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Book & Print in New Zealand : A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa

The trade

The trade

Men and women of the trade

The initial task of identifying who was engaged in the trade in any given locality must be pursued through general sources. Jury lists, electoral rolls and directories are standard tools in family history and these can, sometimes painfully, be scanned for those with the relevant occupations. Directories are among the most useful sources for those in business (as distinct from employees) and there is an excellent bibliography by Hansen, The Directory Directory (1994), which indicates the categories of information supplied in each title, as well as library holdings. The six-volume Cyclopedia of New Zealand (1897-1908) contains articles, locality by locality, on the businesses and prominent residents, and newspapers and printing firms are well covered in the set. All identifiable entries were extracted and reproduced separately, in alphabetical order, as Printing, Bookselling and their Allied Trades in New Zealand c.1900, in 1980, and this will be a convenient starting point for many searches.

Once individuals have been identified the pursuit of this specific biography will take the researcher into the area of family history, particularly for those who did not have prominent public careers. Family history is an area which receives much attention from libraries and archives, and there are a number of research guides: the most comprehensive is Anne Bromell's Tracing Family History in New Zealand (rev. ed. 1996). Many families have had a formal family history prepared, which may provide the desired information on the printer member. However, family historians seldom have an active understanding of the character of the occupations of family members and either ignore them, or get significant details wrong. This is unfortunate, because such histories are often the only extensive account of an individual's life. An otherwise useful example is Melva G. Vincent's The Vincent Printers (1980) which compresses two substantial typescript accounts of William E. Vincent, an early Wellington printer, and his descendants in New England, New South Wales. Although accurate on most technical details (such as makes of printing presses), there are substantive errors in, for example, the account of William Vincent's London apprenticeship. In contrast, however, the modest account by Struan Robertson, The Life and Times of Samuel Revans (1989), is reliable at all points where it has been tested, and the collective account prepared by Edgar Gregory and Nevill Wilson, Gregorys-Camerons, Printers to Dunedin, of two connected families is enlightening in its coverage of printing history as well as the family links.

Some other early printers have been the subject of formal biographies. The most substantial of these is the biography William Colenso, by A.G. Bagnall and G.C. Petersen (1948). Colenso's career was so varied, and the time of his active involvement in printing is so well-documented in his own account (1888) that it is not remarkable that almost no new significant detail is added, except as already reported by Hill (1901). For the historian of printing this is disappointing, but the whole work is rightly regarded as an excellent biography.

Peter Kennett's Unsung Hero (1991) on Barzillai Quaife, first newspaper editor in the Bay of Islands, is a work of considerable interest, dealing primarily with Quaife's political struggles. It draws usefully upon Quaife's own, quite rare, publication The Vindicator (1865) which records his problems, both technical and political, in some detail.

Other biographies of political figures who came from a background in the printing industry have usually treated their early careers very superficially, if at all. Some attention may be paid to the journalism, and possibly to the economic aspects of their newspaper involvement, but even this will normally
Black and white photograph

A carving, possibly in plaster, made especially for the 1906 Christmas issue of the New Zealand Graphic and Ladies Journal and signed J. E. Ward (photographer unknown). It was reproduced as a full-page (tabloid size) half-tone photograph with the caption 'With Maoriland's best wishes for Christmas and the coming year', as the first page of the 38-page pictorial section. While Christmas issues were largely pictorial, the regular issues of up to 64 pages were mainly text and advertisements, catering for the whole family, including children's pages. (Auckland Star Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, reference number F-3160-1/1-)

be subordinated to the political career. The recent political biography of John Ballance by T. McIvor, The Rainmaker (1989), is a welcome exception which even incorporates some paragraphs on the technical side of newspaper management.

Those printers, newspaper proprietors, and similar figures, who were elected to the House of Representatives or appointed to the Legislative Council at any stage in their careers, will have received a parliamentary tribute after their deaths. Some of these tributes are very brief, such as that for Joseph Ivess, in the Parliamentary Debates on 11 September 1919 (vol.184, pp.428-29), but others could be quite lengthy, with contributions by members other than party leaders, such as that for John Rigg on 23 February 1944 (vol.264, pp.9-11 in the Legislative Council, and pp.19-22 in the House of Representatives). Tributes can be located by means of the Sessional Indexes to the Debates, under the name of the deceased member.

Summary biographical information for some members of the trade can be found in standard biographical sources such as Who's Who in New Zealand (1st ed. 1908, 12th (most recent) ed. 1991) and the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (1990- ). The biographical database on individuals nominated for the Dictionary is preserved in the office of the Dictionary secretariat, in the Department of Internal Affairs, whether or not the individuals are included in the published volumes. The database is available for consultation by researchers on application to the office. A larger representation of the Otago trade will be covered in Southern People, to be published by Dunedin City Council in 1998. The earlier Dictionary of New Zealand Biography compiled by Guy Scholefield in 1940 includes a number of individuals not covered in the more recent work but the standard of the essays is very variable and many entries are very brief.

Short articles on individuals may appear in many locations. McKay (1940) includes 'Men of the industry', with brief biographical notes on a range of men, and the various trade journals have always printed obituary notices. Coleridge has published an essay, 'Edward Catchpool', in An Index of Civilisation (1993), on the printer and publisher of Wellington's short-lived newspaper The New Zealand Colonist, and Harvey has published on Joseph Ivess in the Turnbull Library Record (1988). Two printing-related essays in family history deal with J.H. Claridge, appearing in Historical Journal Auckland-Waikato (April 1975) by J.C. Claridge, and by Stella Jones in Auckland-Waikato Historical Journal (April 1980). These are most useful. Frank Fyfe of Greytown included material on Sam Revans (Revans: Father of the Press, with Adam Fyfe, and Gullible Sam, together with two collections of Revans's letters, Letters from Woodside, and Letters from Huangarua) and on Richard Wakelin (Wakelin: Father of Journalism) in the series of booklets on Wairarapa history that he published from Wakelin House and Broadoak Press. These all need to be checked for factual accuracy.

Other biographical material must be sought through such sources as newspaper obituaries, and the occasional local history. The newspaper trade has always followed the custom of writing up their own people, and every newspaper centennial issue will include an article on the founders, on some of the editorial staff, and sometimes also on the printers. The Greymouth Evening Star: Centennial Supplement (1966) is a good example of this. Journalists' memoirs may occasionally discuss printers as well as journalists; most of Lawlor's accounts of journalists have no references to printers, but his Pat Lawlor's Wellington (1976) does include a chapter 'The Blundell Brothers'.

In-house journals such as Coulls Somerville Wilkie's Invicta News, or the Government Printing Office's Print (1949-50), provide some information about printing employees. So also do trade union publications, such as Imprint, and those for special anniversaries. Trade journals such as Printing Prestige and Printers' News sometimes include short articles about notable people who have retired or died. For the Government Printing Office, the volume presented to Marcus Marks on his retirement in 1922 includes the signatures of all its employees at that time, in their respective departments.

Where names are known, there are volumes of newspaper clippings, 'New Zealand Biographies,' and 'New Zealand Obituaries', in the Alexander Turnbull Library, recently made more widely available in a microfiche edition. In the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, there is the George Randall McDonald Biographical Dictionary.

Printing trades workers went overseas in the armed forces in both world wars, and those who died often received obituaries. Some of them wrote and printed newsletters, miscellanies, and official items, both on troopships and in the countries they were based in. A.B. Clark and J.C. Andersen's article in McKay (1940) on the troopship publications in World War I is noticed above. For World War II, information about the producers of publications in the 2NZEF in North Africa and Italy, such as Kiwi News, and in the 3rd Division in the Pacific, can be sought in official war histories, and in autobiographies and biographies.

Finally, printers who did not become journalists have occasionally prepared their memoirs. J.H. Claridge prepared and printed two collections of anecdotes, Odd Notes (1928) and 75 Years in New Zealand (1938?) which include some personal experiences. Marcus Marks, the New Zealand Government Printer from 1916 to 1922, published Memories (Mainly Merry) in 1934. This contains almost no technical information on his working career but has interesting anecdotes of his life as an apprentice and as a journeyman. The family of the Wellington printer Lemuel Watkins published privately in 1992 his Mellowed Memories which describes his career as a printer in considerable, sometimes technical, detail. As a source for printing history rather than biographical detail it is the best work discussed here.

Owners and firms

One can usefully divide printing enterprises into categories. First there was the Government Printing Office, now GP Print, absorbed within the Whitcoulls Group, and owned by US Office Products, but for over a century a producer of every kind of official publication.

There are the institutional presses, such as at the universities, several of which have their own printing plants; for example, the Otago University printery, and Massey University's printery, which provides study materials for over 600 extramural courses.

The commercial printing firms, large and small, can be subdivided into those mainly concerned with producing newspapers, and those devoted to general and jobbing printing. None of them have been exclusively committed to book printing. Some have been specialist enterprises devoted to lithography, photo-engraving, etc., and nowadays to colour graphics.

There has been, since the 1930s, a distinct group of small to medium sized 'literary' presses, such as Caxton, Pegasus and Griffin, operating commercially but for much of their lives committed to literary publications and periodicals. Printeries 'with a cause' have included religion-based enterprises such as the printing establishment of the Gospel Publishing House, Palmerston North. Finally there is an array of private presses and hobby printers, although some of these seek at least to break even, as with the Holloway Press, at Auckland University's Tamaki campus.

The printing industry has always been so structured that it is fairly easy for an individual to move from employee to owner and back again. At certain times the capital outlay necessary to establish even a small printing firm has been substantial relative to the worker's opportunities to accumulate capital, but technical innovations have also meant that second hand equipment would be readily available at a reasonable price. Because many firms are very small, with only two or three employees, there is also likely to be a great deal of uniformity of outlook between the owners and the workers on many issues.

There have been few histories of firms apart from newspapers, which have always marked their own jubilees or centennials with special supplements. The Jubilee Souvenir 1860-1910 of H.I. Jones & Son of Wanganui is a rare example of an historical booklet produced by a firm which did not publish a newspaper. Glue (1966) is the only substantial institutional history apart, again, from the newspapers.

Directories supply the readiest means of identifying printing firms, particularly those with a separate classified trade section. These may not list all printers in any particular town, as small firms are particularly vulnerable to being overlooked by canvassers or to collapsing before they can be recorded. The newspaper and printer registrations at the High Court (formerly the Supreme Court) should in theory provide a more complete coverage, with the registrations under the Printers and Newspapers Registration Act 1868 requiring information on the number of presses owned, as well as the names and addresses of the printers. The 1868 Act has now been replaced by the Newspapers and Printers Act 1955 which does not require the registration of printing presses, only the ownership of newspapers. Since 1979, changes in ownership of the larger firms, and other developments, can be traced through the business index Newzindex, which is available online as well as in paper.

The Master Printers' Federation has published its own journal, Printing Prestige, from 1935 to 1951, followed by Printers' News, since 1953, when it was taken over from the Auckland Master Printers' Association which founded it in 1943. These will be the basic source of information for the history of the Federation; a special issue in 1957 provided a history of the Federation. Clarkson and Berry contributed a brief survey to McKay (1940), and in 1989 A.E.J. Arts published History of the Canterbury Master Printers, the only substantial regional history. The federal body has now become the Printing Industries Association of New Zealand; as is usual with trade organisations, the records of the individual branches normally remain with the surviving bodies.

Patrick Day's The Making of the New Zealand Press (1990) contains potted biographies of men associated with running newspapers in the early period, some of them printers.

For the earlier period, for provincial firms, often their own printed letterheads for invoices provide details of changing proprietors, and of services offered. More recently, for firms, there are simply the relevant sections in commercial portions of telephone books, which may include display entries showing the various services provided.

Rowan Gibbs, Smith's Bookshop Ltd, has compiled two looseleaf manuscript indexes of pre-1890 printers from imprints of books in Volume 1 of Bagnall's National Bibliography by name and by place.

Some firms such as Coulls Somerville Wilkie are relatively well-documented, with records in the Hocken Library, its history in Invicta News (and in a more extended form in typescript in the Hocken Library), and a profile in Tait (1961). Whitcombe & Tombs produced a prospectus on the merger of the two firms, first as Printing and Packaging Corporation, then as Whitcoulls.

Denis Glover's Hot Water Sailor (1962) has an entertaining account of his launching of the Caxton Press, with John Drew and others. Peter Low's Printing by the Avon (1995) recounts the history of this small, high quality printing and publishing firm. Robert Gormack's The Nag's Head Press (1992) deals with his own small semi-commercial press, including a list of publications.

Such business information resources as Datex investment service, the NZ Company Register, and the Nielsen Media Directory disclose the massive extent to which most of the more substantial New Zealand printing, newspaper, publishing, bookselling and paper making companies have recently been taken over by overseas corporations: the Whitcoulls Group (including what had been the Government Printing Office, GP Print Ltd), by US Office Products (Blue Star), Independent Newspapers Ltd by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation Ltd, Wilson & Horton by Dr Tony O'Reilly's Dublin-based Independent News; and so it goes on. Datex especially provides much information about the makeup and recent history of the larger New Zealand companies.

Trade unions and trade conditions

The primary sources for information about conditions within the trade can be found in the records of the trade unions, on the one hand, and of the Labour Department on the other.

Although a number of specialised unions for occupations such as the letterpress machinists, bookbinders, lithographers, and paper-cutters were in existence at different times, with varying combinations in different regions, these nearly all came into existence after the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1894, and all were preceded by the various Typographical Associations which began with the Wellington Typographical Association in 1862 and were gradually combined into the New Zealand Printing and Related Trades Union. In 1995, this combined with the New Zealand Journalists and Graphic Process Union to form the New Zealand Printing, Packaging and Media Union which has now become a division of the New Zealand Engineers' Union (since 1996). The combined records of the successive unions have been deposited in the Victoria University of Wellington Library Labour Archives collection. The records of the Otago Typographical Association, and the Otago Branch of the Printing Union, are divided between the Dunedin Public Library and the Hocken Library of Otago University. Peter Franks is writing a history of the printing unions. Vivienne Porzsolt's typescript study, 'New Zealand printing unions in the 1920s and 1930s' (1982) is in the Turnbull Library's manuscript section.

Baxter contributed a brief historical survey to McKay (1940), and there are two centennial histories of individual branches. P.J. Stewart published Type of a Century in 1974, recounting the history of printing in Dunedin and Otago from the workman's point of view, with a more systematic account of the Otago Typographical Association and its successors from 1873. The Wellington Branch of the New Zealand Printing and Related Trades Union published Centenary 1862-1962 in 1962, drawing upon the Wellington Typographical Union's Jubilee Souvenir 1862-1912 for the earliest years. The Jubilee Souvenir seems to have drawn heavily on oral histories, but it also made use of such union records as existed.

Separate publications of the various unions, such as rulebooks and annual reports, made be found as individual items in library collections. The union records contain most of these publications, although many of the small local unions left no significant records.

Complementing the union records are those of the Department of Labour. Such records as survive are held in the National Archives, although a substantial amount of the material of interest is in the files damaged in the Hope Gibbons Building fire of 1952. The files which may be relevant are those dealing with the Factories Act (L/NA/1), the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act (L/NA/3), and Apprenticeship and Awards (L/NA/4). The annual reports of the Department, from its first in 1893 (AJHR H.10, 1893) publish statistical material on wage rates and employment levels, and occasionally include some brief information on conditions and accidents.

A much more substantial source of information on conditions in the trade would be in the arguments presented to the Arbitration Court during award applications. The awards themselves, printed in the 'Book of Awards', correctly Awards, Recommendations, Agreements etc. (1894/1900-1936), and succeeding titles, do not always give information on specific points relating to conditions. When the award defines what is and what is not covered it often specifies particular aspects of the work; however much of the necessary detail will have been presented in evidence, spelled out by the union in its application and refuted by the employers as they can. It will sometimes be recorded in newspaper reports, but must usually be sought in the records of the Court (not always preserved), or more fruitfully, in the records of the union or of the employers. In the case of the first major claim before the Court in 1912, the unions (a recently federated association) printed their full argument, the New Zealand Federated Typographical Association's Dominion Award Dispute, giving considerable detail on the impact of the new typesetting technology. In 1922 they published the Case for Typographers, in another significant dispute, with an analysis of the employers' figures and arguments. These are the exception. The union journal Imprint (beginning in October 1923) regularly published summaries of the union case before the Court, and the Wellington Branch's short-lived Printers' Mallet (1966-68), likewise reported current developments in industrial relations. The new union journal, The Printed Word (1995- ), follows this tradition.

Modern occupational illnesses differ from those of the past: in place of lead poisoning, burns from lead squirts or acid splashes, and respiratory troubles from acid vapours for photo-engravers, Imprint was concerned with occupational overuse syndrome (OOS) for photo-typesetters, including effects on eyes and brains of overexposure to visual display terminals (vol.33 no.2 (March 1981) p.7), and The Printed Word (vol.1 no.7, June 1996, p.10) has an article 'Solvent-induced neurotoxicity—the new asbestos?' about neurological poisoning from toxic chemicals in processing machinery, especially when used within inadequately ventilated premises. For OOS, a more general example of many is an article by Christine Robertson in the Evening Standard, Palmerston North, 20 January 1997 (p.5), which deals with the suffering it causes, and the employers' obligations under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992.

For the period before the formal sources existed we must rely on informal accounts. The evidence given to the Sweating Commission of 1889-90 (AJHR H.5, 1890) contains some extremely useful reports of the actual conditions experienced by men and women in some establishments, with some information also from management (notably George Whitcombe of Whitcombe & Tombs). The Pope, the Prelate and the Printer (1892) reports in detail the trial when Joseph Evison, manager of the Catholic Times, sued officials of the Wellington Typographical Society for libel for describing his management practices as 'sweating'; the resulting pamphlet gives much useful detail about the trade conditions of the time.

For the earlier years a few sources, chiefly with anecdotes, are available. In 1886 the publishers of the Otago Daily Times issued a collection of 'newspaper reports and correspondence' on the 'strike of compositors' very recently concluded. There are few disputes in the newspaper trade which have been as clearly and impartially documented. Harvey's 'Editors and compositors: contemporary accounts of the nineteenth century New Zealand press' (1990) surveys some of the documentary sources which provide information. Through the Elibank Press, Harvey has also published Trials of the Colonial Printer (1985) which brings together anecdotes to illustrate the conditions under which the printers worked. McKay's 'Tales of the trade' (1940d) also brings together a collection of anecdotes gathered by interviews (McKay's extensive collection of unpublished materials was destroyed by fire in the late 1950s).

The 1885 Government Printing Committee Report (AJHR I.5, 1885) includes a detailed commentary on the conditions in the Government Printing Office, as well as comments on the work-flow and the possible benefits of contracting work out. This is the only analysis of conditions in any printing establishment to give such detail.