The Akaroa Mail’s first bi-weekly issue was published on July 21 1876. It was begun by the peripatetic ‘rag-planter’ Joseph Ivess who began nearly 30 newspapers in clusters of small towns around New Zealand for three decades from the early 1870s. Ivess sold the Akaroa Mail a year later and there were several owners before, in 1881, the paper was bought by Howard C Jacobson. The Jacobson family was to own and run the newspaper for 71 years.
H C Jacobson, from Devon and educated at King’s College, London, was a school teacher before becoming, with Joseph Ivess, a part-owner of the Ashburton Mail, begun in 1877. Sale of his interest in the Ashburton paper helped fund his purchase of the Akaroa Mail. He was to run the newspaper until his death in 1910.
His daughter Ethel May Jacobson, the seventh of 14 children, excelled at Christchurch Girls’ High School and subsequently gained BA and MA degrees in English and French from Canterbury College. She was teaching in Nelson when, in 1903, her father became ill and called her home to help run the Akaroa Mail. She soon became editor and took full control from 1907, three years before her father died. She was then the legal owner, manager and editor. For almost 50 years, certainly a record, Ethel Jacobson was to remain the Akaroa Mail editor. Later, her younger brother, William took care of the business side of the paper. In time, there were four staff in the printing department.
Possibly Ethel Jacobson’s greatest achievement was her growing acceptance as a pioneering women editor at a time when the role was considered a male preserve. She was to become a familiar figure, with wide-brimmed hat and hobnailed boots, riding side-saddle over Banks Peninsula’s hilly terrain to report meetings and events. There were also launch trips to Pigeon Bay and Port Levy to ensure the detailed coverage that makes the newspaper an invaluable record of Banks Peninsula life. The newspaper was also, during her long editorship, widely respected for the standard of its journalism and high quality printing.
Ethel Jacobson, who never married, retired in 1952 and died, 88 years old, in 1965. The year she retired the Akaroa Mail was sold to George R Dobbie, who had worked for the Christchurch Star-Sun, and subsequently edited the newspaper for a number of years. In the early 1980s there was a decline in editorial standards and stock photographs were used frequently and often inappropriately.
Publication, continuous since 1876, was interrupted for two months in 1985 before publisher-editor Michael de Hamel took over, restored the previously high standards and substantially increased the paper’s circulation.