally as different as chalk and cheese, by reason of the peculiarly “parish pump” nature of their approach to their subjects. Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury, and Otago all had their Punches, and similar publications had a brief vogue both in Hawke's Bay and in Taranaki. Standards were very mixed and, with a few singular exceptions, the portraits in the cartoons were little more than symbols, not necessarily bearing any likeness to the persons they stood for. In fact, identity was largely a matter of caption. The art of personal caricature had yet to emerge, and to some extent this was due to the fact that neither the cartoonists nor the readers in those days had the necessary personal acquaintance with the persons who were the subject-matter of many of the cartoons. But it was an age when the printed page exerted more influence than would be generally conceded now.
In their day, the black and white artists who filled the Punches may have been well enough known to their public, but it is surprising how few of them thought enough of posterity to sign their work. Perhaps they shunned the public gaze or failed to capture the imagination for more than brief periods; but whatever the reason it is possible to browse through whole numbers of these periodicals without finding more than two or three signed pieces. In the Wellington Punch Arthur L. Palethorpe was a prolific contributor of the general “every picture tells a story” school, and the bulk of the political efforts seemed to have been left to J. H. Wallis, an excellent draughtsman, but hardly a master of graphic caricature. In Auckland Frank Varley, a co-proprietor of the local Punch, used the initials “F. V.” freely, but very few of his other contributors emerged from a consistent anonymity. In Otago, where Punch survived longer than in most centres, James Brown had a wide popularity which was based on a subtle caricatural draughtsmanship allied to a sense of cartooning symbolism, mildly satirical. From the viewpoint of time, Brown has probably the first claim to be called the father of cartooning in New Zealand, for his work dates from the early fifties. Throughout the provincial era the general impression is of crude or “mannered” expression of character on the one hand and intricate patterns, undulating lines, and occasional penmanship of delicate beauty on the other.