Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Auckland Star and its Echo

A long-lasting saga in many acts began to unfold for the New Zealand public on the beach at Whangapoua, Coromandel district, in 1871, and concluded (as near as I can tell for the moment) with the end, in 1875, of a newspaper enterprise initiated out of the need for revenge.

Mohi Mangahaka owned land at the mouth of the Whangapoua Stream, while Thomas Craig, who owned a sawmill further upstream, wanted to float logs down the waterway. Mohi objected, and was granted an injunction, until the Government countered with the Timber Floating Act, 1873, which legalised the floating downstream of timber and logs, despite protests regarding damage to landowners’ property. This Act was passed into law after John Sangster Macfarlane who had his own interests in the area (the Whangapoua Mill) was prevented from floating his timber down the river by Christopher Atwell Harris, who purchased the bed of the Waitekuri Creek from Mohi in order to block Macfarlane. (Report of Wai 262, Indigenous Flora and Fauna and Cultural Intellectual Property, Waitangi Tribunal, 2008)

Accusations between Thomas Craig, Mohi Mangahaka, Christopher Harris and J. S. Macfarlane flew thick and fast in courts both in the Coromandel area and Auckland. Before the timber floating issue, there was the issue where Craig was accused by Mohi of trespassing and felling timber on Mohi’s land, which came before the courts in January 1871. It appears Harris had rights to mill Mohi’s timber – that case appears to have remained undecided. Further arguments over ownership of logs at Whangapoua extended into October that year, then a fight broke out on the beach between Craig’s and Harris’ men over logs ownership, with one man ending up stabbed in the chest with a pike-pole. There had even been an earlier fight, exactly a year before, over the same thing: timber.

We now fast-forward, no doubt through many more legal battles between Harris, Craig and Macfarlane, to 1874.

By May 1974, Macfarlane had fallen out with Thomas and Andrew Craig, and in retaliation they accused Macfarlane of inciting them to shoot Harris on the Whangapoua beach, back in October 1871. This was after Harris had warned off men working for Craig and Macfarlane with a revolver a year before. Thomas Craig in the October 1871 incident at Whangapoua was in possession of a pistol and aimed it at Harris, Craig saying he had been advised back in Auckland that he had a right to shoot to defend what he considered was his property. Harris reported the incident, and Craig had been arrested for attempting to shoot Harris.

Thomas Craig testified in the police court that Macfarlane had told him specifically to shoot Harris if he caused trouble during the seizure of the logs.
“Reference was made to young Mr. Harris. If he was there, and there was further obstruction, to shoot him down and take possession of the logs by force. He was particularly mentioned. It was the defendant who proposed that Mr. Harris should be shot. It was often spoken of, but that was the sum and substance of it … Mr. Macfarlane said if I shot Harris that would end all disputes. He was to get me off. He said no jury would convict me as I was fighting for my own. Supposing I was convicted, he said he had such influence with a jury, the Bank, and with the Government that he would get me off … It was a serious affair. Everything was done under the direction of Mr. J. S. Macfarlane. He took full charge of the mill. I was brought up before Major Keddell for presenting a pistol at Harris. The charge was dismissed. I came up to town afterwards. Before coming up I received a letter from the defendant, which I destroyed, because I thought the language too strong. It stated that I had done wrong in not shooting Harris, as I would never have such a chance again. When I came up to town I saw the defendant, and he said I had done wrong in letting Harris off when I had such a chance, and repeated that I would never be convicted by a jury, as he could got me off through his influence. He spoke to me again about it, and offered me his double-barreled gun and a written guarantee that he would got me off. I refused then and we never spoke about it afterwards. We had a fall out on the following morning.”
The prosecutor during this court hearing aimed to show that Macfarlane wanted Craig to shoot Harris, in order that, once Craig was hanged for the death, Macfarlane stood to gain title to all the deeds for the timber land in the area. (SC, 9 May 1874)

How far Macfarlane’s influence went with the judiciary was questioned by the prosecutor, Mr. Rees, who queried Justice William Buckland’s neutrality, as he was one of the two magistrates at the police court session, and Buckland had stated outright that he supported Macfarlane rather than Harris. Not only that; Buckland was a business partner with Macfarlane in land transactions in the Waikato and on the East Coast. Rees even queried whether both Buckland and fellow magistrate Dr. Horne had the right to sit as magistrates, having both failed to sit at the minimum number of hearings in a two-year period.

Major Keddell from Thames testified that shortly before hearing the October 1871 case against Craig, he had received a pamphlet by Macfarlane on the case of Mohi vs. Craig, as well as a note (since destroyed or lost) which said, “I advise you to be very careful how you deal with the matter against Craig.” However, the case was ultimately dismissed for want of sufficient evidence. (SC, 15 May 1874)

Two further charges against Macfarlane for inciting murder were to have been heard by Horne and Buckland; however, Rees successfully gained a deferral, and by the time the next hearing began, it was before Justice Beckham instead. Even so, Rees took issue with Beckham, claiming that he had been “closeted” with Macfarlane prior to the hearing. Beckham adamantly denied this. Rees advised Harris not to present evidence before Beckham, and so the two charges were dismissed through lack of evidence. (SC, 19 May 1874)

In early June, Macfarlane announced his intentions to take Harris to court on a charge of malicious prosecution. (Evening Post, 10 June 1874) The case opened at the Supreme Court on 22 July. Macfarlane claimed Harris encouraged Craig to bring forward the previous charges against Macfarlane, and denied all claims made against him. The jury, after lengthy deliberations, couldn’t arrive at a verdict, and so were dismissed. (SC, 12 July 1874)

At this point, the Auckland Evening Star made a comment on the whole confusing saga:
The Auckland Evening Star, writing in reference to the recent discharge of the jury in the case of Macfarlane v. Harris, by reason of inability to agree to a verdict, makes the following strong general remarks : — "We solemnly declare our belief that there are those in Auckland who might commit murder in Queen-street in broad daylight, nor could there be brought together in Auckland a bench that would have the daring to commit for trial, nor a jury that would agree to a conviction. The terrorism and the influences that prevail have corrupted the Streams of justice, and no man is safe. It is in vain that we have on the bench of the Supreme Court a man who holds the scales of justice with impartial hand ; in vain that he lays down the law of equity and of common sense by that a child may understand ; for so much scoundrelism have we in our midst, so much villainy have we enrolled from among as on our jury list, that the very gates of justice are closed and barred. The machinery of our law courts can be used by some for oppression and wrong, to ruin by costs and grind under the iron heel of power; and it can be made to stand still when others appeal to it for protection. Law, as we know it in Auckland, is a mockery; trial by jury a delusion and a snare."
(Taranaki Herald, 12 August 1874)

This stung Macfarlane, when he was already heavily criticised over the re-running of the election for the Waitemata electorate. He made the comment in early September, while addressing an election meeting at the Whau Public Hall:
“Mr. Macfarlane… referred to the virulent attacks that had been made upon him by the Star. It was impossible for him to answer all these attacks unless he had a paper of his own, which he had not.”
(SC, 3 September 1874)

However, Macfarlane had already decided to fight fire with fire. His good name, such as it was, was at stake and under threat from bad publicity which he saw as emanating from one source: the Star. He aimed to wipe out this enemy to his reputation. On 9 November 1874, his creation, the Auckland Echo was born.

“The Echo will first of all, and most of all, be a journal of news. In our columns will be found an Echo as complete as possible of what takes place, and as truthful as possible of what public opinion may be in all parts of New Zealand. Our politics will be rather colonial than local; our objects the good of the colony at large, and not the advancement of a party. Our support will be afforded to all measures that appear to be in themselves beneficial, from whatever party they may come, but our political faith will be pinned to the skirts of no politician. Our sympathies will be enlisted on the side of real progress, whether in the reform of our Government, or in the development of our resources as a country. Our advocacy may be relied upon for the cause that lacks assistance, whenever that cause is not only weak but deserving; and our denunciations will not be withheld from fear, favour or affection, whenever real wrongs demand redress, actual abuses call for stern exposure. In our pages will be found no scurrilous abuse of individuals – no pandering to the morbid tastes of those who seek a sensation at the expense of honesty, and of the good name of other men. Our columns will be freely open to correspondence on all subjects of public interest without reference to the opinions of our correspondents, so long as their letters conform to the principles by which, as we have said, our own action will be governed. Such in a few words is our programme, and to this we shall adhere. To be the tool of no clique, the mouthpiece of no politician, the engine of no man’s malice, the instruments to serve no man’s private ends – is the unalienable determination of this journal.”
(Waikato Times, 12 November 1874)

The NZ Herald, and basically the Southern Cross as well, remarked on the Echo’s good typography and format, that “the written matter is temperate in tone, and the re-print articles fairly selected, and the telegraphic intelligence copious.” (NZH, 10 November 1874) As for the Auckland Star, now with another evening paper to compete with, and one with an axe to grind, they said nothing. Apparently, not a peep about the Echo was published in the Star for the next year, so they claimed.

The Echo had £3000 in capital put into its creation and operation. Telegraph correspondents all around both islands were hired (we know from a court case between the Wellington correspondent and the Echo in March 1875 that the going rate seems to have been £1 per column.) But, there was a war going on between the Echo and the Star. Unfortunately, with the Star’s silence, the Herald’s stand-apart neutrality and the only copies of the Echo surviving being down in the Alexander Turnbull Library, firsthand details of the tussles between the two newspapers isn’t all that readily available. Thankfully, some tidbits were snapped up and repeated by the provincial papers, the Southern Cross and the Evening Post.

20 March 1875
The Echo convicts Reed and Brett of the Star of posting the bills of a shoemaker over those announcing Mr. Fox's lecture on Temperance.
(Waikato Times)
To the Editor : Sir, —Will you kindly give publicity to the following to satisfy many who were disappointed at not hearing Mr. Fox last night. The committee advertised in the morning papers, but could not get Sir George Grey's consent to preside until later in the day. They at once ordered posters at the Echo office; and am sorry that courtesy to Sir G. Grey and Mr. Fox did not prevent the Evening Star’s people from pasting over those calling the meeting. The committee are much annoyed, and trust that the following explanation will be accepted, and they do not believe that Mr. Ellison, whose bills were used for the purpose, was a party to the action. — Yours, &c, S. B Auckland, March 19.

To the Committee of the Hon. Mr. Fox: Gentlemen, — I certify that I posted the bills on every place that I have got a right to do, and Mr. Brett (of the Star) went round with their bill-sticker, and put on bills over mine before they got dry. — John Cany, bill-sticker, Echo office.
(Southern Cross)

3 April 1875.
The "Echo” of this evening shows that the “ Star's " alleged special report from Te Kuiti to have been invented in their own office, as there is utter ignorance displayed of the district, and is evidently manufactured upon the garbled information of a pakeha-maori, who is connected with the natives.
(Waikato Times)

3 September 1875
It is amusing to notice the exchange of compliments between the two Auckland evening papers. The following from the Echo is a sample of the delicate way in which it is done: — "Amongst other signs of the advancement of Wangarei has been that of the establishment of a local paper. The Comet has fallen into bad hands, and is neither a credit to the district nor to the newspaper press of the Colony. Its original matter is ill written, and its leading articles are the veriest fustian. Great dissatisfaction is, it is said, expressed by the settlers of Wangarei with regard to it. Perhaps the Wangarei people are not aware that it is a mere reprint of that disreputable and disgraceful production the Auckland Star — the real proprietors."
(Grey River Argus)

18 September 1875
The Echo understands that proceedings either have been or are about to be commenced against the Auckland Evening Star for the publication of a telegram purporting to have come from the correspondent of that paper at Coromandel, stating that Mr. F. Bromley Steele, the Coromandel correspondent and agent of the " Cross," was one of the jumpers of the Union Beach mine.
(Evening Post)

12 October 1875
There is no love lost between the two Auckland evening papers, the Star and the Echo and neither loses an opportunity of having a fling at its rival. The following is a specimen of the Echo's style, taken from its issue of the 21st ult.:— " This morning, between nine and ten o'clock, the city was enlivened by the now not very usual sound of cannonading, the gunners of H.M.S. Sappho, now in harbor, having been put through a practice with the ship's guns. The presence of the Sappho in harbor has had a salutary effect of late upon our evening contemporary. He ceases to breathe of treason, and refraineth from inciting to riot. The public may have noticed of late the visit of a midshipman of the Sappho regularly every afternoon to the office in Wyndham-street, and from what we learn the proof-sheets of the editorials are submitted to this young gentleman every day, who excises anything bordering on the revolutionary. This will account for the tameness, amounting almost to respectability, which has for the last few days characterised the leading matter of that scurrilous little publication."
(West Coast Times)

20 October 1875
The shipping reporter of the Auckland Echo has been fined Is and costs for a breach of the harbor regulations, by boarding the ship British Empire before that vessel was moored, or passed by the Health Officer. Defendant pleaded guilty. Mr. J. B. Russell said that the offence was committed in consequence of the rivalry of the two evening papers. The case had been brought in order to show that neither shipping reporters, nor other persons, could infringe upon the laws laid down. Judge Fenton said he wished it to be clearly understood that if a similar breach of the regulations came before him he would inflict the highest penalty.
(Evening Post)

Then, on 11 November 1875, it was all over. Sir Henry Brett of the Star was the victor in the end – against rumours that the Star was suffering economically in competition with the Echo, certified lists of distribution figures were published, which showed those of the Star remained well over the 4000 mark. The Echo was purchased lock, stock and printer’s ink … and then turned sharply around in opinion, startling the Echo’s admirers and audience around the provinces.
“One of the cleverest, if not the sharpest pieces of business, we (''Tribune") remember to have heard of for a long while, was that managed by the proprietors of the Auckland 'Evening Star ' the other day, in the purchase of a rival newspaper— the 'Echo.' The latter was in difficulties, and fell an easy prey to the former, but instead of at once stopping its publication, the new owners of the 'Echo' kept it in existence for some days, and made its columns not only the means of unsaying, in the matter or politics, all that it had said during its brief career, but also of puffing the “Star” after the most unblushing fashion. People wondered how the “Echo”, in announcing its discontinuance, should have said that it could not make headway against "that popular, etc., etc., journal the Star,” but the wonder is fully explained when they know that it was the proprietors of the 'Star' who wrote the valedictory article, and as a matter of face did the whole of the leek-eating for a newspaper which had become the subject of their tender mercies.”
(Tuapeka Times, 24 November 1875)

The Star published an obituary of some length for the Echo, claiming that the enmity felt towards them by Macfarlane had been sparked by “a harmless criticism by us on the supposed unsuitableness of the Star of the South [Macfarlane’s cargo ship] for the Fijian trade …” Whether they were being forgetful, or just glossing over their comment regarding “influences … corrupting the streams of justice” is hard to determine. Criticising a ship wouldn’t impact on Macfarlane’s reputation as much as an accusation of tampering with the judicial system might.

The Echo is defunct. It died on Thursday last, when its expiring issue came out. It had an obituary notice headed "Our Last Issue," in which it set out the reasons of its collapse, the most cogent of which is that the proprietors have sunk £3000 in the venture, and don't feel inclined to sink any more. The Star proprietors have purchased the plant, with which it is rumoured they intend starting an evening paper in Dunedin, but this is only hearsay.

The Star takes its opponent's death very decently; it does not crow at all, but modestly quotes the Echo's dying tribute to its ''great circulation" and "advertising "attractions," and gives a well-worded sop to Mr. J. S. Macfarlane, whom it describes as follows :—

"Mr. J. S. Macfarlane has his faults, but he has been a bulwark of protection to many a struggling man, and many a struggling enterprise in days when such was needed; and, absent as he now is on a voyage to the South Sea Islands, we do not hesitate to say that, to his commercial enterprise and indomitable pluck and constancy to friends, many a man owes his start and success in life and recognises it warmly and gratefully. Hot in his antipathies as in his attachments, he is a staunch friend, but the very devil as an enemy. In both capacities we have known him, but wholly irrespective of any good or ill arising from his friendship or his enmity, to find ourselves arrayed in mortal combat with a man who has long been the representative of progress in Auckland, has been repugnant to our instincts."

It is a good job Mr. Macfarlane is away at Levuka, as his absence saves him any amount of chaff about the result of his attempt to brush the Star.
(Bay of Plenty Times, 20 November 1875)

An update here.

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