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



Directories are books which are designed to provide specific information about particular people. The directories discussed here were business-residential directories, lists of householders along with their addresses and occupations. Directories of this type were usually published annually and often contained elements of the almanac which had preceded them. The purpose of business-residential directories was, and still is, commercial: to bring buyers and sellers together. They were produced in large numbers in New Zealand from the 1860s and, while they are still produced in a reduced format, their popularity began to dwindle in the 1950s with the emergence of the telephone book and the yellow pages.

The first business-residential directories produced in New Zealand were based on English examples. They were compiled, published and distributed by immigrants, usually British. Yet the conditions that publishers such as Henry Wise, John Stone and Arthur Cleave met in the colony were radically different from those they had encountered at 'home'. Directories had existed in Britain since the street guides of Elizabethan times, but the rural, under-populated and non-mechanised society of New Zealand was very different from the highly urbanised factory economy of 19th-century Britain.

Directories in New Zealand fulfilled three main functions: to boost the local and regional economy by bringing producer and consumer together; to provide a compendium of useful information to benefit the local population as well as the would-be migrant; and to create in printed format a resource which would help meld isolated communities together.

Directories commonly contained as many as eight distinct sections. These included an almanac, an alphabetical list of residents, a list of occupations together with names of those who practised those jobs, a street directory, official information pertaining to local and central government, non-official information, advertisements, and a selection of maps. In the earliest directories, those which preceded the publications produced by Wise and Stone, the almanac was an essential ingredient. An almanac gave directions for the current year in the form of tide tables, new constellations, seasons, the physical landforms and so forth. It was of great assistance to early settlers because subsistence farming and fishing helped those newly arrived through lean patches.

Between 1840 and the early 1870s there were literally dozens of directories published annually throughout New Zealand. Nearly all of these were regional, providing information about the local community. Most small directories were produced by newspaper proprietors. Moody's Royal Almanac for the Year 1842 was the first almanac ever printed in New Zealand. It included a trade and official 'Directory of names, &c.'. Other early directories included Chapman's Auckland Provincial Almanac and Goldfield's Directory of about 1869, and further south the Otago Almanac and Directory, published between 1858 and 1859 by William Lambert of the Otago Colonist newspaper. These directories were not only for local consumption: Lyon & Blair's 1876 Almanac and Descriptive Handbook of the Province of Wellington answered 'the questions continually asked by the people at home [the United Kingdom]' and the provincial government ordered 500 copies for sale in Great Britain.

There were two early efforts at providing New Zealand with a national directory. The first was The New Zealand Directory published in Melbourne and Wellington between 1866-67 and 1867-68. The second was Wright's Australian and American Commercial Directory and Gazetteer published in New York in 1881 and 1882-83. These were short-lived and it was not until Wise's went national in the early 1870s that New Zealand finally had a directory of some substance which was destined to survive for over 100 years. Between the early 1870s and the mid 1950s, three firms dominated the market. These were the directories published by H. Wise & Co. (NZ) Ltd, directories published by Stone Son & Co. Ltd, and Cleave's directories which covered the Auckland provincial district. Their directories represented a break with the past because the almanac component was either dropped (by Wise) or included (by Stone, but only reluctantly). What Wise and Stone also had in common was a desire to promote large scale business, both within the colony and between New Zealand and other countries, most notably Australia and Great Britain. Wise was to create the country's premier national directory while Stone (in conjunction with Cleave) produced its provincial directories.

Wise produced his first directory of Dunedin in 1865 and in 1872-73 went national with his Wise's New Zealand Commercial Directory. In 1881, Wise won permission to refer to his directory as the official New Zealand Post Office directory. Wise's continued to publish their mammoth directories in a single volume until the mid-1950s, when they adopted the provincial format copied from Stone's, who had ceased producing directories in 1954. Wise's continued producing directories from their Dunedin office until 1972 when they sold the publication rights to Universal Business Directories in Auckland, who still produce them today, albeit in a reduced format (and now also on CD-ROM).

John Stone's first directory of Dunedin appeared in 1884 and within three years it had grown to include all of Otago and Southland. By 1891 Stone was producing a directory of Wellington and by the turn of the century Canterbury, Nelson, Marlborough and Westland were included too. For the next 60 or so years, Stone was a formidable rival to Wise. As Stone's directories did not include the Auckland provincial district, his position was strengthened by his 40-year working relationship with Arthur Cleave. Cleave's directories covered the Auckland provincial district between 1889 and 1930. The last of Stone's directories were published in the mid 1950s, after which time the cost of producing such a detailed work became untenable.

By the late 1960s Wise's, too, were having problems in sustaining the production of such a publication. Smaller, nimbler rivals such as Cook's New Zealand Business Directory, which listed occupational groupings only, had emerged in the mid 1930s, as had the Business Who's Who. In addition, the postwar growth of New Zealand's cities meant canvassing on foot was no longer feasible. There were more towns, too, as company towns like Tokoroa (a forestry town) and Twizel (built to house hydro-electric workers) emerged. As the number of domestic dwellings increased, so had the numbers of telephones, as well as a newer reliance upon the telephone directory and its Yellow Pages. The Equal Pay Act 1972 made the cost of paying female canvassers prohibitive. All these factors conspired against Wise's.

Information for the three main sections of business-residential directories (the alphabetical list of names, the names attached to the list of occupational headings, and the streets directory) was acquired by means of a house-to-house canvass of the country's metropolitan areas and of homes in the surrounding countryside. The name of the head of the household was listed, as well as male lodgers aged 18 years and over (21 years in some cases). The spouse was excluded unless he or she owned property on his or her own account, as were children over the age of 15, even if they were in the workforce. Those who only rented property were also usually excluded. Official information (such as customs tariffs) was gleaned by writing to the particular government department concerned. Non-official information (such as the names and opening hours of recreational bodies, cultural societies and church groups), was had, again, by writing to the representatives of those bodies. Maps were seldom compiled from scratch as copies of local street maps were usually provided by a local printer or by the town council. For maps of the country, the assistance of the Surveyor General was usually called upon. Business houses were solicited for advertisements.

In the case of small directories, the publisher was usually the owner of a newspaper who had ready access to type, paper and the necessary printing skills. When directories grew larger, a local printer or publisher was commissioned to produce the item. Stone's, operating from Dunedin, at first used the presses of the Evening Star. Later they bought their own presses, not only because it was cheaper but because the production schedules were tight and the company could not afford to allow their printing needs to become secondary to those of the Star.

Both Wise and Stone encouraged buyers to take out subscriptions to their directories. This made the economics of producing directories easier as the number of directories to be printed could be estimated with some accuracy. Copies were also available through most bookstores and from catalogues. Wise and Stone aimed not so much at the householder but at those in business: hoteliers, mercantile houses, and manufacturers. Wise's, however, as the publisher of the country's quasi-official directory, had to provide one free reading copy in each Post Office.

It is remarkable that for such a small country, New Zealand should have possessed not one, but two firms producing outstanding directories, three, if Cleave's is included. Clearly the emergence of significant directories rested largely with the personal initiative displayed by Henry Wise, John Stone and Arthur Cleave. Wise's directory had succeeded in part because the Post Office had assisted him, while Stone and Cleave had boosted their fortunes by promoting those of the provinces. But there are other reasons. Nineteenth-century New Zealand was settled by Europeans whose culture was a print-based one and they needed a printed resource which helped them come to terms with, and understand, a new country. Secondly, New Zealand was settled by small craftsmen and -women, and the business-residential directories described in this section were a necessary aid to people in business who had neither the time, expertise or finances to advertise their wares and skills for themselves.

There have been few studies of the directory-publishing industry in New Zealand. Keith Maslen's pioneering study of Wise's directories which appeared in the BSANZ Bulletin in 1988 was a start. Maslen's study was complemented by a 1995 study of Stone Son & Co. (coincidentally Wise's rival) by Michael Hamblyn in the same journal. This was followed by the same writer's 1996 thesis 'Kei hea to whare? Titiro ki roto: John Stone's New Zealand directories 1884-1954'. Prior to this research, A.C. Penney of Wellington had produced Almanacs and Directories: The Alexander Turnbull Library Collection of New Zealand Almanacs and Directories (1979). In 1994 Donald Hansen published The Directory Directory, based on the holdings of libraries nationwide. Another recent publication is Maslen's 1994 'Early New Zealand directories: a brief guide' which details almanacs and directories held by the Hocken Library in Dunedin.

Future research remains to be carried out on almanacs and directories printed in Māori. As well, work on the emergence of the telephone directory and the Yellow Pages needs to be done. This is particularly so as the telephone directory played a major role in dislodging the business-residential directory from its position of pre-eminence. Research is also needed on more recent directories specialising in sport, commerce and the arts, such as the Air New Zealand Almanac published between 1982 and 1989.