New Zealand's Burning — The Settlers' World in the Mid 1880s
15 — Nerves
Our study of the transport network of rail, roads and shipping has shown that strong sinews had developed and were knitting the colony together in firm patterns of interdependence. We turn now to the ‘nerves’ of the colony, the networks along which information flowed. A glance at the Post and Telegraph Department's 1885 report shows that these too were now well developed.1 During the year the colony's 4,463-mile telegraph network had carried 1,533,406 telegrams. The colonists had posted over 16,000,000 letters and postcards to be sorted and delivered through over 1,000 post offices, and over another 1,000,000 to be dispatched overseas. On average, each person had posted 28.26 letters. Journalism too was flourishing. The 20 newspapers registered with the Post Office in 1885 had brought the total to 187, and registered magazines increased by 6 to 175. Most of the letters and telegrams have perished, but extensive newspaper files have survived, and within their pages many of the vanished telegrams and letters appear as printed text. The nature of the surviving sources means that this chapter will inevitably be concerned mainly with the newspaper press.
The village and the globe?
Our study of the summer's fires has amply illustrated how rapidly and efficiently information flowed throughout the country. No one spending a little time with the 1880s newspaper shipping and commercial columns can doubt that the speedy exchange of telegraphed information was daily shaping the country's economic activities. Coastal shipping was clearly being directed by a flow of telegrams relating to cargoes, the weather, and conditions at the various ports. In a valuable article Eric Pawson and Neil Quigley have shown how the rapid growth of modern forms of transport and communications transformed life in Canterbury between 1850 and 1890, and permitted its greater integration into the trade and markets of the colony.2 Surely all of this must have rapidly led to a predominantly ‘New Zealand’ consciousness? We now turn to the newspaper press to show that in fact it was fostering a ‘village and globe’ outlook at least as efficiently as a ‘New Zealand’ one. We look first at the local ‘Our Own Correspondents’ as a page 221 ‘village’ feature, next turn to the agricultural pages of some of the mai weeklies to illustrate the ‘global’ impact of the press, and then return to the local scene to examine the work of ‘Our Travelling Reporters’. We conclude with an overview of the role of the press in colonial life of the 1880s.
The ‘Our Own Correspondents’
Larger centres did not have correspondents as their news was covered by reporters and Press Association telegrams. Some county council, education, sporting, and other news about the smaller localities also came in through other channels. The local correspondents therefore supplemented the general news gathering of the paper. Appointing and maintaining the number of correspondents indicated by Figure 15.1 would have been no inconsiderable exercise. It must have paid off in terms of circulation, and there must have been a strong demand for these columns at the local level.
Where several newspapers competed in a region they might each have a local correspondent in many of its districts. Their presence helps to indicate the area of a paper's circulation. Figure 15.2 shows the overlapping of circulations in Taranaki. Even on this pioneer frontier most settlers had a choice of newspaper. Taranaki's North/South rift is clearly in evidence, with New page 223 Plymouth dominating the north, the other three centres competing for the south, and Rahotu, Opunake and Stratford being contested by both. Wanganui, lying well outside the province, comes into the picture because the Wanganui Herald (and especially its weekly edition, later renamed the Yeoman) covered South Taranaki until the appearance of the local press. The Wanganui Chronicle had ‘Our Owns’ in Patea and Manaia at this period, but no letters from them appeared in February 1886. The Auckland Weekly News had an ‘Our Own’ in Hawera, supplying a column-length monthly ‘Our West Coast Letter’ that covered the whole of Taranaki. Such was the strength of localism in Taranaki that before the end of the century newspapers had been established in Inglewood,3 Stratford, Eltham, Opunake, Manaia, and Waitara.4 There was also a parallel multiplication of ‘Our Own Correspondents'.
Local correspondents covered all aspects of settler life—the progress of settlement, local immigration and emigration, crops, sales, school, church, sport, hunting, roads, rumours, quarrels, accidents, industries, fires and much else. For many small rural districts in the later 19th century they make possible local histories with a depth and personalised richness quite beyond what can be done for most larger centres. Who, then, were these correspondents, what motivated them, and how did they relate to the local community? Most of the letters are unsigned and written with a studied anonymity. Some are ‘chatty’ but the usual surface tone is of an impartial, ‘professional’ detachment, though always with an implicit strong concern for the district's good name and progress. A careful local historian can usually uncover the identity of any long-term contributor. A correspondent needed close community involvement in order to gather news, so it is not surprising that many were storekeepers and school teachers. Others were farming settlers active in local affairs. We will give a couple of examples.
We have already met William F. Howlett, the Makaretu school teacher who took a lead in his district's relief efforts following the fires. He first appears in New Zealand as Third Master at Nelson College, 1876–77. In 1881–82 he was in Patea editing the short-lived Evening News, set up in competition to the morning Patea County Press. At Makaretu he won high praise from school inspector Henry Hill for his innovative curriculum, in which the children ‘learnt by doing’. The majority of his pupils were Scandinavians, wrestling with the English language. Inspector Hill reported that:
The pupils are made familiar with all forms of business—of buying and selling, of exchange, of keeping accounts, of tendering for work, and making topographical plans of the Makaretu settlement…. [These], when mounted and varnished, readily sell to the settlers at prices varying from 2s. to 10s. each…. The method adopted … in teaching … buying and selling, and page 224 keeping accounts, is exceedingly interesting. Each senior pupil is required to open a business account with the master. The latter is supposed to purchase from the parents, but only through the children, articles such as bread, milk, butter, eggs, cream, and directly from the children eels, wood-hens, and many other things. Then, the children purchase from the master various kinds of articles which they or their parents may require …5
Howlett ran a lively school, and was also a lively local correspondent for Makaretu in the Hawke's Bay Herald and its weekly counterpart, the Courier. But, being opinionated and somewhat eccentric, not surprisingly he in due course fell foul of some of the settlers, including the chairman of his school committee, the runholder Colonel J.L. Herrick. In protest against the committee's mismanagement of its affairs, Howlett resigned from the school in a blaze of publicity which he himself engineered, both anonymously as the local correspondent and over his own name in the Herald's correspondence columns. His final shot was an offer through the Herald's correspondence column that ‘If Colonel Herrick will resign the chairmanship which for four years he has so unsatisfactorily filled, I am perfectly willing to assume the position and carry out the measures necessary to restore some kind of order’. Soon thereafter the Herald's readers were hearing from ‘an occasional correspondent’ in the rising northern Wairarapa bush township of Pahiatua. In a style which most of them must have found very familiar, he reported on Pahiatua that
the most noticeable feature of the place is the number of new buildings going up. I think there can hardly be less than a dozen of the latter. At all events there are at least two bakers' shops, a couple of stores, and a number of dwelling houses, while I saw a man carrying along the road two boards—one marked Makaretu Cash Store and the other Will open here by 1st May. So I suppose Mr Howlett intends to keep himself before the public.6
Howlett continued to enliven the colonial press down the years while making worthwhile contributions in other areas including New Zealand botany and mountaineering.7
Our second example of a local correspondent is John Finlay whom we have also already met in Chapter 11. Immigrating from Ireland in 1871, Finlay spent his first colonial decade as a feldon yeoman farmer near Timaru. He then took a trip back to Britain, and on his return in 1882 was engaged as agricultural correspondent of the Timaru Herald, visiting farms throughout Canterbury and Otago. In 1885 he moved north to South Taranaki where his career included farming, contracting and dealing in produce. In his ‘A Trip to the Bush’, written as Manutahi correspondent of the Hawera Star, we are given a lively picture of bush yeoman life as seen by a feldon yeoman page 225 viewing it for the first time. Being at Okaiawa, on the edge of the bush, on a spring Saturday afternoon in 1886, he decided to seek out ‘an old acquaintance whose address I knew to be Skeet road, but the location of the aforesaid road was to me a mystery’. Fortunately he met a bush settler, W.A. Arnold, who offered to take him home, and then see him conducted to his friend's place after moonrise. We quote briefly from the beginning of Finlay's report, to give a sample of his relaxed, somewhat jovial style.
Leaving Okaiawa and heading towards the standing timber, we soon found ourselves ‘in the bush’. We were on the Ahipipi road. I hope I have spelled it right. [No, you haven't, but never mind.—ED.] The first time I saw it in print I nearly screwed my mouth out of shape, trying to pronounce it. The nearest approach to the sound is hi pipi. Night coming on fast, it being about seven o'clock in the evening, we pushed on. A smart canter over a level and partially metalled road, and we were at the residence of Mr. Arnold. On the verandah Mrs A, stood, anxiously expecting her lord and master, who had been detained longer than he expected, breaking in a young horse. Our ablutions being hastily performed, we soon found ourselves in the kitchen, where the half-burned rata logs on the fire-place threw out a strong but to us pleasant heat; while the table was covered with steaming and appetising viands, to which were done ample justice. From the ceiling and around the walis hung, to settlers, the most profitable pictures—huge sides of bacon and ham.8
In his entry in the Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Vol. 6, p. 250] Finlay proudly reported that he had been ‘correspondent for the Egmont Settler, Patea County Press, Hawera Star, and occasionally the Auckland Weekly News'. On his death in 1928 his obituary recorded that he had been a newspaper correspondent for about 45 years.9
We must now consider the local correspondents from the viewpoints of the newspapers, the local communities, and the correspondents themselves. For the newspapers the correspondents represented an economical way of gathering news from their strongly localised circulation areas. Only the larger urban papers would have afforded the luxury of full-time paid reporters and these would have been largely committed to covering major institutions and events around town. Whether by train or by horse, visiting the country districts was a slow business, and telephoning in one's report still lay in the future. The local correspondent was there already, with his store of local knowledge and wide contacts. His deep personal involvement enabled him to enliven the day to day story; for the unexpected crisis his letter would be off in the next post. Here was a reasonably reliable source of current, relevant, personalised local material for an office unable to produce such copy by its own resources.page 226
For the local community a good correspondent was both a convenience and an economic asset. In the Old World of the settlers' past, field workers returned each night to close packed villages and kept abreast of local news with little difficulty. It was different in the colony, with its scattered farms and clearings, its muddy roads, and its long days of pioneer labour. Yet in this rapidly developing world, with the future's shape being continually decided in current debate, there was an urgent need to know what was going on. ‘Our Own’ not only told the world about ‘us’, he also kept ‘us’ informed about ourselves. And for our settlement to thrive, we also needed him as our constant advocate to the outside world. With many voices clamouring for the hard pressed resources of county council, education board and central government, we needed to be heard too. Furthermore, new setters, with their skills, capital and labour, would naturally flow to those districts projecting a positive picture of their achievements and prospects. Most settlers knew die value of a competent correspondent. If he was incompetent they knew how to complain. ‘I am led to believe that you are mistaken in the gentleman who sends statements for publication’, B. Silverman of Norsewood wrote to the Hawke's Bay Weekly Courier early in 1886. ‘If your correspondent would be able to mind his own business half so well as he is inclined to meddle with that of others, we would be rid of a great nuisance’.10
From the lifelong involvement of such men as John Finlay and William Howlett it is clear that the role of local correspondent brought real personal satisfaction. In the days when newspapers ruled supreme without the rivalry of radio and television, they had an influence and prestige that rubbed off even onto their lesser contributors. Despite the pretence of anonymity, the community knew its correspondent's identity and admired his achievements. It fed him news, and no doubt debated his published views with him. If he had ambitions in public life, his newspaper role would have helped him advance them. We know little directly about the motivation and conditions of appointment of these correspondents, but some light was thrown on the subject when on 24 April 1878 the Manawatu Times had cause to attack the Wanganui Herald's Palmerston North correspondent, under the heading ‘“OUR OWN” CORRESPONDENTS'.
With the growth of newspaper literature, and the consequent desire on the part of the proprietors of journals to obtain the widest and latest intelligence, a kind of nondescript or hybrid animal has been tacked on to the tails of the Fourth Estate, known by the name of ‘Our Own’, who is to the profession neither fish, fowl, nor good red herring. These gentry crop up like mushrooms in every conceivable place; and as, in most instances, they perform their duties free, gratis, and for nothing, their only honorarium being a free paper and the ‘honor of the rhing’, in country towns their name is legion.11page 227
The occasion of this outburst was an animus against the Manawatu Times on the part of the Herald's correspondent and plagiarism by him from the columns of the Times. Both the Herald and the New Zealand Times became involved in the discussion. It emerged that the correspondent was the local Palmerston North School headmaster who had been disappointed in applying for employment by the Manawatu Times. In the course of the dispute he claimed to be ‘duly paid for his services as per agreement’ and that he had been ‘for some time connected with the London Press, as Parliamentary reporter, &c.’11 Interestingly the Manawatu Times had its own ‘Our Own’ in Foxton. The episode throws a little light on local correspondents' honorariums and motivation, and also on provincial press rivalry.
The weeklies and their agricultural pages
The newspaper weeklies which circulated from all the larger centres, and even from such smaller ones as Hawera and New Plymouth, were encouraged by several features of colonial life. Daily circulation was not possible in many rural districts. Even where it was, many settlers had neither the time nor money for a daily. In the towns those who read the dailies looked for additional reading for Sunday leisure. So the typical weekly included the week's news and editorials, from type already set up for the daily, mainly for the rural readers, and a variety of special interest columns, often including a serialised novel, for both town and country. In filling these interest columns the papers clipped liberally from overseas journals—giving the weeklies a strongly ‘global’ flavour. To illustrate this let us look at Wellington's very successful weekly, the New Zealand Mail, for 17 July 1885.
The Mail's ‘LADIES PAGE’, run by ‘Madame Elise’, begins with her letter for the week, which is on ‘Rational Dress’ and draws largely on ‘the Health Exhibition held not long ago in London’. Then the clippings begin. From London Life comes ‘The Grand Duke of Hesse: Betrothed Again’; from the Boston Courier, United States comes ‘The Decline of the Bride-Cake’; from the Queen comes ‘Her Majesty's Drawing Room’, an account of more than 400 persons being presented to the Queen on 13 May 1885; and from the Herald of Health comes a snippet on ‘Causes of Nervousness’. Next come the ‘CHESS’ columns, where one of the two illustrated problems is from the American Southern Trade Gazette; ‘Chess in America’ comes from the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette; and details are given on how to enter for a competition being run by the Ottawa Citizen. A potpourri headed ‘OLLA PODRIDA’ has two articles from the Lancet. The six items headed ‘RELIGIOUS’ are all from overseas, and ‘TEMPERANCE’ consists of ‘The Legend of Jupiter’ from the Jewish World. The serialised novel, Dora Russell's ‘JAMES DAUNTON'S FATE’, is set in England, and apparently written page 228 there. Also serialised is ‘LORD WOLSELEY: THE STORY OF HIS LIFE— EARLY DAYS' from the English Illustrated Magazine. Further reading is provided by ‘The Man Who Lived to be a Hundred’ from the Saturday Review and ‘What Machinery has done for the World’ from the New York Tribune.
The ‘PASTORAL-AGRICULTURAL’ section begins with an invitation for contributions from ‘our country friends’, but it is largely made up of overseas material. Most of the first column consists of a letter by the leading British agricultural authority Sir James Caird, clipped from the Agricultural Gazette of 16 February 1885. It is introduced with the comment that ‘although it bears chiefly upon American and English agriculture it contains suggestions well worth attention on the part of Colonial farmers'. Seven briefer unsourced articles follow, on topics as diverse as ‘Applying Fertilizers to Corn’, ‘Care of Horses' Feet’, and ‘Parturient Fever’. They have the feel of being either clippings from British and American sources, or editorial compilations drawing largely on such sources. The full column ‘VETERINARIAN’ section on ‘Diseases of the Skin of the Horse and Other Animals' is a clipping from the Field. When one turns to the agricultural pages of the colony's other weeklies one finds the same heavy dependence on overseas material.
The shaping of a new farming countryside from New Zealand's virgin lands was at the heart of the colonial enterprise. To this task the settlers brought what they had learnt in their homelands and what they could learn from each other. For most, the only other regular input of information and advice was what they read in their newspapers. The amount of space which the papers, especially the weeklies, gave to farming information is evidence of a considerable demand. To illustrate the heavy dependence on overseas sources we will examine the farming pages of three of the main weeklies for the months of July and December 1885 and March 1886. It is not always clear whether an item is a clipping or not, but in these three months the sourced and unsourced clippings from overseas journals in Auckland Weekly News totalled at least 116, in the Wellington New Zealand Mail at least 46, and in the Dunedin Otago Witness least 30. Some were from leading British journals such as the Agricultural Gazette, the Field and the Live Stock Journal; others from leading American journals such as the American Agriculturist and the Albany Cultivator & Country Gentleman. Some were from less obvious sources such as the British Grocer, the Scotsman, the Wycheproof Ensign of rural Australia, and the Californian Los Gatos Mail. About one eighth of the clippings were from Australian sources, the remainder divided almost equally between British and North American. While the sources are all from the English-speaking world, a certain amount of the information came from elsewhere, especially Europe. While guiding the settlers in their page 229 agricultural enterprises the press also made them aware that they belonged to a diverse global enterprise. And what was there to learn if one followed the farming columns closely in the mid 1880s? Our sample of sourced clippings has much more for the yeoman than for the runholder. There are only 6 clippings on sheep matters, but the 38 on dairy matters make this the most widely treated topic. Rising, innovative dairy industries in Britain, North America and Australia were providing models for the emerging New Zealand industry. There were practical articles on cheese and butter making, advice for the beginner on ‘how to milk’ and the raising of calves, news of the developing factory system in North America, of the rise of dairy schools in various places, and of new inventions for the industry. The second most popular area was fruit culture with 21 clippings. Other topics of interest to many yeomen dealt with raising pigs, the care and fertilising of soils, making hay and ensilage, and keeping poultry. Runhoiders with self-sufficient homesteads must also have found these useful. Both country and town readers would have been interested in items about horses. The Otago Witness had clippings on ‘To Cure a Kicking Horse’ (Napa Register, USA), ‘Teach the Colt to Walk Fast’ (Chicago News), ‘Judging a Horse’ (‘an American paper’) and ‘Horse-Breeding’ (‘Australian paper’). The New Zealand Mail had similar clippings and its substantial veterinary section, drawing heavily on the Field and the Agricultural Gazette, also had a great deal for the horse owner. A scattering of more general articles dealt with farming developments in various countries.
The settlers of the mid 1880s could also subscribe to two well established New Zealand farming periodicals, the Canterbury Agricultural and Pastoral Association's bimonthly New Zealand Country Journal, and Henry Brett's New Zealand Farmer, published monthly in Auckland. These also depended heavily on overseas clippings. Thus the Farmer for July 1885 has extracts from 5 overseas books and at least 26 overseas journals. The Country Journal at this time was a publication of 88 pages, of which about a quarter were devoted to regular features such as farming notes for the two current months, sporting notes (on racing, football, athletics, &c, throughout the colony), and market reports. For the remainder, although the Journal drew quite heavily on the staff of the Lincoln School of Agriculture for contributions, from a third to a half of the articles in each issue were overseas clippings. The July 1885 issue has 32 pages of British and American items, as well as a 10-page article by a Christchurch contributor on ‘Farming in Manitoba’.
The strong global element in New Zealand farming journalism put the settlers in touch with overseas developments, often within a few months of their being publicised in the originating country. Thus, taking the issues of the three weeklies that we examined and the July 1885 issues of the Farmer and the Country Journal, we find papers recently read to Stock Breeders' page 230 Associations in Maryland and Iowa, to Horticultural Societies in Massachusetts and Western New York, to a Scottish Veterinary Association and a Mississippi Dairy Association and to various farmers' clubs in England and America. There are items of interest from reports of the United States Commissioner for Agriculture and of the State Boards of Agriculture in Massachusetts and Kansas. Research reports of the entomologist of the Royal Agricultural Society and bulletins of Experimental Stations in California and New York are also drawn on. How did these New Zealand publications get such easy access to worldwide farming research and development findings? A hint on their strategy is given in the ‘ORCHARD’ section of the Auckland Weekly News of 12 December 1885. An article on ‘Does it Pay to Spray Fruit Trees' has been put together from ‘several American exchanges’. While the New Zealand offices must have subscribed to a selection of the more prestigious overseas agricultural journals, they were able to vastly extend their coverage by simply posting their publications as exchanges to popular American and British journals. Through these they garnered from the practical experience of the whole English-speaking farming world, and also picked up the gist of the main findings of research stations and government agencies without the trouble or expense of acquiring their bulletins. The mail boats from San Francisco are an important element in the history of New Zealand farming. They also brought global enrichment for many other aspects of New Zealand village life.
Masthead of the Wanganui Yeoman, 1885
What a pity it is that the fine old rustic rejoicings and out-of-door merrymakings, like the May-day, the Harvest home, and the shearing are things of the past in most parts of the Old Country and completely in the colonies, where working men pride themselves more on the rudeness they can show to their employers or the women from the neighbours' houses, than on their powers of keeping up the jollification in company with a dance or a song, or a few sports. In the old days folk lived more together, and rejoiced or mourned with one another far more in common than in these so-called liberal days, when a man's idea of pleasure is to go and get sulkily drunk, and either knock a woman about or fight another man, and end in the police cell.12
John Ballance renamed his Weekly Herald the Yeoman in July 1880, and set out to make it the leading farmers' paper of the southern North Island. His strategy included the repeated use of travelling reporters. By September 1882 he claimed that ‘the YEOMAN is penetrating into every nook and corner from Manawatu to Taranaki. In Hawke's Bay, also, its circulation is steadily increasing.’ In 1883 the Yeoman had two roving reporters, ‘Our Travelling Reporter’ and ‘Our Agricultural Reporter’, crisscrossing the west coast from Taranaki to Manawatu. In the 23 March 1883 issue (p. 8) the ‘Travelling Reporter’ gives us some idea of the place of books and newspapers in the life of a maturing bush settlement:
Inglewood has a free reading room, in which the local and leading news- page 232 papers are placed at the disposal of the residents, while the library consists of about 1000 volumes of popular works. This reading room and library is located in a building formerly used as a Government store, but which has now been taken over as a town hall, and is being extended and improved. In this hall the already renowned Moa Farmers' Club holds its meetings, and a great deal of useful work it does in the course of the year.
The road by road and farm by farm descriptions given by the 1883 agricultural reporter were doubtless followed eagerly by the settlers in each district, but cannot have made gripping reading for the general reader. In 1891 the Yeoman was fortunate to find a lively ‘Our Travelling Commissioner’ whose columns sometimes read like a cross between Cobbett's Rural Rides and Cowper's The Diverting History of John Gilpin. From time to time we are allowed to see the world through the eyes of his steed, ‘the Bronco’, who plays a significant part in the narrative.
Leaving Turakina, I took the branch road to Marton, and proceeding along it for about four miles, came to such a succulent and tempting piece of clover by the wayside, that I found myself unable to resist the touching and vigorous appeal of the Bronco to be allowed to stop and regale himself upon it. I therefore dismounted, and having tethered my steed to a stout cabbage tree, threw myself under its shade, and gave myself up to meditations upon the best means to be adopted to present a dignified and imposing appearance, worthy of my exalted position, on making my first entry into Marton. My reveries were however suddenly interrupted by the plunging of the Bronco, who had got the rope entangled in his hind legs, and before I could rise to his assistance I heard a crashing sound over my head, the cabbage tree bent down, and then snapped off close to the ground, and before I could scarcely realise what had happened my steed was off like a flash down the road, with a large three headed cabbage tree trailing at his heels, raising a cloud of dust, and emitting a rattling noise that added wings to his fear, and caused him to vanish in the distanc like a meteor-flash.13
The picaresque flavour of this rambler's pursuit of, and eventual reunion with, his errant Bronco, and their continuing rovings together must have been appealing to a wide range of readers. A travelling reporter who wrote in a similar vein to this was I.D. Wickham who with his horse Musket toured through Taranaki for the Auckland Weekly News in 1886–87.14 The Weekly News was obviously competing with the Yeoman for the Taranaki weekly market, and sent a succession of competent travelling reporters to the province during the 1880s.15 Together, these ramblers and the network of Our Owns' provide an ample chronicle of the unfolding rural world of later Victorian Taranaki.
The New Zealand newspaper press
We are now in a position to give an overview of the role of the press in the colonial life of the 1880s. A useful (if rather simplified) outline will see the telegraph working towards a New Zealand outlook, the scissors and paste, applied to overseas journals, imparting a strongly global flavour, and the pen (especially in the hands of ‘Our Owns’) giving a vigorous local thrust. The outworking of this interplay between telegraph, scissors and pen can perhaps be best understood in the context of the general fortunes of the world press, and especially against the backdrop of the parallel English developments of which many colonists were aware.
The second half of the 19th century saw the ever accelerating rise of the newspaper press and expansion of its circulation, the result especially of rising living standards, the rapid advance towards universal literacy, cheaper paper and other production costs, telegraphy, and modern transport for distribution. The major technological innovation in all this was the telegraph. Patrick Day has shown that with the coming of the telegraph, and the resultant United Press Association, ‘the New Zealand press by the early 1880s had become a cohesive national organisation’.16 He rightly comments that ‘this process of nationalisation took place well before analogous processes occurred in other aspects of New Zealand life’. Despite putting all parts of the colony and all its newspapers into constant, almost immediate, contact with each other, the telegraph did not immediately seriously undercut either the localising work of the pen or the globalising work of the scissors. For somewhat different reasons than in the colony, the coming of the telegraph was also an ambivalent influence in England. There it came to a scene where the London press was already national in standing and influence, through having long carried the important doings of the centre out to the provinces. But the telegraph also carried this news out to the provinces, where the local penny dailies could now bring out breakfast-time editions long before the London papers could physically arrive. With this advantage to enhance the general factors now favouring all newspapers, the later 19th century became the golden age of much of the provincial press, the period when it successfully pushed back the circulation areas of the London press.17 Reporting on the beginning of this rise, Reynolds Magazine of 2 January 1847 had this to say:
The provincial press has made wonderful advances in ability and energy during the last twenty years. How almost invariably has the pen displaced the scissors—the ink supplanted the paste! Some of the best reporters in the country are engaged on the country press…18
The New Zealand situation was very different. There was no colonial page 234 ‘London’ from which the press could claim to speak with a national voice. Vogel's unsuccessful attempt of the 1870s to make the New Zealand Times a national paper showed that.19 Even the New Zealand Times and its weekly, the New Zealand Mail, were to be very busy with the scissors over these years when the English provincial press was putting them aside. Out in the New Zealand provinces it was even more so. By the 1880s all the New Zealand papers, urban and rural, were selecting their main body of New Zealand and overseas news from the press releases of the United Press Association. But the real juice of the New Zealand press was not in the brief, bland summaries that flowed from the telegraph, but in the fuller, personalised offerings of the army of ‘Our Owns’, the gifted contingents of ‘Our Travelling Reporters', and the scissors' reapings from the cream of the world of international journalism. The telegraph certainly kept New Zealand well informed about itself. But from the local pens and the global scissors came not only information but also the greater part of the colour, feeling, imagination and personality of the New Zealand press.
And for many settlers, what the press was valued for above all else was that it recorded and even dramatised their doings in their local settings. It treated their part in the carving of a new rural world out of the wild as a matter of general public significance. Their part of this ongoing colonial drama was counted worthy of being written into the public record. It was surely, above all else, about themselves, and about how effectively news of their hour of crisis was being got out to the wider world, that the blinded defenders of Stratford wanted to hear from the printed word, as read out to them by the Taranaki Herald's ‘Our Special Reporter’ on the afternoon of 7 January 1886:
The worst of the danger was over on Thursday at about noon. When our reporter arrived a few hours later, nearly every other person one met either had cold water bandages on his eyes or else was carrying his handkerchief soaked in water in his hands…. One of the first places I visited was Mr. Curtis' store. Four or five gentlemen were collected there. They had just received the newspaper by the train, but were quite unable to read it. I therefore perched myself on a high stool and read it out as a lecturer would address an audience.20