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

Religious publishing

Religious publishing

From the advent of the book, religious publishing was the most prolific area of publishing. The New Zealand experience was somewhat different. From the first the religious instinct was weak in the colony and churches struggled for support, yet there were strong traditions of literacy, and in the 19th-century volumes of Bagnall's New Zealand National Bibliography to 1960 (in contrast to those of the 20th century) the proportion of religious works is reasonably high. Religious tracts and pamphlets were frequent in the 19th century, and as controversies invaded the religious scene they were reflected in pamphlet literature.

General bookshops sold a variety of religious literature. They would not handle slow-selling denominational resources, and this encouraged the formation of specialist bookshops. Denominations and organisations like the Bible Society distributed their specialist literature from a shelf in the shop of some sympathetic retailer, often not a bookseller, although the ideal was to use a bookseller. In Auckland William Atkin called himself a church and general printer from his shop in High Street and was appointed Anglican diocesan printer. When Octavius Hadfield, as Bishop of Wellington, became prolific as a pamphlet writer he used James Hughes and then Lyon & Blair, although his key works were sent abroad for publication. Wesleyan bookrooms were started at the request of the Australasian Conference in Christchurch in 1870 and were linked with Armitage & Smith's business.

The first Christian bookshop chain was the New Zealand Bible and Book Society, formed in 1873 by an interdenominational committee based in Dunedin. It used shops and colporteurs to sell books and tracts, and it also published a few books, including those by the notable literary Presbyterian minister in Dunedin, Rutherford Waddell. It also had a Wellington branch. The Auckland Sunday School Union set up a bookshop around 1900 in its building in Queen Street, and this too handled stock previously distributed by denominational shops.

Publishing itself was limited to denominational yearbooks and official publications, denominational magazines, and religious pamphlets and tracts. The religious periodicals were very important because they supplied information to very scattered religious communities. Most Anglican dioceses began magazines in the 1870s. A Methodist monthly began in 1870. There had been various regional Presbyterian magazines from the 1860s, but in 1894 Rutherford Waddell began the Christian Outlook, which, from 1901 to 1910, became a combined magazine with the Methodists and Congregationalists. The Catholic Diocese of Dunedin published The New Zealand Tablet from 1873, the New Zealand Baptist began in 1883 and the Brethren magazine The Treasury began in 1899. Such magazines proved to be very long-enduring and were sometimes willing to engage in a little book publishing as well. Clearly readers wanted news as well as short edifying articles.

Of other forms of publishing in the 19th century, little now stands out apart from Māori publications. The largest New Zealand book of the 19th century was the Māori Bible, later editions of which were produced by the British and Foreign Bible Society in London in association with its Auckland Auxiliary. New editions of the New Testament were produced in 1840, 1842 and 1844. The Old Testament was produced in parts by the mission press in 1847 and 1855, as a whole in London in 1868, and in a controversial new revised edition in 1889. Overall some 126,000 copies of the Bible or portions of it were produced. A range of other Māori religious works was also produced, many of them on New Zealand presses, including hymn and service books, and sectarian publications. Māori culture of the 19th century was deeply affected by its exposure to so much of the Bible.

English literature included pamphlets reflecting hot controversies. Perhaps the most famous in the 19th century was the pamphlet from the Otago academic William Salmond, The Reign of Grace, which was published in 1888 by the stationer James Horsburgh. Typically such pamphlets were printed by the local newspaper and distributed privately, so were not as well known as they could have been. However a controversial book by Rev. J. Gibson Smith, The Christ of the Cross, was published by Gordon & Gotch in 1908. The smaller sects used publishing to spread news about themselves and their beliefs, and some of these works were quite substantial, for example the A.B. Worthington lectures, issued by a bigamist renegade Christian Scientist in Christchurch in 1891.

Gradually colonial authors became known, but many of these were published abroad, including Lionel Fletcher, the Congregational minister in Auckland; A.S. Wilson, the Auckland Baptist minister published in Britain by Marshall Morgan & Scott; Frank Boreham, the Baptist minister in Mosgiel; and a number of women including the Methodist deaconess Rita Snowden, whose books probably kept Epworth Press afloat. J.W. Kemp, the very successful minister of the Auckland Baptist Tabernacle and founder of the Bible Training Institute, produced his own pamphlets, Bible Correspondence Course and magazine, while a little tract by R.A. Laidlaw, The Reason Why, written in 1913, was widely distributed. Tracts were part of the whole flavour of Protestantism, for it was word-centred, and produced and consumed very large quantities of books. The smaller religious denominations were particularly avid readers and book distributors. Literature held their scattered movements together, linked them to others of their faith in other countries and enabled them to compete with larger denominations.

As local publishers emerged in the 20th century, the situation changed somewhat. Whitcombe & Tombs published little religious work, although they stocked a very fine range of religious books in their Christchurch shop. Once the Bible Society formed its national committee in 1918 some publishing initiatives were taken in local Bible production, for example an edition of Bibles for hotels. These were commissioned from the London printers.

It was in children's religious publishing that a breakthrough came. There was a major demand for religious publishing for children, since Sunday schools annually awarded children books and certificates as Sunday school prizes. The Auckland Sunday School Union met some of this demand, but supplying the needs of Sunday schools was the origin of the first large scale New Zealand publisher. Alfred Reed was a Dunedin Sunday school superintendent who in 1911 began to import Sunday school material and distribute it to many Sunday schools in the dominion. This became a very successful mail-order business and he also printed various certificates and prizes. In 1922 he first published religious pamphlets and a magazine, and the collapse of the Bible and Tract Society in the late 1920s gave him opportunity to publish works by the popular Rutherford Waddell, beginning with The Dynamic of Service in 1926. In the early years Christian books and New Zealand history formed the staple business of his company. Alfred Reed's nephew A.W. (Clif) Reed took the company to Wellington and it eventually lost its religious focus.

A gradual change, which might be called secularisation, was occurring. More and more religious bookshops emerged alongside the secular shops. A.H. & A.W. Reed were able to supply them both from their own publications, and from overseas publishers which they acted as distributors for. The most notable of these bookshops were the Presbyterian Bookrooms which commenced in Christchurch in the 1920s and spread to three other places. Bible and book depots opened in many different places, under private ownership. Many of the owners were Plymouth Brethren or Baptists. In 1949 a Brethren Trust, the Gospel Publishing House, was established, which took over several shops. Various Anglican dioceses opened bookrooms, while Catholics had both diocesan and independent bookshops. There were Epworth Bookrooms in Auckland and Wellington.

The age of denominational shops came to an end after 1960. Denominational distinctiveness diminished and the overheads of running bookshops increased, while many customers took advantage of cheaper overseas prices. The Presbyterian Bookrooms closed down completely in 1975, and many other booksellers reduced to a single mail-order shop or sold out to more eclectic and specialist shops which concentrated on books.

Evangelical bookselling meanwhile flourished. In 1933 Clif Reed entered an arrangement with Dr John Laird, the first General Secretary of the Crusader Movement, to distribute the British Scripture Union's Bible reading notes. Then in 1937 Reed opened a Crusader and CSSM Bookroom in his Wellington building. In 1946 the Bible Training Institute opened a well managed bookroom in a building it had purchased in Queen Street. Its emergence alarmed Reed and he sold the Crusader Bookroom back to the Crusader Movement. This was the origin of the Scripture Union Bookshop chain. Alongside this there emerged many small Christian bookshops in most towns and cities, run as independent bodies.

This necessitated more local wholesalers of religious books. In 1963 the wholesale distribution of Christian books began to change when Bill Moore was appointed the agent for the evangelical American publisher Moody Press. This was the first of many agencies which he acquired in the next 20 years. His business was later acquired by Church Stores under the name Omega Distributors. In 1996 the large Scripture Union chain was integrated with Omega and two other evangelical booksellers.

It was in this context that later religious publishing continued. The Presbyterian Bookroom was very active in publishing in the 1950s, including doctrinal works like Rev. J.M. Bates's Manual of Doctrine (1950), and devotional works by William Bower Black. But the whole enterprise became too expensive to the church, and the chain was reduced and then closed in 1975. The Bible Society produced revisions of the Māori Bible in 1925 and 1952, and some general Bible production for the English-speaking market in New Zealand. The Methodists started a Board of Publications, which issued editions of C.T. Symons's Our Fathers Faith and Ours (1946, 1947, 1953, 1959), but inadequate resources inhibited other publishing. Catholic publishing was largely centred on the Diocese of Auckland, which produced the magazine Zealandia. In 1950 an Auckland priest, Fr Ronald Knox, wrote the popular work, The Gospel Story which was published by the Youth Movement of the diocese. The Catholic Publications Centre was later established, and this issued a small range of works, notably those by Bishop John Mackey. There were a few other small publishers but they were not large scale or commercial in orientation.

Serious readers interested in New Zealand theological thought were largely served by the proximity of the larger Australian market. Australian publishers, including the Joint Board of Christian Education, Lancer Books, Albatross and Scripture Union, all published jointly for the trans-Tasman market. Some secular publishers issued religious works. Over the decades Ormond Burton has been published by Forward Books of Wellington, H.H. Rex by Paul, Bishop Brian Davis by Caxton Press, and Sister Pauline O'Regan by Bridget Williams Books. The key theological works were likely to receive international attention if they were published by one of the British or American theological publishers, so key works like Professor John Dickie's systematics, The Organism of Christian Truth, were published abroad. A departure came with the Geering controversy of the late 1960s over the historicity of the resurrection, for the general publishers Hodder & Stoughton added his works to a New Zealand list, and commissioned a response from the prominent Auckland academic E.M. Blaiklock. Lloyd Geering's lesser works were published by a small trust in Wellington, and this was not untypical of local serious authors. Blaiklock and J.O. Sanders, the evangelical missionary statesman, were extensively published by American and British houses. Fr Ronald Cox wrote works which were picked up by a London publisher.

The Charismatic movement was very successful in New Zealand and a flurry of pamphlets was issued debating the validity of the movement. David and Dale Garrett became symbols of the movement through their Scripture in Song music. There were also popular books published by such authors as Barry Smith and Ray Comfort, and these were read far beyond New Zealand. The typical reader of such publications read for excitement, for stimulation and to discover new spiritual experiences. Changing tastes in religion have meant that some of the latest religious works tend to advocate the New Age rather than Christianity, and the stock in secular shops largely reflects this change in taste.