Story: Newspapers

Page 2. Growth and expansion, 1860–1900

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Birth of today’s papers

From the 1860s New Zealand’s rapidly increasing population and growing literacy, as well as wealth from gold and other resources, made newspaper publishing more financially viable. Several papers founded in this period survived in some form into the 21st century. They include Auckland’s New Zealand Herald (set up in 1863) and Wellington’s Evening Post (1865), which merged with its morning rival the Dominion to become the Dominion Post in 2002.

By 1875 the Nelson Examiner had disappeared, so Nelson was served by a morning and an evening daily paper, the Colonist and the Evening Mail. In 1920 the Colonist was bought by the Evening Mail. This became a morning paper, the Nelson Mail, in 1995.

Taranaki’s newspapers

When war broke out at Waitara, Taranaki, in 1860, the Taranaki Herald’s compositors (who set up the type) had to stop work to carry out militia duty. One issue of the paper failed to appear when the military authorities accused it of supplying information to the enemy by describing the town’s defences as inadequate. Soon afterwards the editor was shot by Māori. However, the paper itself survived and became a daily in 1875. It amalgamated with the rival Taranaki News in 1962. The paper was still published in 2013 as the Daily News.

First daily paper

New Zealand’s first daily newspaper, the Otago Daily Times, appeared in 1861. It was founded by Julius Vogel, who had begun working as a journalist on Australian goldfields. Arriving in Dunedin, he bought a share in a weekly paper, the Otago Witness. Vogel became its editor, then launched the Otago Daily Times, which he edited until 1868. Two years later he entered Parliament, becoming premier in 1876.

Editors as politicians

Another newspaper proprietor and editor who used his publication to advance his political ambitions was Whanganui businessman John Ballance. In 1867 he started the Evening Herald (later renamed the Wanganui Herald) in opposition to the more conservative Wanganui Chronicle. Ballance entered Parliament in 1875, and in 1891 became the first Liberal premier. In the 1970s both the Herald and Chronicle were acquired by the same owner. In 1986 the Wanganui Herald became a community newspaper called Wanganui Midweek. The Wanganui Chronicle continued to appear as a morning daily.

Planting rags

The standard technique of the ‘rag-planter’ Joseph Ivess was to find up-and-coming towns, bring in a printing plant and editor, publish several issues of a paper and then advertise it for sale or lease. Often several of Ivess’s newspapers contained identical pages, because the typesetting was shipped from town to town for reprinting. His tiny local newspapers were economically marginal, and disgruntled former employees referred to Ivess as ‘Joey Low-Wages’.


As European settlement expanded from the 1870s, local press entrepreneurs known as ‘rag-planters’ established chains of papers in rural areas such as Taranaki and Southland. The tiny West Coast town of Reefton had three daily papers at one time. Joseph Ivess is said to have started up 29 New Zealand papers such as the Akaroa Mail and Greymouth Evening Star, all in small, recently formed settlements, and most very short-lived.

Machine-powered presses

Advances in printing technology during the late 19th century enabled papers to appear more rapidly and with improved content. Printing presses were powered first by steam, then gas and eventually by electricity. Hand-setting of type was replaced by machines such as the Linotype, which mechanically set entire lines as a single piece of lead.

Many more articles were now accompanied by illustrations, ranging from basic drawings to sophisticated engravings and, especially in weekly papers, incisive topical cartoons.

Cross to bear

The New Zealand Celt newspaper was founded in 1867, to represent the large numbers of Irish Catholic miners arriving on the West Coast during the gold rush. The paper vigorously advocated the cause of Irish nationalism. In 1868 its editor, John Manning, erected a cross at Hokitika in memory of three Fenian martyrs hanged in Manchester. This outraged the town’s mayor, who owned a rival newspaper. Manning was convicted of seditious libel and sentenced to prison. He later left for the US, where he continued working as a journalist.

The cable page

The arrival of the telegraph in the 1860s transformed the emphasis of news-gathering, from local opinion to reports of national and international events. An underwater telegraph cable between New Zealand and Australia operated from 1876, supplying international news that was still known, a century later, as the newspapers’ ‘cable page’.

In this period newspapers developed regular sections for each kind of story – local and international news, sports, business, the ‘women’s page’ and others.

National press association

In 1879 the United Press Association was formed, enabling the main daily papers to share and exchange national and foreign news. In 1892 three large dailies, the New Zealand Herald, Otago Daily Times and Press, agreed to share the costs of a London-based correspondent and advertising salesman.

Rural weeklies

Even by the end of the 19th century, many isolated rural settlements could not receive an urban daily paper on the day it was printed. The main dailies therefore supplied a weekly version of their content to outlying districts. The first of these rural weeklies, the Otago Witness, appeared in 1851. ‘In the “Back Blocks”,’ wrote its editor in 1899, ‘the visit to the neighbouring township is performed but weekly … and in the big weekly [newspaper] the back-blocker finds his supply of current news and also his sole supply of food for thought.’1 By 1900 there were 22 rural weeklies, although only the Auckland Weekly News survived beyond the Second World War.

  1. W. H. Clark, Otago Witness, 20 July 1899, p. 61. Back
How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Newspapers - Growth and expansion, 1860–1900', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 July 2024)

Story by Mark Derby, published 22 Oct 2014