Story: Advertising

Page 1. Colonial newspapers

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The old world

Advertising gives people information about a product or service. Often this encourages people to buy, but this is not always the case. Originally advertising may have been little more than a painting on a wall. The development of printing widened the possibilities of effective advertising. From the 17th century in Europe printed handbills and newspapers became the main carriers of advertisements. Early settlers to New Zealand may well have been encouraged to migrate by short notices in UK papers. Other forms of advertising were also used, such as sandwich boards.

Newspaper notices

From the beginning of organised settlement in 1840 New Zealand newspapers combined news, discussion of public issues and advertisements. Unusually, this was different to newspapers in Britain at that time, where political debate was limited by commercial considerations. When the Otago Witness began in February 1851 it described the paper’s objectives as ‘to supply the settlement with the means of advertising, and with the news from home [Britain] and other quarters.’1

From 1861 many papers were published daily and were printed by steam-driven machinery. Their price fell to one penny. They rose in popularity and became more effective as an advertising medium.

In the 1840s advertisements were purely text-based and informational in tone. Advertisements for auctions, notices about meetings or offers of reward for lost property were all listed in one undifferentiated column. Sales of goods that had arrived by a particular ship were common.

More complex advertisements

Newspaper advertisements became more elaborate over the next half century. In the 1850s advertisements began to be classified under column headings such as ‘Auction sales’ or ‘Notices’. By the end of the century the classifications were more detailed, with headings such as ‘To let’ or ‘Wanted’. The ‘classifieds’ were usually on the front page. Inside, the news pages began to be interrupted by large advertisements, often spanning several columns.



In colonial newspapers the greatest claims were often made by medical advertisements. In 1870 Dinneford’s Magnesia claimed to cure acid stomach, headache, heartburn, gout, gravel (kidney or bladder stones), complaints of the bladder, fever, irritability of the skin and sickness of pregnancy. Grimault’s French chemists, by contrast, were more modest. They offered Indian cigarettes of Cannabis indica that, according to the packet, cured only asthma and depression, ‘especially when belladonnna, stramonium, and opium have failed to give relief’.


The appearance of advertisements changed. Bolder typography was used, with large black lettering and a profusion of capitals and exclamation marks. The first images appeared in the 1850s, usually no more than standardised engravings of a ship or a hotel. By the 1880s these had become more extravagant, with images of particular items, such as ploughs or drinks.

By then, brands had made their appearance, such as Lea and Perrins ‘celebrated Worcestershire sauce’. Increasingly, particular products became associated with a distinctive style of lettering or a trademark. Slogans also appeared – Hudson’s advertised their coffee biscuits as ‘A biscuit made to eat’, Pringle’s store was ‘The place for presents’. Personal testimonials were a common feature, especially on behalf of pills and ointments.

Although most of the advertisements in colonial newspapers were commercial in purpose, there were still public notices such as shipping notices or the results of local road board elections.

  1. Otago Witness, 8 February 1851. Back
How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Advertising - Colonial newspapers', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 13 July 2024)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 11 Mar 2010