Henry Falwasser and the Mangle Press


This is a story perhaps a moral fable too from the early years of the colony of New Zealand.

How Mr Muldoon, irritated by what he considers the pointlessly prolonged sessions of our modern parliaments, might envy the powers of governors of the eighteen-forties! The word of William Hobson, or Willoughby Shortland, or Robert Fitzroy was law - subject only to the rulings of Downing Street. There was no dialogue with elected representatives of the people. Which is just as well. These governors and administrators were ex-Navy officers, used to the unquestioning obedience of the quarter-deck. Opposition, contradiction, criticism, lay outside their range of experience. With these they scarcely knew how to cope.

But opposition did come. Long before the first colonial Parliament met in 1853, opposition groups sprang up in Russell, Auckland, Wellington and Nelson hell-bent on thwarting the will of the governor. The medium for publicizing their views was the Press.

A pioneer newspaper of this stripe was the Auckland Times. Its owner and publisher Henry Falwasser was what the Victorians called a man of spirit. As Lieutenant George Phillpotts of the H.M.S. Hazard found. One day, while this young naval officer was reading an issue of the Times in 'Rakau' Wood's Royal Hotel in Princes Street (where the prestigious Northern Club now stands) he saw fit to scoff at the paper, to dismiss " it as a 'rag'.

But it so happened that Falwasser was also drinking at that hotel, to which he often resorted - or so his enemies said - to absorb editorial inspiration. Infuriated, Falwasser, in the phrase of the day, 'called Phillpotts out'. A duel took place nearby. No blood was spilt. Phillpotts lost a button off his uniform, and Falwasser got a bullet through his coattail. Almost too hilarious to be true! But that's the story the old Auckland settlers used to tell anyway.

Phillpotts was a fearless man, for he died bravely and well in action at Ohaewai in Hone Heke's war shortly after. Nor did Falwasser's courage come from the bottle.

Princes Street 1949
pen and wash drawing
(collection of the Auckland
City Art Gallery)

There can be no better proof that Falwasser was a man of determination than his initial decision to launch his paper in August 1842. After all, in the previous thirteen months Auckland's first two newspapers had come to grief - virtually killed, let it be said, by the hostility of Governor Hobson's officials who had a morbid fear of Press criticism.

Perhaps Falwasser thought his paper would survive where its predecessors expired because he was determined to steer clear, as best he could, of politics. In his first issue he laid down his policy as editor. Though the Auckland Times would 'exercise the irrepressible POWER OF TRUTH' it would 'be untrammelled by any party' since 'dissensions in our infant community can only hinder our progress'.

But quickly the Times was driven into opposition to officialdom. You will easily understand why if you appreciate that Falwasser had hoped to buy up the plant and press of the recently defunct Auckland Standard. However the Government bear him to it. In an early editorial Falwasser bitterly denounced what he believed was a Government attempt to destroy the liberty of the Press by monopolising all printing plants in the capital.

Yet once again the Falwasser spirit came to the fore. For nine months he improvised. At his works at the corner of Chancery and High Streets he brought out the Times on a clothes mangle. Editions came out on coarse, spongy paper printed in an astonishing variety of types, the left-overs of the infant Auckland printing industry.

Copies of the Times are rare: but preserved in the Auckland Public Library are isolated numbers which show the typographical ingenuity of Falwasser. Some issues have a curious patchwork appearance. As one set of type was used up, Falwasser would work his way through his assortments of founts: canon, Baskerville, non-pareil, brevier, italics, Gothic and so on.

One particular letter was in very short supply. This was the lower-case 'k'. So ; Falwasser made do as best he could, using capitals, Gothics, even German text. And when no 'k' of any sort was left, Falwasser represented his 'k' by leaving a gap. The effect was quaintly hilarious.

Falwasser laughed, it seems, at his own efforts, for he was not a pompous man. All the early issues bore the imprint 'Printed in a mangle and Published by Henry Falwasser; at the Mangle, Chancery Street'. Yet he also believed he had been enabled by his 'ponderous revolver' - as he once called his mangle - to 'strike a blow at would-be despotism'. 'We consider our mangle an ingenious and honorable triumph over as contemptible and sneaking an attempt to stifle the press as was ever perpetrated.'

As time went by, Falwasser gathered fresh type from odd quarters. So the appearance of the Times improved. But it went into recess on 13 April 1843. later in the year, Phoenix-like, it rose again, using up-to-date type and plant imported from Sydney.

The Times continued until 17 January 1846. A week later Falwasser died. It's somehow fitting that the Mangle newspaper and its spirited proprietor should quit the Auckland scene together.

RUSSELL STONE is Associate Professor of History at the University of Auckland. HeĀ  is interested in the social history of the nineteenth century, with particular reference to Auckland; and is currently working on a biography of Sir John Logan Campbell, who was, among other things, founder of the first school of Art, in 1879.