The Mataura Ensign began publication in Gore (in Southland) on 10 May 1878 by Joseph Mackay who owned the Bruce Herald in Milton at the time. He ensured that his new venture began soundly by first securing backing from several of the Mataura Valley's prominent businessmen.
The paper's name was suggested by Mackay's business partner George Renner, after the Scottish newspaper the Northern Ensign. Renner and his partner James Sinclair canvassed the district for subscribers and advertisers.
Milton newspaper publisher Alfred Dolamore bought the Ensign in August 1882. Mackay went on to establish the Southern Free Press at Mataura but this paper failed to compete with the Mataura Ensign, as did its later rival, the Gore Standard.
Dolamore had previous experience on the Nelson Evening Mail and Southland Times. The Mataura Ensign expanded rapidly under Dolamore and he took on additional partners including his brother Howard. The paper moved into larger premises and increased the circulation area. Dolamore died in 1895 and after a disastrous fire which destroyed everything except the printing machine, the paper moved to new premises in Mersey Street, Gore. The Ensign became a daily in April 1906.
Under the Dolamore's stewardship the paper retained a strong literary flavour, claiming amongst its staff the noted historian James Herries Beattie (1881-1972). He compiled extensive files on the history of Southland through oral interviews and correspondence. William Gilchrist, headmaster of East Gore School from 1891, wrote as "Uncle Phil" for many years, encouraging children to write well.
In 1920 the Gore Publishing Company was formed and included a number of the paper's employee. The newspaper changed its name to the Ensign in 1973 and is still published daily.