Early mission printing presses

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For many Maori, learning to read was a powerful incentive in accepting the early missionaries’ religious message. As demand for printed material increased, the missionary-printer William Colenso was sent to New Zealand, arriving in 1834. The Church Mission press was soon set up at Paihia, and the first work printed was a translation of the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Philippians.

During Colenso’s time with the press up until 1842, about thirty-six items were printed in Maori, varying in size from a single leaf to the 356 page New Testament in 1838. Colenso’s next major undertaking was 27,000 copies of the Book of Common Prayer in Maori. By 1840 he had produced over 74,000 copies of books and pamphlets, not all of them religious publications. It is believed that this was the press used to print copies of the Treaty of Waitangi.

When in 1845 Selwyn moved his College of St John from Waimate to its present site in Tamaki, he took with him the press which had earlier been presented by the Church Missionary Society. The imprint on Maori books for the next decade are given as from Purewa (one Tamaki) or Te Kareti (the College). The press is sometimes described as the Mission Press, or the Bishop’s Press and occasionally as the College Press. The latest date for the College imprint is 1856, by which time some fifty Maori items had been produced there. Subsequently, the press was moved to St Stephen’s School Parnell, with no date known for its removal.

Between the years 1845 to 1853, the Bishop had issued Church almanacs in English with the imprint “Auckland: printed at the Cathedral Press”. Little is known of an independent Cathedral Press and it is surmised that this refers to the old Mission Press after its removal from St John’s College. From 1864 to 1878 the place of issue of the almanacs is given as ‘Akarana’, ‘Tipene’ (St Stephen’s) or ‘Taurarua ‘ (Judge’s Bay) and the press described as the St Stephen’s School Press.

Featured are examples of publications showing the imprint of the various presses held in the Library, as well as ledgers of works produced by the College printing press, 1848 – 1854 (SJT) 1/3.2/1) and a manuscript letter from J.C.Patteson to Bishop Selwyn, reporting on the installation of the press at the College – “the printer is I really think, likely to turn out well ….” (ANG 90/1/3).


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