Story: Magazines and periodicals

Page 1. Early ventures, 1840 to 1890

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Magazines and journals have been part of New Zealand’s cultural landscape since the beginning of organised European settlement. The first settlers to Wellington carried with them a collection of books and periodicals for a public library to foster the colony’s intellectual life. Many settlers were avid readers of British and American periodicals, from the conservative Spectator, a weekly (published from 1828), to the radical quarterly Westminster Review (1823). Such periodicals carried analytical articles and commentary on the likes of literature, politics, culture, economy and the arts. This and their smaller format helped to distinguish them from daily and weekly newspapers.

From 1840 there were occasional attempts to create local versions of foreign periodicals aimed at a New Zealand readership and publishing the work of local writers. A guiding aim for many of them was to encourage a New Zealand literature that spoke to New Zealand issues and concerns. While many of these ventures were short-lived, new initiatives continued to form and seek an audience.

The first periodicals

The first periodical was the New Zealand Journal, which was published in Wellington from February 1840 to 1852. Although it was a mouthpiece for the New Zealand Company and its settlements, it also carried a diverse range of letters from settlers about colonial life. In 1850 the quarterly New Zealand Magazine began in Wellington and lasted for two issues. It had a scientific bent, with articles on whaling, geology and Māori by writers like missionary Richard Taylor and attorney general William Swainson. In a similar vein was Chapman’s New Zealand Monthly Magazine, which produced three issues in Auckland in 1862.

Hurdles to success

In noting the arrival of the Southern Monthly Magazine, the Colonist newspaper bluntly observed that previous ventures of its kind had failed. The causes were numerous, it said. ‘Distance, sparsity of population, want of frequent postal communication from town to town … possibly preventing some distant litterateurs from contributing’ and a lack of ‘sufficient talent to give vitality and variety’ were the main reasons. Fortunately, the magazine’s content showed a ‘degree of excellence’ that suggested it might beat the odds.1

More successful was the Southern Monthly Magazine, another Auckland initiative that began in 1863 and ran for three years. It was aimed at the general reader and its content ranged from fiction and verse to current affairs and colonial experience. In 1867 the New Zealand Institute (later the Royal Society of New Zealand) established its Transactions and Proceedings, which became the main vehicle for the publication of scientific work.


During the 1860s short-lived imitations of the British humour and satirical magazine Punch began. The first was the fortnightly Taranaki Punch (1860–61), followed by the weeklies Canterbury Punch (1865), Otago Punch (1866–67) and Auckland Punch (1868–69). Their cartoons sent up local politicians and contributed to the creation of stock colonial types, such as the raffish but enterprising pastoralist. The Dunedin-produced weekly New Zealand Punch published a few issues in 1888.

The New Zealand Magazine

Launched in Dunedin in 1876 as a quarterly journal of general literature, the New Zealand Magazine enlisted leading intellectuals like William Fox, Robert Stout and the Reverend William Salmond as writers, with articles on education and religion as well as social and political issues. One critic found the writing worthy but dense, warning that ‘unless the philosophy is leavened in future issues … the colonial reader will be disposed to skip many pages as unintelligible.’2 The magazine folded in 1877.

Worthy aims

Zealandia’s promoters had three main aims, the Christchurch Star reported in 1889: ‘(1) fostering a national spirit in New Zealand literature, (2) materially assisting New Zealand authors, and (3) providing good-class literature, which shall be really attractive and of the best possible tone.’3


Formed in 1889, Zealandia aimed to publish primarily New Zealand content. The monthly magazine promised that readers would be spared the ‘stale extracts’ from British periodicals that had filled previous local magazines.4 Its writers included politician William Pember Reeves, poet Thomas Bracken and feminist Edith Searle. Reviews of New Zealand books and critical feedback to New Zealand authors were leading features, but there was some concession to popular taste in the form of girls’, boys’ and women’s pages, the last giving advice on matters of interest to women and such subjects as art furnishing (interior decoration). Zealandia lasted for 12 issues.

  1. Colonist, 27 October 1863, p. 4. Back
  2. West Coast Times, 25 January 1876, p. 2. Back
  3. Star, 24 May 1889, p. 2. Back
  4. Star, 24 May 1889, p. 2. Back
How to cite this page:

Ben Schrader, 'Magazines and periodicals - Early ventures, 1840 to 1890', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 April 2024)

Story by Ben Schrader, published 22 Oct 2014, updated 1 Apr 2020