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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69

Freedom of the New Zealand Press in Olden Times

Freedom of the New Zealand Press in Olden Times.

We have before us a circular dated December 15, 1840, in which Messrs. Eagar and Co., the proprietors of the New Zealand Advertiser and Bay of Islands Gazette, inform their subscribers that they are obliged to suspend publication for a week or two under the following circumstances:—They had received a notice from the Colonial Secretary, Mr. Shortland, that the Acts of New South Wales regarding the printing and publishing of newspapers were to be enforced. These were that "the true and real name, addition, and abode of the editor, printer, publisher, and proprietor of every newspaper be printed in some part thereof, under a penalty of £100. Affidavits to relate to the identification of the parties whose names were so printed for the more easy bringing them to justice in any case of libel." The proprietors of newspapers then were in as bad a way as their successors of to-day as regards the libel laws. The editor, printer, or publisher had to enter into recognizances of £300, and £300 on the part of sufficient sureties, which was to be considered forfeited in case of any conviction under the Act. The penalty for omission of this requirement before the publication of the newspaper was £20. Persons convicted of "seditious or blasphemous libels," tending to bring the Government into hatred or contempt, were to be punished at the discretion of the Court, as in cases of high misdemeanours, or by banishment from the colony for a number of years." Well might Messrs. Eagar and Co. pause, and state in their circular that "one thing has become now manifest, the Government of the British colony of New Zealand does not wish a free press, while, on the other hand, our feeling is—A Free Press or None at All. How Could any paper here, the amount of whose income would be averaged by £10 or £12 per week, with its expenses deducted, endure recognizances of £600, to say nothing of fines and penalties ad libitum of every Government servant who might happen to feel wounded by an editorial remark." It appears that a meeting of subscribers and of the public, was called in a day or two at Jones's Royal Hotel, for, as Robert Burns says, "Whisky and freedom gang thegither!" Messrs. Eagar and Co. urged "promptitude, unanimity, moderation and determination. These qualities will effect our triumph. In New Zealand the Press must be to all intents and purposes in public matters un-chained as air." Bravo. Eagar and Co.! It is satisfactory to learn that the New Zealand Advertiser and Bay of Islands Gazette resuscitated, and ran its course, for with journals, as with men, "It is appointed once to die, and after death, the judgment."