Saturday, September 26, 2009

An early spat over the news from abroad

I found this while looking in Papers Past for early 1850s stuff.

Thomas Henderson purchased the brig Spencer in April 1852 in Sydney, and in August sailed into Auckland with some overseas papers which were, in those days, highly important sources of imformation to the local newspapers. Both the New Zealander and the Southern Cross vied for the information. That month, the competition turned somewhat catty.

We have been reduced to the alternative either of passing the English intelligence, received via Melbourne, unnoticed, or of reprinting it almost verbatim from the pages of the 'New Zealander.' The cause of this may be briefly stated; and it is an explanation equally due to our subscribers and ourselves.

The "Spencer" brought no mail; but by the kindness of Mr. Henderson, it was intended that we should be put in possession of the latest issues of the 'Melbourne Argus.' The morning of the "Spencer's" arrival preceded that of the publication of the New Zealander and at the suggestion of the Boarding Officer, and with a courteous consideration for his fellow colonists, Mr. Henderson permitted the proprietors of that journal the first use of his papers, on condition that they should immediately afterwards be transmitted to us. This was not done; our collector, therefore, went for them to the ' New Zealander' office, by Mr. Henderson’s instructions, where the restoration of the property was peremptorily refused.

According to the declaration of Mr. John Williamson he, the Government Printer, had an arrangement with the Government Boarding Officer, to procure papers and information for his Journal. He knew (he said) nothing of Mr. Henderson, and should pay no attention to any order of his. No doubt this arrangement of Mr. Williamson's is an extremely convenient one; an admirable safety valve through which his high pressure integrity may escape. At all events, on the present occasion, it has enabled him to despoil Mr. Henderson and defraud us with a safe conscience; for although a part of Mr. Henderson’s papers were eventually given up by Mr. Wilson, they were so cut and mutilated, so filched for previous and. future publication, of almost every available matter of extract — the most important journal being still entirely retained — that we have had no other resource than to reproduce so far from the print that has thus honestly anticipated us. Thanks to "private kindness," we have, since, been supplied with duplicate copies of every Melbourne Journal, except that which announces the arrival of the Peninsular and Oriental Company's steamer "Chusan." We have thereby, happily been enabled to supply all those items of general intelligence, of which Mr. John Williamson so barefacedly endeavoured to make exclusive appropriation.
(Southern Cross, 24 August 1852)

Stung, the New Zealander retaliated.

The Southern Cross has apologised this morning to its few subscribers for a repetition of the neglect (of which it is often guilty when it does not acknowledge it) of not supplying the latest news, or only supplying it meagrely and imperfectly; and has endeavoured to throw the blame on us for its deficiency with respect to the intelligence brought by the Spencer.

The facts of the case are :— The boarding officer, Mr. Mitford, brought us a file of Melbourne papers from the Spencer on Friday afternoon, which he said Mr. Henderson had given him for the New Zealander, with a request, that as he would be first on shore, he would send them to our office. Mr. Mitford kindly delivered the papers himself, observing that Mr. Henderson was sorry he had not a copy of the paper of the 31st, the day after the steamer Chusan arrived at Melbourne; but he did not so much as name the Southern Cross. On Saturday afternoon Mr. Hughes, the collector for the Cross called and, in a tone not very civil, demanded the papers which he said Mr. Henderson had ordered to be sent to the Southern Cross. He was informed that we had received no such message from Mr. Henderson, the papers had been given us by Mr. Mitford, who might, for ought we knew, according to an understanding we had with him when he brought us papers, call for them again; but we explicitly, more than once, offered to lend the papers to Mr. Hughes for the Southern Cross. He said no; he would see Mr. Henderson, who would "know how to treat Mr. Mitford again when he boarded his vessel, for not attending to what he had told him.”

He returned some time later with an open note from Mr. Henderson, addressed to Mr. Mitford, requesting the papers for the Cross, upon which we at once handed Mr. Hughes every paper Mr. Mitford had brought us. They certainly were necessarily cut up for use, owing to the late hour at which we received them on the night before our publication; but the paper of the 31st, which the Cross untruthfully asserts we kept back, was not received from Mr. Mitford at all;— we were kindly favored with that at a much later hour by Mr. Thomas Lewis.

It comes very ungraciously from the Southern Cross, from its reporter up to the proprietor, Mr. Brown himself, to charge us with any unwillingness to oblige them. They know that in their several capacities they have been under obligations to us. We have never been loath to observe the practices of accommodation usual between printing offices elsewhere, and have enabled them before now, by supplying them with paper, &c, to go on, when otherwise they would have been at a stand-still; and as much as ten columns of standing type have been lent them, not long since, to afford them an equal opportunity with our own paper to publish a report of a local matter of importance, compiled by ourselves, but which they had not the magnanimity to acknowledge. We do not like to mention these things, but feel urged to say thus much in our defence, although indeed it may be hardly necessary in this community to set up any defence against the attacks of the Southern Cross.

If we had been desirous to arraign the parties connected with the Cross, we have too often had ample reason to do so. It is sometimes usual for persons to leave advertisements at the office of one paper, which they intend should appear in both, with a request that a copy may be sent to the other office. Now we challenge them to mention any instance of neglect on our part in such a case, while on theirs it is not of singular occurrence. We may give as a recent instance Mr. Adlerman Mason’s address to the electors, which had appeared twice in the Cross, before he called to enquire why we had not inserted it, and was surprised to learn that the people of the Cross had not sent us word to copy it according to his directions. We might enumerate many similar instances of un-neighbourly treatment, and of civilities unreciprocated, by the gentlemen of the Southern Cross, but we have passed over these private annoyances, to merely explain, because we think it due to ourselves to do so, a matter in relation to which the Cross has thought fit to bring not only our names before the public, but also that of a gentleman who has incurred its displeasure by doing us a favor.
The Proprietors of the "New-Zealander."
 (25 August 1852)

The Southern Cross fired another shot.

Gentlemen, —I would not waste space on your attempted refutation, which is in fact a perfect confirmation of the accusation preferred against you of having cut, mutilated, and made valueless papers intended for the Southern Cross, were it not that charges equally untrue are brought by against myself personally.

I may not, perhaps, be so polished in manner, or such a pattern of urbanity and gentleness as Mr. John Williamson, nevertheless I must deny the charge of incivility in toto.

To prove that nothing but the truth was stated by me in my report of the conversation that took place between Mr. Williamson and me last Saturday, I will, as nearly as possible, rehearse the conversation that then took place.

I saw Mr. Williamson in the shop, and after the usual good morning, I said I have called for Mr. Henderson’s Melbourne papers, that he directed to be sent to the Cross office after you had published. Mr. Williamson said, I don't know anything about Mr. Henderson’s papers; Mr.Mitford brought some papers to us—and he then called Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson said Mr. Mitford had not mentioned a word about their being sent to the Cross. I said it was strange that Mr. Henderson should direct me to them for the papers, if no such order had been given to Mr. Mitford. Mr. Williamson said, I will lend you the papers for the Cross —that is, from our office to yours—but I do not know Mr. Henderson in the matter. I declined to accept them as a loan, knowing that Mr. Henderson would expect them to be returned to him after we published. I then inquired if he would give them to me if I obtained a written order from Mr. Henderson. He said that they had an arrangement with Mr. Mitford to bring them papers and information when he boarded vessels, and that they would give them up to no one but him or to his order. I said, if that is the case, Mr. Henderson would know how to treat Mr. Mitford when he inquired for papers again onboard his vessel. Mr. Williamson again offered the papers as a loan; which I declined, and left. I must leave it to the public to find where the incivility that you complain of rests. Having obtained an order from Mr. Henderson to Mr. Mitford for the papers, and having wasted the whole of Saturday afternoon in a fruitless search for that gentleman, I called and showed the order to Mr. Wilson, who immediately gave me the papers, so much mutilated as to be almost useless.

No advertisements left at the office of the Southern Cross with instructions to be forwarded to the New Zealander were ever withheld. The instance, of Mr. Mason's, so particularly pointed out, is unfounded, Mr. Mason having left no orders on the subject; and it is not the business either of the proprietor or the editor to attend to such matters. The type you boast so much about, was lent by your own proposal, and more to serve yourselves than to oblige the Southern Cross; since, by re-printing the speeches delivered at the public meeting for repudiating the New Zealand Company's debt, "the few subscribers" of the Southern Cross were afforded an opportunity of admiring the eloquence of Mr. John Williamson on that occasion. As the Printers of the Southern Cross offered to set their share of the ten columns of type, I think the obligation was very slight. I shall only further add, that private papers are frequently lent to both offices. When they reach the office of the Southern Cross first, they are invariably forwarded to you, or returned to the owner, uncut and uninjured. They are never plundered and defaced in the shameful manner in which Mr. Henderson’s were. I remain, &c. Stephen E. Hughes.

(Southern Cross, 27 August 1852)

And there, apart from at least one letter to the editor of the New Zealander blaming the Southern Cross editor for having a grudge against Mitford, the matter rested.

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