Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Editor, the Bulldog, and the Donkey

I love the Observer, and have done since Papers Past first put it up a few years ago. Now it's searchable, it's a great window into the life of Auckland and surrounds from 1880-1909. I wish it went further into the 20th century (the paper continued well into the 1900s) but -- I'll take what we can get with gratitude.

The following is the piece that first made me sit up and take notice of this quirky, gossipy Auckland newspaper: the incident with the donkey.

Observer, Volume 1, Issue 7, 30 October 1880, Page 52
Ructions at the "Observer" Office.


On Monday evening last, it was my lot to experience some of those joys to which the editor of a Society journal who is not Jem Mace, Tom Sayers, and Heenan rolled into one is heir to. I do not wish to colour the story unnaturally, or to throw any opprobrium on my opponents. We all according to report behaved as well as possible, people invariably do in these cases. It is, however, only right that the facts should be known, and to that end I beg to place before my readers a plain unvarnished tale.

In the first place, then, let me tell you I weigh 8st. 7lbs., have only recently recovered from a very severe illness, which left a slight heart disease behind it, and can in consequence boast no muscle whatever. Any schoolboy of 14 or 15 possessing an average amount of "vim" could at the present time thrash me easily, and it is to this fact no doubt I owe so many courageous threats of horsewhippings, pummellings, and the like. I do not, however, edit the Observer to secure these blessings. Strange as it may seem my hope is to make the paper popular. Mistakes have occurred and doubtless will occur, till I begin to understand exactly what offends people and what does not, but, as time passes, they will it is to be hoped grow less frequent.

On Monday afternoon, about four o'clock, I was standing in the front office, when two gentlemen, armed with sticks and followed by a ferocious looking bull-dog, entered and asked for the editor. I saw at once there was likely to be a row, and that things would probably go hard with me, though who the gentlemen were, and what their quarrel with me was, I couldn't conceive. There appeared, however, no use in showing the white feather, so in as indifferent a tone as I could muster, I asked what they wanted. The bigger of the two (whose name I now know to be Hopkins) hereupon came round the counter, and advancing with stick upraised said menacingly, " I want you to come along outside with me."

What would have happened had no one interfered at this crisis I know not, but as luck would have it who should enter but Charlie McMURDO. He ran in rapidly, and pushing us both asunder, ejaculated melodramatically, "No Hopkins you shall not touch him. " On this Mr. Hopkins paused to survey McMURDO'S somewhat stalwart figure, and a barney ensued between the two re the right of the latter to interfere. McMURDO then explained that he wasn't going to see forty men set upon one without defending that one, and the two retired to the back to discuss the question.

The scene in the street at this time beggars description. Not content with himself, his bull-dog, and his friend, Mr. HOPKINS had collected about forty "casuals" to assist him, including one very strong man to hold the poor little editor on the donkey. His purpose, I may now explain, was to seize me bodily, and with the aid of these "merrie men" give me a ride up Queen-street. To witness this edifying spectacle well-nigh the whole town had collected. Messrs. Archibald CLARK & Sons (including the head of that firm), turned out en masse, all the prominent members of the Auckland Club were there, and so were numerous bank managers and lawyers. To not one amongst all this crowd of chivalrous Englishmen does it seem to have occurred that there was anything unfair in upwards of forty men (not to mention the bull-dog) setting on one weak fellow. Though magistrates many of them they stood there ready to applaud a breach of the peace, and to lend the light of their countenances to a deliberate assault. This too, be it understood, although it was known that I knew nothing of the cause of offence, and certainly didn't write the article complained of.

Whilst McMURDO and Mr. HOPKINS were discussing whether the assault should or should not be committed, it occurred to me to ask Mr. HOPKINS'S friend the cause of the commotion. I then learnt, for the first time, that the following sentence in the article on the Rink Ball was the casus belli.

"Messrs. DARGAVILLE, GREENWOOD, and HOPKINS were resplendent in the uniform of British officers. The costume suited the two former admirably, but the last-named looked, if possible, worse than he does when he walks about town in riding trousers."

Now, I did not, as I have said before, write the article in question, but I am responsible for it, and I readily admit my responsibility. The fact is, not knowing Mr. HOPKINS either by name, sight, or reputation, I thought my contributor was giving a rub to some counter-jumper masquerading in the Queen's uniform, and, seeing no particular harm in this, I let it pass. I how learn that Mr. HOPKINS wore (as he had every right to) the uniform of a militia regiment, to which he belonged in England, and was, as a matter of fact, as correctly costumed as the other military mummers. I am very sorry, indeed, he should have been insulted in these columns, and I trust he will accept my amende honorable.

But to return to the story. After a confab of some minutes, Messrs McMURDO and HOPKINS emerged, and we began to discuss the matter rather more amicably. A lengthy debate re my apologising ensued. Mr. HOPKINS, who gave up the idea of a jolly row with evident regret, wanted me to write an apology there and then, to be stuck up in the Clubs, but to this I politely, yet firmly demurred. The objectionable par had appeared in the OBSERVER, and it seemed to me {sufficient if its correction appeared in the OBSERVER too. After some further talk, the terms were accepted, and we shook hand.

Now the affair is over, I should like to ask Mr. HOPKINS whether it wouldn't have been better to have come to me quietly and asked me to put the matter right. He says he didn't mean to commit an assault, but, debilitated though I unfortunately am just now, he can scarcely suppose that I should have submitted to a gross indignity without a struggle of some kind, or that my manager would have stood by quietly and seen me outraged. Of course we should both have been overpowered, for what could two, or even half-a-dozen men, have done against such a mob. But even if Mr. HOPKINS had succeeded in dragging me out, and with the aid of a lot of roughs, stuck me on that donkey, how much the better would he have been? When one weak man succumbs to forty strong ones, where, I may ask, does the disgrace lie — with the forty who fall upon the one? — with the one who is fallen upon? or with the onlookers who would permit such an assault. Mr. HOPKINS himself could have reduced me to pulp with ease, and why he engaged a lot of bravoes to assist him, I can't think. For the despicable coward who egged on the two young men to this exploit without meaning to share a tittle of the risk, I cannot sufficiently express my contempt. His whole part in the affair is known to me, and if I suppress the facts, it is not for his sake. I comprehend perfectly the influences which were brought to bear, and can well understand why his face was livid with fury when the affair resulted in a "fizzle."

For more than an hour previously, the person referred to, had been button-holing people in Queen-street, and sending them up to the Observer Office to witness the exhibition. He was also kind enough to lend his little brother for the occasion.

And now it becomes my pleasing duty to say, "Thank you — thank you very heartily," to Mr. McMURDO. L am told that had the affair come to a fight, others were ready to back me up, but as I don't know these gentlemen’s names and as they kept carefully in the background, I cannot thank them. To McMURDO, at any rate, belongs the kudos (if any) of having stopped the row. When he entered, Mr. HOPKINS was just about to begin, and only the knowledge that he would have to tackle McMURDO first, led to our talking the affair over.

Observer, Volume 1, Issue 7, 30 October 1880, Page 51
The whole plot of the donkey business was laid in the house of a J.P., who is one of “our most respected citizens." This gentleman has a “down" on the Observer for publishing a caricature of him and saying he isn't popular.

Observer, Volume 1, Issue 8, 6 November 1880, Page 57
Thanks to Mr. Hopkins and his projected donkey ride, the Observer's circulation last Saturday was larger than ever, in fact we only want another fracas of the kind for it to touch 5000. The extraordinary increase of advertisements has rendered it necessary to add two extra pages to the present issue. I am also able to announce that the paper will be permanently enlarged very shortly. Next week the opening chapters of a thrilling sensational story, entitled "Hunted Down, " will appear, and several other novel features are in contemplation.

With reference to the famous donkey ride business, Mr. Hopkins has asked me to explain that, though in the heat of the moment he said there were thirty or forty persons at his beck and call on that Monday afternoon, there were, as a matter of fact, nothing like the number. He certainly "shouted" for several fellows, and asked them to prevent interference, and to assist him in the event of the Observer staff proving obstreperous, but otherwise his intention was to carry out the affair by himself. I was glad to hear this, because the forty to one game was the one thing that seemed a little fishy. I could easily imagine a man pledging himself to a somewhat rough practical joke, and being egged on by mischief-makers to execute it, but the procuring backers seemed inexplicable.

Another thing re this matter and then I have done with it. On the night of the ball Mr. Hopkins wore the uniform of a militia regiment to which he belonged in England. It is not, he says, usual for officers to don uniform after leaving the service, but he received special permission from his Colonel Lord Somebody-or-other (I heard the name but I forget it) to use it for fancy balls, &c.

During the past week I have received a regular inundation of friendly letters, mostly from ladies, some of whom are kind enough to take the liveliest interest in the Observer's welfare. Here is a specimen : " Dear Mr. Editor, We have experienced great pleasure in reading your very amusing paper. It was just the thing that was wanted here to take some of the pomp and conceit out of the present generation. Awfully glad to see you came out so well out of the bull-dog-donkey business. Never mind your enemies. The ladies all stick up for you, and would have enlisted under Charlie McMurdo's banner. Hoping you will continue to give us plenty of town gossip and fun.—We remain, your especial admirers, Two Blonde and Brunette Sisters."

This is a life-like representation of Mr. Hopkins's bull-dog as he appeared when snuffing angrily around Charlie McMurdo's calves last Monday week. Mac's face just then was a picture, which only the pencil of a Frith or Millais could do justice to.

Observer, Volume 1, Issue 19, 22 January 1881, Page 188
If there was anything of a ludicrous nature in the two day's sports at all, it was the circumstance of the Stewards all turning out in white belltoppers. Many of them had never before aspired to such a dignity, and it certainly did not sit easy in some cases. I might mention names, but having no desire, if discovered, to take an impromptu ride on a donkey, I refrain.


  1. Can you hear the laughter all the way from here???
    That has to be one of the funniest pieces of writing ever. Brilliant Post Ice and I read your comment on Bill's blog very very cool. Glad he's okay now. Read the post script on his post.

    Your blog is just....AWESOME


  2. Glad you liked the Observer post, Storm. Hope you can see why I'm a big fan of the newspaper!

    I'll check Bill's blog out now, cheers.