In keeping with the times, Westport, at the northern end of the Westland goldfields, had a colourful and often changing newspaper history. Near the mouth of the Buller River, and on its eastern bank, Westport’s early growth was principally due to the gold rush at Charlestown, 26 kms to the south. From 1866 to the end of the decade, the population in and around Charleston ballooned to about 10,000. At the peak of this gold rush in 1867, Westport’s population was about 1,500 but growth over subsequent decades was slow and sporadic.
The first Westport newspaper was quickly on the scene. John Tyrrell, who learnt the printing trade in Dublin, arrived in New Zealand via Australia and a stint with the Melbourne Chronicle, Australia’s first, if short-lived, evening paper. He started the West Coast Times in Hokitika in 1865, launched the daily Waimea Chronicle in early 1866, and then the Westport Times in December that year. He began it as the Westport Times and Buller Express in partnership with Job Munson, an American-born printer, who began in the trade as a 11-year-old. Munson sold his holding several years before becoming a shareholder in the rival Westport News.
With Charleston booming, in 1867 the paper’s plant was moved there briefly and, also temporarily, its name changed to Westport Times and Charleston Argus. The name was shortened to Westport Times in 1869. It usually appeared twice weekly but, according to the Union List of NZ Newspapers Before 1940, there may have been periods when it came out three times a week or even daily.
In 1871, Irishman Eugene O’Connor, later a prominent South Island politician, briefly owned the paper before setting up the rival Westport News. Tyrrell, owner again, countered by producing the Westport Times as a daily for a period. In the early 1880s Tyrrell bought the Westport Evening Star, which had begun in 1867. In 1883, he was found guilty of libelling Charles Wright, in an ‘Open Column’ letter in the Star in relation to his conduct as borough valuer. Wright was also proprietor of the Buller News. Tyrrell was fined £50. In 1892, when Tyrrell died, the two papers merged to become the Westport Times and Evening Star. Later, probably in 1898, the then-daily became the Westport Times and Star.
Following John Tyrrell’s death, Thomas Patrick Williams became the managing proprietor. Born in Auckland, he joined the staff of the Westport Times as printer’s devil in 1872 and had become manager by 1885. The Cyclopedia of New Zealand (Nelson, Marlborough and Westland Provincial Districts), published in 1906, listed William Gothard as editor. An Australian, he had been apprenticed to Tyrrell in 1874, having worked in the Post Office previously and then ‘served through all branches of the newspaper and printing business’.
The newspaper continued as a daily until 1937 and a change of ownership and name. A new private company in Hokitika, with a capital of £300 in £1 shares, took over the Westport Times and Star and called it the Buller Times. It ceased publication on November 1, 1941.
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The National Library would like to thank Lyall Adamson (1868-1874, 1879-1884, 1886) and the Westport Genealogy & History Group (1875-1878) for their assistance in the digitisation of this title.