The Evening Star first appeared in Auckland in January 1870 more by accident than careful design. With ambitions beyond his clerkship at one of Auckland’s morning dailies, the Southern Cross, William Ferrar placed an advertisement seeking a partner in a publishing venture. A former Presbyterian minister, the Rev George McCullagh Reed, responded while passing through Auckland on his way back to Australia from the West Coast goldfields, and the two men met. Despite having little capital, no influential friends and minimal experience, they quickly agreed to begin an afternoon paper, of more liberal persuasion, in opposition to the Evening News. Julius Vogel, manager of the Southern Cross, agreed to print copies of the four page paper, with Reed, who had some writing ability, the editor and Ferrar selling advertisements.
However, Reed unwisely pushed his temperance views in a town with a proliferation of pubs and taverns; more wisely he sought the advice of the New Zealand Herald’s £5 a week waterfront reporter Henry Brett. Advising that the lack of hard news was the problem, Brett took a third interest in the paper and was soon in charge with a young friend, Thomson Wilson Leys, formerly sub-editor of the Southern Cross, joining him. George Reed continued as editor until 1875, when Leys took over the role.
Brett became sole proprietor of the newspaper which was renamed the Auckland Evening Star in 1879 and Auckland Star in 1887. Brett and Leys subsequently formed a commercial partnership and successive generations of both families continued to play leading roles. The Brett Printing and Publishing Co. Ltd. became a public company in 1920. In 1929, following the purchase of the Lyttelton Times and Christchurch Star, the company became New Zealand Newspapers Ltd.
The newspaper’s growing success through the last decades of the nineteenth century was largely due to Brett’s commitment to providing as up-to-the moment news as possible. Before Auckland was linked to the telegraph, staff boarded arriving ships at the harbour entrance in specially-built boats to pick up English and Australian newspapers. Brett also used a dozen pigeons, from a Tasmanian breeder, to carry daily news from the Thames goldfields and from Tauranga where the telegraph line from Wellington ended in the early 1870s.
It was claimed that the Evening Star had a circulation of 2,700 copies in 1872, rising to 4,700 three years later. In 1884, now the Auckland Evening Star, the paper’s circulation had reached 10,000. In 1898, Brett claimed the Auckland Star had the country’s largest afternoon circulation – 15,000 copies a day.
The Star was one of the first newspapers in New Zealand to replace hand setting of type with linotype machines. It was also one of the first dailies to make regular use of photographs; the separate weekly magazine, the New Zealand Graphic, begun by Henry Brett in 1890, was illustrated from the beginning.
The Auckland Star was a major, innovative metropolitan daily until the early 1960s. Weakened, as most afternoon papers were, by the introduction of television, the Star, and NZ Newspapers Ltd., fell prey to a corporate raider, and ceased publication in 1991.