|Alternative title(s)||Evening Mail|
It is thought that the Oamaru Mail (first called the Evening Mail) began in order to express opposing views to those being expounded in the North Otago Times about the abolition of the New Zealand provincial system. William J Steward, who owned the North Otago Times between 1870 and 1897, at times in partnership with others, supported the abolition of the provincial system.
Steward was a Member of Parliament for the single-seat Waitaki electorate from 1871-1875, but lost the next election to two provincialists in the then, two-seat electorate. He returned to Parliament in 1881 and was Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1891-1893.
Because there was considerable support for the provincial system, particularly in the far south of the country, a group of prominent Oamaru residents decided they would begin a new daily newspaper to promote this, which they did in April 1876. However, the North Otago Times, first as the bi-weekly Oamaru Times and Waitaki Reporter, then as a tri-weekly, became a daily at the beginning of January 1876, pre-empting the new opposition by three months. Further, there was an inauspicious launch for the Evening Mail when its second-hand machinery broke down. As often happened in the early days of newspapering in New Zealand, the North Otago Times obliged by printing its rival’s first issue.
It was doubtful whether Oamaru’s small population could support two dailies. The township had been surveyed as recently as 1860 and it grew slowly as an agricultural/pastoral service centre until, with the construction of a breakwater in the early 1870s, it became a major port for the region. Certainly, the Evening Mail found the going hard and in early 1877, the provincial system now legislated out of existence, the original Evening Mail Company was wound up.
At this point George Jones arrived in Oamaru, following his founding of and brief association with the Evening News in Dunedin, and bought the paper. Born in New Zealand but apprenticed in Australia, Jones was printer of the Auckland Star before launching the Waikato Times in 1872 and the short-lived Echo in Auckland two years later. It took a cause célèbre to put the Evening Mail on a firmer financial footing.
In 1877 the paper accused politician Sir Frederick Whitaker of having a personal interest in native land his planned legislation would make available for sale. Jones was summoned to the bar of the House of Representatives and then prosecuted for criminal libel. He was acquitted, the legislation withdrawn and the Ministry defeated shortly afterwards. The Evening Mail had successfully underscored the ‘freedom of the press’ principle and the attendant publicity provided the paper with a surge of reader and advertiser support.
The Oamaru Mail, as it was now called, could afford to take up, with other evening papers, a special telegraphic service originated by the Dunedin Evening Star and was one of the early papers outside metropolitan areas to install linotype machines. In 1909 the Oamaru Mail business was formed into a private company, at about the same time as George Jones bought the Southland News. He and his sons continued to play a prominent part in the company.
Jones also had a lengthy political career. He briefly represented Waitaki in the House of Representatives in the early 1880s and was a member of the Legislative Council for a quarter century from 1895.
According to the Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Otago & Southland Provincial Districts] in 1905: ‘The first edition of the ‘Mail’ is published daily at 3 p.m., and is timed for despatch by various trains. The journal is a four page paper of twenty-eight columns, and has a daily circulation of 2,100 copies throughout the North Otago and South Canterbury districts. The ‘Oamaru Mail’ office is centrally situated in Tyne Street. It is a two-storey stone building, which was erected for the domicile of the paper. A water motor, supplied from the corporation water works, and a gas engine drive the plant, which consists of a two-feeder double royal Wharfdale machine, two Platen machines, three linotypes, and other up-to-date appliances, besides an ancient machine on which, it is said, the first issue of the ‘Melbourne Age’ was printed and also the first issue of the ‘Otago Daily Times’.’
The Oamaru Mail was owned by descendants of the Jones family until the 1970s when it was bought by NZ News Ltd, a Brierley subsidiary, then by Wilson and Horton which, in turn, was sold to APN NZ Media. In November 2011, the Oamaru Mail became a five-mornings-a-week tabloid paper.
In 2013, the Oamaru Mail was bought by a private, family-owned Christchurch company, Mainland Media Ltd. The company also bought the Christchurch Star and six other community newspapers in the greater Christchurch area previously owned by APN. Charlotte Smulders, co-owner with her husband, is a member of the Smith family which controls Allied Press and the Otago Daily Times. The Oamaru Mail has a paid circulation of about 2,900 copies.
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