What kind of news magazine was the Auckland Weekly News?

Auckland newspaper publishers Wilson and Horton Ltd produced the first issue of the Weekly News: a journal of commerce, agriculture, politics, literature, science and art on Saturday 28 November 1863, only a few months after they started publishing the New Zealand Herald. The publishers’ intention was that it should be a weekly magazine for rural towns and isolated households which was a digest of news from the Heralds of the preceding week.

As well as summarising the news the magazine included a few extra illustrations; then still uncommon in newspapers. At first these were line engravings but the 1900s saw the first use of black-and-white photographs, usually in a detachable picture supplement. The new magazine was published at Wilson & Horton’s printery in Auckland but was distributed in North Island country districts beyond the city (and, eventually, throughout New Zealand.) Therefore, very soon it made sense to rename the magazine with the more explanatory Auckland Weekly News Town and Country Journal.  

From the 1880s, Wilson & Horton boastfully advertised in the New Zealand Herald their pretentious ideas about the status and imagined target readership for their new magazine: 

"The Auckland Weekly News occupies the position of the PREMIER WEEKLY JOURNAL OF NEW ZEALAND. Its popularity in the town and country districts of the North Island is attested by the LARGE CIRCULATION WHICH IT ENJOYS, while in other parts of the colony, in Australia, and the islands, and in America and England, it is widely known and read.

Image: Auckland Weekly News. 13 May 1915. 'The boys all rush the Auckland Weekly': Pahiatua men in the New Zealand camp at Zeitoun. 13 May 1915. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19150513-47-5.

As an ADVERTISING MEDIUM it thus possesses advantages which no similar newspaper in this colony can lay claim to. 

Image: George Court & Sons Ltd advertisement, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19141217-60-1.

Its COUNTRY NEWS, supplied each week by a numerous staff of reliable correspondents, is complete and impartial. Considerable space is devoted to the PRACTICAL WORK OF THE FARM, and to all subjects relating to Agriculture. This department of the News is under the charge of a gentleman of great experience and knowledge of all matters connected with the CULTIVATION OF THE SOIL, and to render the information given as useful as possible, the subjects treated on are ILLUSTRATED BY SKILFULLY EXECUTED ENGRAVINGS. 

Image: Harvesting in the Waikato, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19220216-32-5.

THE SPORTS OF THE FIELD AND TURF are fully chronicled,…

Image: Horse racing at Ellerslie Racecourse, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19270106-3-3.
Image: Four well-known women tennis players, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19100106-13-4.

Image: Australia/New Zealand Rugby League match at Auckland, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19190911-38-3.

… and attention is devoted to the pleasant and interesting games of chess and draughts. As a FAMILY JOURNAL and GENERAL NEWSPAPER …

Image: King George and Queen Elizabeth with Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19390712-42-3.

… the News ranks equally high, and the greatest care is exercised to maintain the wholesome tone and character of its reading matter – nothing that is offensive to good taste or cherished convictions being admitted to its columns.  


Image: The New Zealanders’ landing place at Gaba Tepe, Gallipoli, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19150826-45-1.

… and SPECIAL CONTRIBUTIONS on a wide range of subjects from the facile pens of accomplished writers. Its SERIAL TALES are of absorbing interest and are contributed by some of the foremost novelists of the day. A SERMON by an eminent divine, or some well selected SUNDAY READING, is also published each week."

So much for modesty. But this general format of national and international political, social, sporting and military news, combined with Trevor Lloyd’s quirky socio-political cartoons and human-interest stories and photographs featuring personalities such as Hawai’ian swimmer and pioneer surfer Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, now near-forgotten Australian baritone Peter Dawson, and English singer Gracie Fields, served the magazine throughout its long life.

Image: World champion swimmer and surfer Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19150318-50-2. 

Image: World-famous Australian baritone Peter Dawson, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19150121-50-6.

Image: Gracie Fields kicks off, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19450815-28-5.

The six-volume 1980s series Those Were The Days, which featured photographic highlights from the Auckland Weekly News throughout its long history, described the magazine thus: ‘Loved by generations of readers, the Weekly brought news and events of people from around New Zealand and abroad, in its first years acting as the sole link with the outside world for settlers in the emergent communities carved out of the bush or isolated on some part of the coast.’

Image: Drunks off to sign up for intoxicating gas, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19151021-45-2.

According to Those Were The Days, the golden years for readership of the Weekly News (the magazine’s name from 1934) lasted from the 1930s to the 1960s. In 1964 the magazine reached a record circulation to 164,000 subscribers. ‘Within a few more years, however, the Weekly would be fighting for its life.’

Image: Allied bombing at Cassino, February 1944, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19440510-19-1.

In the years before television, picture magazines were the most common way people saw news stories told by a sequence of photographs. But by the late 1960s television sets were becoming the dominant presence delivering motion-picture news stories to most New Zealand living rooms. However, while the impact of TV was a major part of the reason for the decline of the Weekly News, the magazine was also hit by increasing production costs with the introduction of colourised covers and photographs, and the subsequent expectation that it provide colour display advertisements for its advertisers.

But another significant factor in the eventual demise of the Weekly News was the changing nature of New Zealand society. The magazine had been supported by many loyal rural readers and subscribers during the early twentieth century, but by the 1950s and 1960s New Zealand’s population was becoming increasingly urbanized. These new urban readers tended to have different readership interests and tastes than their more conservative rural counterparts; tastes often catered for by competing ‘cosmopolitan’ magazines imported from overseas. Those Were The Days sums it up: ‘it was only a matter of time before publication became uneconomic. The last edition appeared on 23 August 1971. When the Weekly died, it was mourned from Cape Reinga to Stewart Island – an old friend had gone.’ 

Fortunately, Auckland Libraries has a complete set of the Auckland Weekly News from 28 November 1863 to 23 August 1971. The magazine’s photographic supplements from 1898 to 1945 have also been digitised. The Weekly News photographs provide a valuable trove of images and caption information that could be used as source material by social historians, writers and students to enrich, amplify and illustrate their work.

Another feature of the Auckland Weekly News we imagine family historians could use to illustrate their histories is the magazine’s Roll of Honour. This includes photographs of service personnel from New Zealand or other Imperial forces who were killed, wounded or won medals during the First and Second World Wars.

Image: Lance Sergeant Joseph Sinclair Irvine, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19180530-42-42.

Image: Engine Room Artificer Stanley Joseph Hubbard, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19420204-25-2.

The Roll of Honour does appear to be more complete for the Second World War than the First.  It is actually unclear how the Weekly News went about assembling the Roll of Honour published each week. It seems that during the First World War photographic portraits of dead or wounded soldiers might have been provided by their proud families, but that during the Second World War casualty (and medal-winners’) photographs might have been sourced from military personnel files. If anyone knows the answer to this, please let the photographic librarians in the Auckland Libraries’ Heritage Collections units know, or comment below.

From the viewpoint of someone who has spent the greater part of the last seven years digitising metadata describing captions and subject keywords for the Auckland Weekly News photographs, browsing through them makes one realize how many news events of the past would be completely unknown today without collections such as this. One also realises that how the Auckland Weekly News reported current social and political news helped form contemporary social attitudes, so the way photographs were interpreted, presented and captioned can perhaps even assist one to imagine the cultural mindsets of the people of the day. Peacetime social conditioning easily shifted to wartime propaganda. During both world wars, there was little sympathy for the Germans, and none at all for the Japanese.

Auckland Libraries are continuing to make the digitised Auckland Weekly News photographs even more discoverable. Once the images are migrated to Kura Heritage Collections Online they will be able to be found by doing a Google search on a PC, tablet or smart phone. Researchers will be able to use Kura’s search tips to flexibly search using keywords and advanced search techniques. And finally, when researchers have located the photographs they are after, copies can be ordered from Auckland Libraries in digital or print form.  

In this way the Auckland Weekly News, the provincial news magazine with 108 years of history, will become more accessible for browsers and researchers of a new century. Let’s leave the final ‘comment’ to long-time Auckland Weekly News cartoonist, Trevor Lloyd. And it’s goodnight from him.

Image: Der Tag, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19181205-42-5.

Author: Christopher Paxton, Heritage Engagement

Further reading:

Phillip Ridge and Stephen Barnett, Those Were The Days, 6 vols, 1987-89.