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

Regional publishing: Otago

Regional publishing: Otago

Dunedin's economic vigour enabled it to dominate southern publishing in the 19th century and lead the field in New Zealand. Of the 550 items listed in the New Zealand National Bibliography as being published south of the Waitaki River to 1890, 90% came out of Dunedin. Few of them carried a publisher's imprint, 10% carried no imprint at all, and most were attributed to a printer: 67 items for the Otago Daily Times, Mills & Dick 65, Fergusson & Mitchell 38, and so on. Printing in smaller towns was confined almost entirely to local newspaper offices.

In subject matter, religion (66 titles) headed the list, publications on evolution, free thought and spiritualism swelling the total to 88 (several titles, fitting more than one category, have been counted into each category). Verse (31), fiction (17), and 'general literature' produced 89; local bodies and amenities 56, commercial 44, education 36, and politics 32. Clubs and societies, and personal pamphlets each produced 24. Such modern preoccupations as women, Māori and sport together barely reached double figures.

Local bodies, companies and organisations issued many of the items, and so did private individuals—mostly in testimonials, petitions and pamphlets, but also in more ambitious works. Victor Nicourt, French master at Otago Boys' High School, published the Otago French Primer for Beginners on his own behalf in 1866. The most prolific individual publisher, so prolific that he distorts the statistics, was J.G.S. Grant, who pumped out 60 literary, political and philosophical pamphlets.

Though some Otago writers had work published abroad, there was a noticeable willingness to publish within the local community, for the gold-rushes enabled enterprising booksellers and printers to reach an adequate market. Title pages seldom stated when bookseller or printer was also doubling as publisher, but in some cases the distinction is clear. Ben Farjeon's 1866 novel Grif: A Story of Colonial Life was issued by 'William Hay, Publisher, Princes Street'; and the title-page of J.T. Thomson's Rambles with a Philosopher (1867) and the verso in John Barr's The Old Identities (1879) credit Mills, Dick & Co. as both publisher and printer.

Booksellers such as Hay, J. Wilkie, James Horsburgh, Joseph Braithwaite and R.T. Wheeler developed publishing as a sideline. Horsburgh leaned towards religious and prohibition titles, but also issued Professor Black's Chemistry for the Goldfields (1885); Braithwaite favoured the Freethinkers. Wilkie, in 1888-89, published five competent works of fiction by four different authors, all using pseudonyms.

Surviving information on print runs suggests that 19th-century publishing in Dunedin could easily be underestimated. Salmond's The Reign of Grace (Horsburgh, 1888) went through five editions, each of 1,000, in a year; Marshall's Homeopathic Guide, issued by a local pharmacist in 1884, had a print run of 5,000; and J.F. Neil's New Zealand Family Herb Doctor (1889) reached three editions and 5,000 copies by 1891.

Dunedin publishing did not end with books and pamphlets, for newspapers and periodicals abounded. More surprising was the city's investment in directories. Local directories had already been issued before the 1870s by Lambert, Harnett, Mackay and Wise. But Wise's New Zealand Post Office Directory (1872) laid the foundations of an empire which took in New Zealand and parts of Australia. John Stone, who entered the field in 1884 and was outstandingly successful with his Otago-Southland directories, also serviced North Island markets.

Though the bookseller R.J. Stark issued Thomson's A New Zealand Naturalist's Calendar in 1909, southern publishing in the early 20th century generally depended on printers. Newspaper offices such as the Southland Times, Gore Publishing Co. and the two Oamaru newspapers frequently issued in pamphlet form material from their own columns, and the Otago Daily Times published many notable regional histories: Memories of the Life of J.F.H. Wohlers (1895), Gilkison's Early Days in Central Otago (1930), Pyke's Early Gold Discoveries (1962), and the three-volume Advance Guard (1973-75), before its publishing department stuttered to a close.

The rise of Whitcombe & Tombs changed the regional pattern considerably. George Whitcombe, bookseller, and George Tombs, printer, merged their independent Christchurch businesses in 1883 then took over a branch of Fergusson and Mitchell in 1890, creating a base in Dunedin. Bertie Whitcombe, general manager from 1911, opened bookshops throughout Australasia and soon dominated New Zealand publishing, particularly in children's books.

Whitcombe's success, coinciding with a developing New Zealand identity, offered an example for other firms to emulate. Two such—Coulls Somerville Wilkie and the House of Reed—had Dunedin origins. The economic situation after World War I had caused disarray in the city's bookselling and printing trades. J. Wilkie and Co., taken over by the Somerville family in 1894, produced Wilson's Reminiscences of the Early Settlement (1912), but in 1922 amalgamated with Coulls, Culling & Co. to create the enlarged printing firm of Coulls Somerville Wilkie. As for the book trade, the only survivors in Dunedin were Whitcombe & Tombs, A.H. Reed and Newbold's secondhand bookshop. Reed, then a wholesaler of devotional literature, formed a partnership with his nephew and occupied a gap left by the financial collapse of the Bible Depot.

In 1932 Coulls Somerville Wilkie and Reed jointly published Samuel Marsden's letters and journals on behalf of the University of Otago. Coulls Somerville Wilkie, more conscious of good design than many contemporaries, continued in book work until after World War II, but remained essentially printers. The two Reeds, however, became increasingly involved in authorship and publishing, and their Dunedin operation laid the foundation for a national publishing firm.

Early in 1946, two years before the centenary of the Otago settlement, a special committee commissioned a history of the province, expanding the concept to include 20 district histories under the general direction of A.H. McLintock. The project was outstandingly successful: 16 ancillary titles eventually appeared, totalling some 25,000 copies; a volume in matching format was commissioned by Western Southland; McLintock added The Port of Otago (1951); and the Otago Daily Times ran a novel-writing competition which produced Georgina McDonald's Grand Hills for Sheep (1949). The body of Otago history almost doubled overnight. Unfilled gaps became apparent and the concept of publishing by community committee showed how those gaps might be filled.

In another development the McIndoe family's long-established jobbing printing firm was led by John McIndoe junior, back from RAF service, into publishing from 1956. In the following 30 years until his retirement, McIndoe became one of New Zealand's best publishers, showing an awareness of literature and social issues. Significant works of poetry, novels, short stories and substantial histories of Otago and Canterbury, as well as booklets of charm and individuality, were produced. Generally southern publishing has been solid but unstylish, but John McIndoe had an eye for design and typography.

In 1968 McIndoe also became publishers to the University of Otago Press. Prior to this, university publishing activities included those of the Bibliography Room which in the 1960s and 1970s produced booklets of verse by such writers as James K. Baxter, Hōne Tūwhare and Ruth Dallas. An attempt in 1948 to establish a University Press came to nothing and though the Press adopted an imprint in 1959, its early titles never achieved viability.

Under the editorial direction of first W.J. McEldowney and from 1988 Helen Watson White, and with production and distribution by McIndoe from 1968, more substantial works appeared. John Parr's Introduction to Opthalmology, feared uncommercial, turned out to be a runaway success. In 1993 Wendy Harrex was appointed to run the Press full-time on the lines of an independent publishing house, increasing output to 20 titles a year and broadening its range.

Individual publishers, mainly of verse, appear from time to time. The most determined of them has been Trevor Reeves, of Caveman Press, who issued numerous booklets of poetry and crusading politics. But neither the individuals, nor such provincial newspaper jobbing offices as the Southland Times and the Oamaru Mail, both of which published books with short bursts of enthusiasm, have become full-time permanent publishers.

In Invercargill, the Southland Times interest was taken over in the 1960s by Craig Print, its work in this field greatly expanding as Southland communities, following Otago's example, began producing many substantial local histories. In 1976 the company published Sheila Natusch's On the Edge of the Bush on its own behalf and has since maintained a steady output, mainly of history and non-fiction, and not restricted to Southland. It has now printed or published over 300 titles.

Since the late 1970s Otago Heritage Books, functioning as both publisher and bookshop, has issued many titles on aspects of southern history, including the notable four-volume Windows on a Chinese Past (Ng, 1993- ). Longacre Press, set up by McIndoe's former editorial team when that firm moved out of publishing, began operations with the sumptuous Timeless Land (1995). Its main thrust has been in the field of young adult fiction, and its products have been popular in Australia as well as in New Zealand.

Marketing is a permanent problem for southern publishers. Population imbalance and transport costs meant that a publisher of McIndoe's standing found it barely possible to distribute good quality poetry nationwide. No southern publisher has tackled the national popular market front on. Craig Print and Otago Heritage design their output to markets within reach, Longacre aims for a niche market, and the University of Otago Press depends in part on its academic and textbook interests. Nevertheless, considering the region's small population, publishing in Otago and Southland has maintained quite remarkable vigour, particularly in the field of history.