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New Zealand's Burning — The Settlers' World in the Mid 1880s

The weeklies and their agricultural pages

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.