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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Otago & Southland Provincial Districts]

“The Otago Daily Times”

The Otago Daily Times has the honour of being the first daily newspaper published in New Zealand. It came into being without much preliminary preparation or discussion, and its advent was directly due to the discovery of gold in the Tuapeka district in April, 1861. Prior to that time Dunedin could hardly claim to be even a town—certainly it was less so before the discovery of gold at Tuapeka than many of the centres of population throughout the province that had to be satisfied with the name of “township” in the stirring times that speedily followed Gabriel Read's discovery of the glittering metal in the lonely gully which has since then borne his name. In another article a short history of the “Daily Times'” predecessor, the “Otago Witness,” is given, and there reference is made to the arrival in the colony from Victoria of Mr. Julius Vogel, a brilliant newspaper writer, and a man whose confidence in himself, convincing arguments, and generally masterful character, induced the proprietor of the “Otago Witness” to embark in what was at that time undoubtedly a bold enterprise—the production of a daily newspaper. The venture was Mr. Cutten's own at first, but in a few weeks Mr. Vogel was taken into partnership, the name of the firm being Cutten and Vogel. Mr. Vogel from the first took the position of editor, and the commercial management of the business was given to Mr. B. L Farjeon, who, like Mr. Vogel, had come to Dunedin from Victoria very shortly after the announcement of the discovery of gold in Otago. Mr. Daniel Campbell, who had been Mr. Cutten's manager for some years, became manager of the practical departments of the office. It may here be noted that during Mr. Farjeon's connection with the management of the “Times” he wrote his first novels. “Shadows on the Snow” and “Grif,” and, being a compositor, frequently took his position at case beside the men who were engaged in setting up the manuscript of the books, and assisted in their production. There are still connected with the “Times” these who recollect the sharp-witted, bustling author, standing at case beside them and rapidly setting the type of portions of his novels without any manuscript to refer to but developing his plots and characters as he went on. With the success of the goldfields, population flowed into Dunedin in thousands. The new arrivals were brought in large steamers and sailing vessels from Melbourne, and the prosaic little village was transformed in a short space of time into a large and prosperous town. The success of the “Otago Daily Times” was assured, and under the shrewd and progressive management of Mr. Farjeon, and the able literary control of Mr. Vogel, it soon attained a large circulation and was filled with advertisements. Mr. Vogel also acted as editor of the “Witness,” which, however, for a time took a somewhat subordinate position, and was practically only a reprint of the “Times.” Mr. Cutten did not retain his interest in the business very long. He was a man of a contented disposition, and the worries incident to morning newspaper proprietorship induced him to part with his share in the concern to Mr. Farjeon. Of a restless and ambitious character, Mr. Vogel soon developed political aspirations; he became an ardent politician, and on the 27th of June. 1863, he entered the Otago Provincial Council as member for Waikouaiti. Meanwhile the private ownership of the paper had merged into that of a public company—the first Otago Daily Times and Witness Company. Many prominent business and professional men of the day held shares, and on the directorate of the company were men of great capacity and shrewdness. Mr. Farjeon retired from the management in December, 1867, and Mr. Campbell was appointed to the position. The paper had its vicissitudes, however, for, like most towns that owed their sudden rise in population and business to rich gold discoveries, Dunedin was subject to periods of depression, and these did not conduce to harmonious relations with the company's editor, who had been devoting more and more of his time to politics. He had become one of the leading spirits in the Provincial Executive, and the directors, believing that the two positions were not compatible, decided on dispensing with Mr. Vogel's services. Their resolve was given effect to in 1868, not, however, without protest from Mr. Vogel. The position was given to Mr. George Burnett Barton, a lawyer and highly educated man, and a resident of Sydney. Mr. Barton's occupancy of the editorial chair was not a success, certain libel actions having resulted—notably a celebrated case which became known as the “Telegram Libel Case, and was the result of some editorial comments made by Mr. Barton on the administration of the Telegraph Department, and caused by the abstraction of a special telegram that was coming to the “Daily Times” from Melbourne by steamer. The case cost the company a very large sum of money. Mr. Barton resigned, and was succeeded in the editorial chair by Mr. W. D. Murison, a sheepfarmer of good education, and the possessor of qualifications for the post. About two years previously Mr. J. G. Fraser had been appointed to the position of manager of the company. Mr. Murison held the position of editor until 1877. A remarkable event in the history of the “Times” took place towards the close of that year. For about four years there had been published in opposition to the “Times” another morning paper of considerable merit—the “Otago Guardian.” Originally started by a public company, it had been vigorously page 229 conducted, and was unquestionably a thorn in the side of its older contemporary. It had however, failed to make much headway, and in 1876 the “Guardian” Company had sold its property to Mr. G. M. Reed, who was subsequently joined by Mr. George Fenwick. The latter had been manager of the company for about a year, and shortly after the purchase of the property by Mr. Reed agreed to enter into partnership with him. Mr. Reed taking the position of editor and Mr. Fenwick that of manager. The capital of the firm was, however, far too limited to compete with a business owned by a powerful company, and the prospects of the property were looking somewhat gloomy when Mr. Fenwick startled his partner one day by suggesting that they should make an effort to buy the “Times, and soon convinced Mr. Reed that he was thoroughly in earnest in his proposal. It would take more space than is available—nor, indeed, is it necessary—to relate how Mr. Fenwick obtained promises of the required capital from his friends, and how absolutely necessary it was to secure the good offices of some prominent citizen as negotiator who would keep the identity of his principals undisclosed. Everything was, however, satisfactorily arranged, and the Hon. W. H. Reynolds undertook the task of endeavouring to induce the directors of the “Daily Times and Witness” Company to sell their property. He brought both patience and skill to bear on what at first seemed very doubtful mission; success crowned his efforts; and Messrs Reed and Fenwick entered into possession of their new property in due course. The “Guardian” was shortly afterwards merged in the “Times,” and then the unexpected happened. Mr. Fenwick made an effort to pick a mechanical staff in fair proportions from the respective staffs of the “Times” and “Guardian,” but the “Times” hands would not accept work under the new proprietors unless they were all engaged. This condition the firm promptly declined to accede to, and the result was that the “Times” hands started an opposition paper—the “Morning Herald”—the price of which was one penny, as against threepence charged for the “Times.” There were many sympathisers with the men, and the former directors of the Times Company and their friends gave the new venture all the help they possibly could. The “Herald” at its cheap price made great headway, and the circulation of the “Times” within a short time suffered materially. Hampered with very serious financial responsibilities, for it had cost something like £30,000 to secure the “Times” property. Mr. Fenwick urged his partner to consent to the floating of a company to take over the property, and this course being agreed upon, the result was the founding of the present Otago Daily Times and Witness Newspapers Company, Limited, the articles of association providing that Mr. Fenwick should become managing director of the company, and Mr. Reed editor of the “Times. The serious falling off in the circulation of the “Times,” which set in shortly after the company took over the property, convinced the Managing Director at a very early stage in the new proprietary's existence that there was only one course open to the directors—the reduction of the price of the “Times” to a penny; but it was a considerable time before his colleagues on the board would agree to this. Finally, however, it became manifest that. if they were to have any hope of stopping the progress of their rival, the course urgently pressed by the Managing Director must be agreed to, and consequently on the 1st of February, 1881, the “Times” came out at one penny. The result completely justified the reduction; the circulation of the “Times” went up very rapidly, that of its rival steadily decreased, and finally the “Morning Herald,” after a hopeless strnggle. changed to an evening paper, and after many vicissitudes and changes of name, ceased publication.

The “Times” has made marked and continuous progress in common with other leading journals in the colony, and its advancing business has necessitated several enlargements of the premises and great additions to its plant. In 1897 Mr. Fenwick made a visit to the United States and England to inquire into the respective merits of the linotype and monotype setting and casting machines, and purchased in England an equipment of the former. The public have derived great benefit from the introduction of this wonderful labour saving machine; larger papers being issued and a considerable proportion of the money saved through the new method of composition being expended in other directions.

In its politics the “Times” is conservative in tone, but it is essentially a paper conducted in the spirit of true Liberalism. The paper has the fullest confidence of the large community it serves in the southern part of the colony. It is conducted with absolute fairness, and with an ever watchful eye to serving the best interests of every deserving section of the community. Its tone is unexceptionable, and its conductors have for many years received frequent and gratifying testimony to the success of their efforts to keep the columns of the paper free from any thing that is objectionable. The “Times' has been for many years a strenuous and consistent advocate of Free Trade; and in dealing with local affairs it has proved itself a trenchant critic and a vigorous advocate of changes and reforms in various directions in social and commercial life.

There have been a number of changes in the editorship of the paper during the fortythree years it has been in existence, but none of the predecessors of the present editor occupied the position for any lengthened period with the exception of Mr. W. D. Murison and Mr. R. E. N. Twopeny, the former of whom sat in the editorial chair from February, 1871, until nearly the close of 1877; while Mr. Twopeny held the position for about eight years, when he resigned. On this vacancy taking place the Board of Management offered the position to their Managing Director, it being their wish that Mr. Fenwick should hold the dual position if he found, after adequate trial, that the responsibilities and work of the two offices were net too great a strain on him. Mr Fenwick has held the joint position to the entire satisfaction of his colleagues on the directorate for a period of nearly fourteen years, thus having held office for a much longer term than any of his predecessors.