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The Press Christchurch celebrates 150 years of uninterrupted publication.

Dorothy - 27/05/2011

On May 25 1861 The Press published its first issue and on the same date a century and a half later it published a special edition to mark the anniversary.

This anniversary is a date important not only to the paper and its staff but also to its readers. Many Cantabrians like me look back over a lifetime when The Press being delivered to the gate while we slept and brought inside before breakfast has been an important ritual and a source of news to be pored over at the first opportunity. Radio news broadcasts have been an interesting supplement to reading the paper but have not replaced it.

The motto of The Press is Nihil utile quod non honestum - usually translated as Nothing is useful which is not honest or Nothing is useful unless it is honest. This has been the principle guiding the balanced reporting which has been a feature of The Press.

The editorial on May 25 entitled Enduring Values concisely summarises the main values that have guided the material chosen for publication and important developments in the production methods and style of presentation.

Conservatism has been a characteristic determining the editorial content and the selection of news items as well as the style of the paper. The motivation for the first issue of The Press was James Fitzgerald's campaign against excessive public spending and editorials since then have frequently cautioned against any unnecessary and unjustified use of public funds.

Only in the 1930s did The Press include in news pages any photographs as these were thought to be frivolous, and staff photographers were not employed until 1972. Until the mid-1960s news was not allowed to appear on the front page.

Innovations introduced in The Press included using carrier pigeons to carry news from 1886 to the 1920s and a pigeon house on the roof remained as a reminder of that practice. The Press also established telegraph links with the ports of Lyttelton and Bluff. News of shipping was of considerable interest when so many goods were imported.

The Press building in Cathedral Square
In the 1880s The Press was facing financial difficulties when George Stead bought the business and initiated the construction of the impressive building in Cathedral Square and the installation of new printing equipment.

The Press building in Cathedral Square before the earthquake on February 22 The Press building in Cathedral Square before the earthquake on February 22
The Press building in Cathedral Square before the earthquake on February 22
Photo by (right) Michael Whitehead
Click on image to view a larger version

Like many Christchurch businesses The Press was faced with a new and devastating setback when the earthquake on February 22 terminally damaged its premises.

The Press building after the earthquake The Press building after the earthquake
The Press building after the earthquake

Click on image to view a larger version

In spite of the earthquake The Press appeared as usual on February 23. It was published in a group of portable cabins in the northwest suburb of Harewood and from there it has continued to publish The Press without missing a day.

The first issue of The Press
On the special 150th anniversary The Press included not only a souvenir liftout covering events and business developments during that period, but also a copy of the first issue of the paper. It makes very interesting, if at times rather challenging, reading. Some of the articles deal with similar issues to those concerning Christchurch people after the earthquake.

Some features we value in today's Press have been there from the beginning local news, an editorial, discussion of local issues, overseas news, letters from readers, and advertisements.

Page 1 begins with an explanation of the motivation for producing a paper, and outlines the three principal uses in a public newspaper:

  • as a vehicle for advertisements
  • as the organ of conveying to every individual a history of what is going on in the world around him
  • as a censor of public morals

The next topic is a discussion of the Education Ordinance which states the total funding grant for education and the amount to be given to three Christian groups. The sum of the parts does not equal the total sum and this is of concern to the author.

On Page 2 an article about the proposed railway from Christchurch and the tunnel to Lyttelton looks at the financial viability of such a scheme.

In The Late Session of the Provincial Council the writer evaluates critically the "very gladiatorial style" of Mr Fitz-Gerald in his comments about the actions of the Superintendent, Mr Moorhouse. He then expresses concern about the inadequate information given to the public about the proposals for the new railway.

The section entitled "THE LOAN" criticises the hurried session of the Provincial Council which dealt with the loan for the building of the railway.

WANTED A SCHOLAR makes scathing comments about a grammatical error in the Latin phrase "in medias res" used in a contemporary column about the late Session of the Provincial Council and suggests that the writer should employ a school student to assist him.

The poem about The Press is full of the images of grapes, lambs and the fox, popular in many Victorian poems and honours the glorious mission of the Press and may have been appreciated by contemporary readers. Reading it made me grateful for the less mannered and more direct communication in modern verse.

Sections on overseas news deal with England the notification to the House of Commons of the passing in New Zealand of the Native Council Bill - and under the heading of Foreign, Italy Victor Emmanuel becoming King of United Italy.

There is one letter published under the pseudonym Paterfamilias, dealing with the funding of the proposed railway.

Mining news
Next comes an account of the Lindis Diggings, re-printed from the Lyttelton Times giving the location of the discovery of gold.

The Waste Lands' Board
The Board reported that land had been purchased in the gorge of the Wakaepa branch of the Selwyn River by a company formed to raise copper ore.

Christchurch News
A destructive fire had broken out in a Cashel Street brewery. Spread of the fire had been limited by pulling down the next building in the street. The article lists which buildings were covered by insurance and makes an appeal for public charity to help the poor who were left in distress as a result of the fire.

The rest of the paper is devoted to advertisements several of which list the goods which have arrived in Lyttelton in recent shipments and the names of the passengers on these ships.

The English in the advertisements is often like a formal letter.

Coffee and Refreshment Rooms,
Ferry-road, Christchurch


BEGS to inform residents, new arrivals, and visitors
from the country, that good accommodation, combined
with moderate charges, can be had at the above house.
Bed, Breakfast, Dinner, or Tea, One and Sixpence
Meals to be had at all hours.
An Ordinary daily at Two P.M.

A number of advertisements reflect the importance at that time of growing food in the home garden Garden Implements, Rhubarb Roots and Fruit Trees Apples, Pears, Peaches, Nectarines, Apricots, Figs, Grape vines, Medlars, Quinces, Walnuts, Cob nuts, Hazel nuts and Filberts.

An importer of Wines, Spirits and Bottled Beer advertises delivery, free of charge, five miles round Christchurch. Such products must have been popular and some people must have over-indulged to cause the formation of The Christchurch Total Abstinence Society which advertises its Quarterly Meeting in The Press.

The list of products brought to Lyttelton from London by the ship Minerva includes a number of products with a curiously modern ring Mohair and Velvet Pile Over-Coats, Cords and Moleskins, and other items which remind us of how times and fashions have changed Cashmere, Dogskin and real Buckskin Gloves for men, shirts with separate collars, Gents' Black Paris Hats.

A comprehensive list of items needed when a family is in mourning is a reminder of the importance of wearing black clothes during the period of mourning followed by a black arm band in subsequent months.

Trading is to cease in the winter months at seven o'clock a reflection of the long hours worked at that time by those employed in the retail trade.

I recommend that those who were fortunate enough to obtain a copy of the 150th Anniversary issue of the Press read and keep the copy of the first issue as it is a historical document and will be valued by future students interested in the history of Canterbury and the development of New Zealand journalism.

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