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Pressing business in Kororareka-Russell

February 4


Pressing business in Kororareka-Russell

It’s hard to imagine a more unlikely place than Kororareka-Russell as a centre for publishing.

Yet in the early 1840s, Kororareka had become known for more than just its fleshly attractions for visiting whalers and sailors who patronised its numerous grog shops and brothels. Ironically, it was also known as a place where information and ideas were exchanged – often through the work of a particularly lively group of publishers.

“At times it must have felt that the Bay of Islands was awash with religious literature – from the Church Missionary Society, the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society and later Bishop Pompallier’s Marists who started producing Roman Catholic literature in 1838,” says Kate Martin, the Manager of Pompallier Mission, the NZ Historic Places Trust property in Russell.

The different denominational publications in Maori included such pamphlets as ‘Antikaraiti’ (The Antichrist) – a rather pointed Wesleyan tract aimed at dissuading Maori from joining the Catholic Church; and Pompallier’s rejoinder, ‘Ko Nga Tahi Pono Nui o te Hahi Katorika Romana’ (The first Great Truths of the Roman Catholic Church) which outlined what he saw as the heresies of Protestantism.

“The printed word was the weapon of choice for the British and French missionaries who saw themselves as ‘warring’ for the souls of Maori. But they weren’t the only ones running their printing presses into the wee small hours,” she says.

“Right next door to Pompallier Mission, printing of a different kind was taking place.”

Barzellai Quaife – a teacher and Congregationalist Minister – arrived in Kororareka from Adelaide with his family in May 1840, and within a month had printed the first edition of the New Zealand Advertiser and Bay of Islands Gazette – one of New Zealand’s earliest newspapers.

Although he had the skills to produce his own religious literature, it seems that the Congregationalist Quaife was extraordinary in that he represented one of the few religious groups in the Bay of Islands who elected not to wade into the interdenominational tract war. Instead he turned his press towards other more, some would say, seditious intent.

“If New Zealand journalists ever felt they needed a patron saint, then Barzellai Quaife could well be a leading contender,” says Kate.

“Right from the first issue of the Advertiser, Quaife maintained a rigorously independent editorial policy – much to the chagrin of the local Establishment.”

Thundering from the pulpit of the Advertiser, Quaife’s editorials focused on Maori interests – especially the issue of land – to the extent that he has been described as arguably New Zealand’s first public anti-racist.

“Barzellai Quaife was an outspoken opponent of government injustice and an early advocate of Maori rights,” says Kate, who has read through many back editions of the Advertiser.

“He was also fearless in exposing incompetent petty officialdom – the policeman who fought with his wife out on the street for example; the postmaster who delayed the mail; the customs officer who made things difficult for ordinary citizens.”

Not surprisingly, he was also very unpopular in governmental circles, and his liberal non-conformist background and belief in a free press set him on a collision course with Willoughby Shortland – the chief police magistrate and acting colonial secretary who had recently arrived from the convict colony of New South Wales.

It seemed that Shortland had at his disposal draconian powers over the media that many governments would envy.

“Shortland had come from New South Wales, where the press was controlled. In December of 1840, he recalled an old disused New South Wales legal ordinance and ordered Quaife to post several hundred pounds surety and pay a fine or face transportation should he publish ‘expressions tending to bring the Government into hatred or contempt’,” says Kate.

“The last edition of the Advertiser appeared shortly after.”

Quaife was not to be quashed however. In 1842 he launched the Bay of Islands Observer, regularly dishing up the stuff of healthy newspaper sales – including constant and embarrassing exposure of an inefficient and corrupt government.

He went one step too far, however, printing gossip about the colonial treasurer George Cooper which proved his undoing, and he was dismissed by his newspaper’s proprietors, ending one of the earliest chapters in the story of the free press in New Zealand.

“It’s interesting to think that while Barzellai Quaife was turning out one of New Zeaalnd’s earliest and liveliest newspapers, next door the Roman Catholic Bishop Pompallier and his missionaries were producing religious books in Maori by the thousand,” says Kate.

“Today, people visiting Russell can recapture some of Kororareka-Russell’s publishing heritage by coming to Pompallier Mission and enjoying a fun, hands-on experience of printing as it was done in the 1840s.”

Enjoy your heritage – Pompallier Mission (the Strand, Russell) is open to the public every day except Christmas Day. For more information on Pompallier Mission – and other places cared for by the NZ Historic Places Trust – log onto


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