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

Few Colonial Journals

Few Colonial Journals can boast of an uninterrupted career of over fifty years, and, of the two which can lay claim to the honour in New Zealand, the “Otago Witness” is the only one which has continued as a weekly paper during the whole period, the “Lyttelton Times,” which commenced publication a month prior to the “Witness, having been changed to a daily in the middle of the sixties.

The history of the “Otago Witness” is practically identical with that of the provincial district of Otago. Started on the 8th of February, 1851, within three years of the arrival of the first settlers, it has had a career of uninterrupted success, and has steadily progressed with the development of the colony. The intention of the founders of the settlement was that Dunedin should, as nearly as possible, he made a duplicate of Edinburgh, from which it takes its name. With this end in view, the streets were called after those of the parent city, and it was a matter of course that the newspaper should follow suite; hence the “Witness” of Edinburgh, rendered famous by its connection with Hugh Miller, the geologist, was perpetuated in the new settlement by the establishment of the “Otago Witness. The paper was a small sheet of four fourcolumn pages at the start; but with the progress of the settlement it was speedily enlarged to eight pages, and, as evidence of the enterprise of the proprietors, a wood engraver was at one time a member of its staff, a weekly illustration being printed on the first page. Mr. W. H. Cutten, whose sons are members of the well known engineering firm of that name of the present day. was the first editor, the proprietary at that time being a number of business men of the embryo city, who were constituted a committee of management. These, however, ultimately handed the paper over to Mr. Cutten, who, on the outbreak of the goldfields, in 1861, was joined by Mr. Julius Vogel; the establishment of the “Daily Times” being the result of the partnership. with Mr. Vogel as editor and Mr. B. L. Farjeon, commercial manager. The “Witness” was to some extent neglected at this period, the editing being in the hands of the sub-editor of the “Daily Times,” Mr. H. W. Robinson, who retired in 1863 to accept the position of Goldfields Warden and Resident Magistion. Mr. George Bell succeeded Mr. Robinson, and was in turn succeeded by Mr. Robert Wilson, under whose control the “Witness” was rendered independent of the “Daily Times” staff. Mr. Wilson did good work during the time he had control of the paper, but his career was unfortunately terminated by the disastrous fire in Ross's Buildings, Octagon, in September, 1879, of which he was one of the victims. Mr. William Fenwick, who had been engaged in printing the paper and assisting Mr. Wilson in the literary work, was appointed to the position thus rendered vacant, and he has had editorial control of the “Witness,” unterruptedly, up to the present day.

The “Witness” of recent years naturally presents a marked contrast to that of the early days of the settlement. It is now a large weekly of from seventy-six to eightyfour pages, according to requirements; has a neat blue cover, and from eight to twelve pages of capitally executed half tone engravings, besides a weekly cartoon; and possesses an exceptionally strong staff of original contributors. The variety to its contents has made it indispensible to town and country readers alike, and as a consequence its circulation is exceedingly large and continually increasing. It has solicitously furthered the encouragement of native talent, having introduced to the literary world a number of writers of acknowledged ability. It is, in short, a newspaper with an ideal before it—that ideal being a weekly reproduction of interesting news and information generally, and presented in such a manner as to be unexceptionable. Thus it is that the “Witness” is to be found through out the length and breadth of Otago, and largely throughout New Zealand as well. The racing man and the minister of the gospel. the miner and the farmer, the teacher and the pupil, the student of affairs and the seeker after news, the matron and the maid—all read, enjoy, and quote the “Witness.