In February 1871, when Napier’s population was 2,179, the Daily Telegraph made its first, inauspicious appearance. With a liberal political stance – equal rights and opportunities for all – it was launched to combat the dominance of powerful land interests, and campaigned from the beginning for the break-up of the largest land blocks in Hawke’s Bay. Managing-director and founding editor, Richard Halkett Lord, a London journalist, even suffered a horsewhipping when his witty and pungent pen outraged a reader. However, the founding company was soon in financial difficulties and was wound-up 12 months later.
The newspaper was then taken over by four of its principal shareholders: Edward W Knowles (merchant), George E Lee (barrister), Alexander Kennedy and Thomas K Newton. None had a journalistic background, but Robert Price, who replaced Richard Lord, remained editor until 1893.
The Daily Telegraph’s coverage was in sharp contrast to the more conservative, ‘establishment’ views expressed by its already well-established competitor, the Hawke’s Bay Herald, which moved from bi-weekly to daily publication early in 1871 in response to the appearance of the new paper.
Initially, the Daily Telegraph consisted of four (48cm x 34cm) pages, each with five columns. Usually six of the 20 columns carried news, with advertising filling the other 14. Advertising cost 3s per inch and the newspaper sold for 2d. Typesetting was by hand and the paper was printed on a single-sheet hand press.
In 1879, the Daily Telegraph and Hawke’s Bay Herald’s circulations hovered around the 1,500 copies a day mark, but from 1880 the evening paper began to outpace its morning rival.
The Daily Telegraph office in Tennyson Street, Napier was completely destroyed during a major fire on December 18 1886. For a period, until new premises were built, a small news sheet was produced every evening at a local printing office.
By 1891, with the retirement of his partners, Edward Knowles had become sole proprietor and in 1908 when he, in turn, retired, the newspaper company was sold to the already substantial Auckland newspaper group controlled by Henry Brett, Thomson W Leys and William J Geddis. Geddis, a member of the Legislative Council, became managing-director, beginning a long family association with the newspaper. His son Trevor M Geddis, succeeded him as managing-director in 1921 and became editor in 1929, remaining in that position until 1951.
Until 1982, Daily Telegraph ownership had remained in the hands of descendants of the three families that bought the newspaper in 1908, but in that year it merged with the Hawke’s Bay Herald-Tribune. Two years later the new company became part of New Zealand News, then a Brierley Investments subsidiary. In 1988, New Zealand News sold its Hawke’s Bay interests to Wilson & Horton which, in turn, was bought by APN NZ in 1996. Although the companies behind the two Hawke’s Bay newspapers had come together in 1982, it was not until 1999 that the Daily Telegraph and Hawke’s Bay Herald-Tribune merged to become Hawke’s Bay Today.