The 1870s and 1880s saw a flurry of newspaper publishing in Ashburton. First there was the Ashburton Mail, established in 1877 by Joseph Ivess, a prolific publisher of country newspapers. This was followed by the Evening Echo in 1878. The next year Ivess published the Evening News to help him in his bid for the Ashburton mayoralty. Charles Dixon and Horace Weeks, the owners of the Echo, now called the Ashburton Herald, started the Ashburton Guardian to oppose Ivess’s ambitions. Ivess narrowly lost the election although it’s not clear what, if any, effect the Guardian had on this.
The town couldn’t support four newspapers so in 1880 Edward George Wright and Hugo Friedlander, the new owners of the Herald and Guardian, merged their two papers under the title of the Ashburton Guardian. In 1884 the Mail was sold to William Jules Steward. Steward had worked on various papers in Canterbury and Otago and represented the area in local and national politics. In 1885 Steward acquired the Guardian as well.
Steward’s political commitments (he was a Member of the House of Representatives from 1881 to 1911), made it difficult for him to devote enough time to his papers and in the 1890s he leased them to Henry Willis, eventually selling them to Robert Bell in 1900.
Robert Bell had worked on newspapers in Australia and Timaru before coming to Ashburton. He would become Managing Director of the Lyttelton Times in 1917 and Chairman of the Timaru Post in 1922. Bell closed the Mail in 1932 and died in 1937. His son W.B. Bell succeeded him as manager.
The Guardian is still published by the Bell family, making it one of the few independently-owned daily newspapers left in New Zealand.