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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




Beginnings in New Zealand

The power of the written word had been recognised even before the invention of printing and it is therefore the more remarkable that the early missionaries in New Zealand did not take prompt steps to invoke its aid. Orthography had been set for the Maori language and a grammar was available by 1820. Yet nearly 15 years of devoted labour passed almost unsupported by books in the language. True, the missionaries half a world away from their headquarters knew their need and, in 1830, built hopes on the news that William Yate, after six months' “training” in Sydney, had arrived in New Zealand with a printing press. The training consisted in “seeing through the press” a selection from the Bible and Prayer Book in Maori. Judging from Yate's achievement when he set up the press at Kerikeri, one can infer that the experience was inadequate. A few hymns and a catechism are the only known productions of Yate's printing enterprise. Yate's assistant, the other half of an ineffective team, was a boy of 15 who had had some experience in the Sydney Gazette office. Yate was apparently a capable if unusual man and it is surprising that he did no more or better printing and that he made no mention of this work in his quite useful book, An Account of New Zealand (1835). Yate's press went back to New South Wales some time before 1844 with Benjamin Isaacs, a printer living at Kerikeri.

At length, in 1833, the Church Missionary Society decided to send out a well-equipped press and a trained printer. In that humble printer the society could scarcely have envisaged the versatile, vigorous, and brilliant spirit that was to leave more than the imprint of ink on paper in the new land. William Colenso, a Cornishman, was appointed for this service and, after half-a-year's observation and, presumably, practice in the printing house of Watts and Son, near Temple Bar, he sailed from London for Sydney in June 1834. The equipment was selected and dispatched by the society without consulting Colenso; thus it is understandable that there were serious omissions. Transhipping at Sydney on 10 December 1834, Colenso arrived at Paihia on the thirtieth. The landing of the heavy Stanhope iron press was another matter; in the absence of a jetty it was necessary to build a platform across two canoes and transport the press on the calm sea of early morning. The boxes of type had to be kept from the covetous eyes of Maoris who would have seen its potentiality for lead bullets. A room, formerly used as a schoolroom, in the home of the C.M.S. missionary, Charles Baker, became the printing house. Here the press was installed and the gear unpacked. Colenso's chagrin can be imagined at finding much vital equipment lacking, even printing paper. He improvised effectively and set to work, using paper from the private stocks of the missionaries and from the Kerikeri store. On 17 February 1835 he printed the first copies of the Epistles to the Ephesians and Philippians, translated into Maori by the Rev. William Williams. This was substantially the first book to be printed in New Zealand, if Yate's humble claim is set aside.

From this point onward Colenso worked unremittingly, sometimes with the assistance of Maoris or hands recruited from ships calling at the Bay of Islands. His major achievement commenced in 1836 with the printing of the Maori New Testament, completed in December 1837 in an edition of 5,000 copies, 1,000 of which were for the Wesleyan missions. In 1836 he printed the first book in English to appear in New Zealand, Report of the Formation and Establishment of the New Zealand Temperance Society. This was published after the inaugural meeting in May 1836. With the coming of Captain Hobson and the beginnings of Government, Colenso was called upon to do a certain amount of official printing. After several other kinds of service, recorded by W. H. Williams in his Bibliography of Printed Maori, Colenso's press was sold by an Auckland auction house for £142, and there its history ends. The next press in the country appears to be that installed by the Wesleyan Mission at Mangungu, on the Hokianga River, late in 1836. In 1839 the Roman Catholic Mission set up a press at Kororareka, but very few publications emanated from it before it was sold, according to Dr T. M. Hocken (Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, Vol. 33, p. 486), to the New Zealander newspaper in the early 1850s. Bishop Selwyn brought out a press with him and this operated at Waimate in 1843–44, afterwards going on to the Kaitaia Mission.

Early Newspapers

In the meantime lay presses had been established. On 15 June 1840 The New Zealand Advertiser and Bay of Islands Gazette commenced publication at Kororareka. This newspaper, sponsored by traders and land speculators, was so opposed to the Government and so virulent in its criticism that it even refused Government advertisements. The Government retaliated by publishing a Gazette Extraordinary for its official announcements. It was printed by Colenso at the Paihia Press for the first several issues. The official New Zealand Gazette is today's equivalent of this original. The rebellious Advertiser was suppressed and it seems likely that its printer was engaged to take over the printing of the Government's Gazette.

In Wellington the newly founded settlement issued its first paper at Britannia (Petone) on 18 April 1840. This was the New Zealand Gazette and Britannia Spectator, printed on a press brought in the Oriental by the editor, Samuel Revans. When the site of the city was changed to Wellington's present position, the word “Britannia” in the title was replaced by “Wellington”. It was, of course, the vehicle of the New Zealand Company, and a first issue was actually printed in London before departure. This paper has the distinction of being the first printed in New Zealand. It has one other distinction, that for a period when ordinary paper supplies were late in arriving, many issues were produced on pink blotting paper. The Otago Witness had a similar experience, when it appealed to its readers to provide paper – which apparently was forthcoming.

This is perhaps an appropriate place to mention the most curious of New Zealand's newspapers, the Auckland Times, printed by Henry Falwasser on a mangle, using a heterogeneous collection of type. It ran through 42 numbers in 1842–43 in this quaint form, and up to number 159 in 1846, when its producer died. The first newspaper in Auckland, however, was the New Zealand Herald and Auckland Gazette, which survived from July 1841 to January 1842. It was not an ancestor of the present New Zealand Herald, which was founded in 1863.

One of the most distinguished newspapers in these early years was the Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle founded in 1842 and ceasing in 1874. Other South Island papers appear later, the Lyttelton Times, commencing on 11 January 1851; the Otago News, on 13 December 1848; and the Otago Witness, on 8 February 1851. The oldest paper still publishing is the Taranaki Herald, begun in 1852.

It has been noticed above that the first printing for the Government was done by Colenso and, later, by the Bay of Islands Gazette Office. In 1842 these Gazettes for the first time carried the imprint of John Moore with the expression “Government Press”. After 1 October 1842 the Gazette imprint was “Auckland – Printed and published at the Government Press”. Not till July 1844, however, was a Government Printer appointed, in the person of Christopher Fulton.

Upon the visit of the Austrian exploring ship, the Novara, two Maoris were taken back to Austria. The Emperor, who met them, showed his interest by presenting them with a printing press. He also presented another press to the Catholic Mission.

The history of this press for the Maori people is eventful and important. It arrived at a time when the Maori “King” movement was flourishing and vocal with grievances. The press was therefore sent to Ngaruawahia, where in 1861 it commenced, under the editorship of Patara te Tuhi, the publication of Te Hokioi o Nui-Tireni. It continued till 1863 at irregular intervals, but early in that year there apperared a vehicle of counter propaganda, Te Pihoihoi Mokemoke, issued by a Government press conducted by John Eldon Gorst, Native Commissioner for the Upper Waikato. This publication so incensed the “Kingite” Maoris that, after the printing of the fifth issue, a party descended upon the press and removed it forcibly. This same press is today at the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.

Fine Printing

Although the general level of commercial printing, and especially newspaper printing, is today reasonably good in New Zealand, there has been relatively little effort until recent years to revert to pure typography and design in the manner of some of the nineteenth and twentieth century innovators in printing. In this brief survey it will suffice to refer to one printer preeminent in this field. This was Richard Coupland Harding, of Danish extraction, whose father, T. B. Harding, had bought the Hawke's Bay Times in Napier in 1865. The son took over in 1873, but in the following year the newspaper was discontinued and young Harding concentrated on the art of printing, wherein his heart lay.

In common with much of the culture of the Victorian era, printing was overburdened with ornateness and, just as in England this was opposed by the Whittinghams in their Chiswick Press and William Morris in his Kelmscott Press, so in New Zealand Harding led the way back to simplicity, proportion, and basic, if older, typography. He maintained a correspondence with leaders in the craft in England, such as William Blades and Talbot Baines Reed, and for a period conducted a journal, Typo, devoted to printing interests. He was intimate with Colenso, who bequeathed much of his material to Harding.

Some of the greater printing houses have dominated the printing scene for much of New Zealand's history. The firm of Whitcombe and Tombs, whose joint name first appeared as book publishers in Christchurch in 1884, has grown vastly, with printing houses in other centres, apart from its large headquarters in Christchurch. It is undoubtedly the largest printing concern of its kind in the country, with an impressive record of publications throughout its career. The two large houses in Auckland, both newspaper publishers as well, are the Brett Publishing Co. (the Star), and Wilson and Horton (the New Zealand Herald and Weekly News). In Sir Henry Brett's time the firm published a number of books, including some by Sir Henry himself. But this policy has of latter years given place to large-scale commercial printing.

Technical progress has been marked by the early adoption of processes followed in America and Europe. Lithography was one of the earliest of such methods and examples date from the 1840s: its use was extensive, especially by the Government Printing Office, till well after the turn of the century. Chromolithography, which permitted the use of brilliant colouring, dates from about 1865. Although woodcuts were used considerably in periodicals, not much cutting was done here, the blocks commonly coming from Australia, where usually they had been already used. Photo-engraving worked through painful developmental stages from the late 1890s, but by the turn of the century was becoming established with the larger houses. The linotype machine revolutionised type setting when the first installation was made at the Auckland Star in 1897. The next great advance in type setting was the Monotype, introduced first in 1904, but its use extended but slowly until the last 30 years. Printing ink was always imported until F. T. Wimble and Co. commenced its manufacture in 1939.

by Clyde Romer Hughes Taylor, M.A., DIP.JOURN., formerly Chief Librarian, Turnbull Library, Wellington.

  • Early Conflicts of Press and Government, Meikle-john, G. M. (1953)
  • A History of Printing in New Zealand, 1830–1940, McKay, R. A. ed. (1940, McKay, R. A. ed. (1940).


McLintock, Alexander Hare