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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
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.




The first New Zealand printers were naturally involved in printing the scriptures and hymns for Maori converts, and for many years after 1840 most of the numerous books about New Zealand were published in England. In fact (apart from pamphlets) there was not much local publishing before the eighties; but in the early forties pamphlets were being produced mainly from newspaper offices (the New Zealander in Auckland and the Spectator in Wellington). The usual subjects were politics and religion, but in 1843 the first volume of poetry appeared entitled New Zealand, a poem in three cantos by R. C. Joplin. Apart from translations from the Scriptures, the first substantial book printed and published in New Zealand was William William's Dictionary of the New Zealand Language which appeared at Paihia in 1844. The first book of any size to be published in Wellington appeared in 1847, the first in Auckland in 1848; in Dunedin in 1849 appeared the first recorded booklet in Otago; 1851 saw the appearance in Lyttelton of the first four Canterbury pamphlets. An early and very important New Zealand publication was Poems Traditions and Chants of the Maoris, set down in Maori by Sir George Grey, and published by Robert Stokes of the New Zealand Spectator in 1853. By 1886 two-thirds of the books and pamphlets being written about New Zealand were being published in the country, but the proportion of books published overseas remained almost as considerable till the First World War.

The oldest surviving New Zealand publisher, Whitcombe and Tombs Limited, began in Christchurch in 1882 as a partnership of George Whitcombe, who had been a bookseller, and George Tombs, a printer. Tombs had formerly published a few booklets. The first books published by the firm, according to Hocken, were Recollections by Alfred Cox and a work by Miss Johanne Lohse entitled Mistaken Views on the Education of Girls. It is certain, however, that among its very early publications in the eighties was a series of copy books. Educational publishing has always been the mainstay of Whitcombe and Tombs and several of its school books have run to more than 300,000 copies, and a few primers to more than half a million. Apart from purely educational publishing, Whitcombe's built up a very large general list and for many years had no real competitors as publishers until the rise of A. H. and A. W. Reed in the nineteen thirties.

Reed's published their first pamphlet in 1923 and their first major book The Letters and Journals of Samuel Marsden in 1932. Since then they have published nearly 1,000 books; of these 160 have been written by one or other of the Reed partners (uncle and nephew). Beginning as publishers of religious books, Reed's have expanded into every field, and the firm's big list of books on sports reflects a strong New Zealand interest.

Most New Zealand publishers have been booksellers too. The Caxton Press, founded in 1934 by Denis Glover, are Christchurch publishers who are printers but not booksellers. In the nineteen thirties and forties the Caxton Press made a major contribution to New Zealand publishing by producing – without the subsidies which have attended publication of verse in the 1950s and 60s – a series of small volumes of poetry. These certainly contained some of the best verse which has been written here – notably by Fairburn, Mason, Glover, and Curnow. They also produced conditions under which poets were stimulated to write. Poets wrote knowing that good work would be well printed by Caxton.

Scarcely less important was the fact that Denis Glover at the Caxton Press brought much taste and discrimination into the printing of New Zealand books. An equally high standard marked the typography of the centennial volumes produced in 1940 for the Department of Internal Affairs, which had an influence for the better in this field. The Government Printer had always produced a number of general volumes, particularly books on science, and with the cooperation of the Education Department, has since the last war established a virtual monopoly of publishing for primary schools. Much active local publishing is also done for the secondary schools where perhaps 20 per cent of the text books used are published in New Zealand.


David Blackwood Paul, M.A., LL.B. (1908–65), Bookseller and Publisher, Hamilton.