The first Europeans began to settle the Te Puke Block in 1879. Flax milling started up in the area in the 1870s and was a major industry until the early 1940s. Saw milling began in 1905 and has remained a major industry. After the swamps in the area were drained the land was found to be very suitable for crops, and maize and wheat were grown extensively. Pastoral farming was less successful until the use of cobalt, in the 1930s, cured animals’ ‘bush sickness’.
The first issue of the Te Puke Times was published on February 6 1912. A week later Wellington’s Evening Post reported that ‘the first issue of the Te Puke Times is to hand, and is a creditable production’. The paper was owned and edited by Thomas H Wilsone, born in Masterton and a journalist on the Wairarapa Star before a period farming with a brother. He moved north to become part owner and editor of the Waikato Independent in Cambridge in 1910. A year later the paper was sold to the Waikato Publishing Co and Wilsone relocated his newspaper ambitions to Te Puke.
In the first issue of the Te Puke Times, Wilsone wrote: ‘We have been encouraged to take this step recognising the manifold signs of future progress which are everywhere apparent .... We hold that a well conducted journal must always exercise a certain influence for good in a community, not only in a material but in a moral sense, that its duty is not only to expose abuses but to give every encouragement to all projects initiated for the elevation of the social life of a community.’
The one penny paper appeared twice weekly and lived up to its promise, in common with many small-town publications of the time, of providing local news in great detail. There were lengthy articles about weddings, debutante balls and farewells, with detailed descriptions of gifts given and dresses worn. Overseas trips by local identities were given extensive coverage; visitors to the area were interviewed. There was extensive coverage of sporting events, A & P Shows and, in later years, the activities of the Women’s Institute and Women’s Division.
Thomas Wilsone continued as proprietor and editor until his death in 1936, when his wife, Edith Wilsone, promoted Frederick Gemming, employed since 1919, to run the paper. Gemming leased the paper in 1939 until 1941. After ill health forced his retirement, Edith Wilsone took control for less than a year before selling the Te Puke Times to Philip Basham.
Basham served a six year printing apprenticeship at the Waikato Independent in Cambridge before joining the Hot Lakes Chronicle in Rotorua. Later, he moved to Auckland, where he ran an Otahuhu weekly, and then in 1934, to Taranaki, becoming managing director of the bi-weekly Inglewood Times. Newsprint shortages were common during the Second World War and, when a critical paper delivery by train failed to arrive, the 27 November 1942 edition of the Te Puke Times was a single 17cm x 6cm sheet – possibly the country’s smallest ever newspaper – to inform readers of an important farewell function the next night.
After Philip Basham died in 1963 his son David continued to run the paper. In 1978 Basham and two colleagues purchased the Bay Sun, with a free Tauranga area circulation, incorporating it with the Te Puke Times. The Tuesday edition of the combined paper included Te Puke news, but this satisfied neither readers or advertisers and, in 1982, the Te Puke Times masthead and full local content were restored.
In 1983 the company was sold to John Wood and, in 1985, to NZ News Ltd. In 1989, Independent News Ltd (INL) bought part of NZ News, including the Te Puke Times and a number of other community newspapers. In 2002 Wilson and Horton, now APN NZ Ltd, purchased the paper from Independent Community Newspapers (INL). The free weekly is now published by the Bay of Plenty Times and is one of the APN News & Media stable of community newspapers.