(NB: There is almost no economics in this post. It is for the history-minded)
Papers Past is one of New Zealand’s little-heralded resources. The National Library has made available electronically copies of dozens of New Zealand newspaper titles dating from, in one case, as early as 1841 and often up to 1945. It is a shame they haven’t yet attempted, or perhaps been able, to do more recent decades.
I was curious to see what Wellingtonians might have been reading on Saturday afternoon, 24 April 1915, so I downloaded the Evening Post for that day.
Older newspapers typically had their classified advertisements first. But the first news page that day had the shipping news and the market data. New Zealand government bonds maturing in 1929 and quoted in London were yielding about 4.15 per cent – rather higher than today’s 3.37 per cent 10 year yield.
War news features heavily of course:
- A fascinating story that, in the middle of a war, the Hungarian Parliament (Hungary then being part of the dual monarchy Austria-Hungary) had failed to pass the war credits sought by the government.
- Much talk (perhaps deliberately encouraged?), of a forthcoming major naval confrontation in the North Sea.
- Zeppelins observed over Newcastle
- A report of the efforts of members of the Socialist Party of Germany to promote an early peace.
- An account of two British efforts in 1807 to force the Dardanelles – they succeeded, but failed to take Constantinople.
- Uncertainty about the adequacy of the supply of wheat in New Zealand, European agriculture having been disrupted by the war.
But it isn’t all, probably not even mostly, about the war.
- “Owing to exceptional pressures on space, the usual sporting, football, and hockey notes have been held over”, but space for a listing of which Wellington grounds had been allocated by the Council to various different sports codes.
- Campaigning for local body elections was in full swing, with various accounts of the views of candidates and meetings they addressed.
- An account of William Jennings Bryan (“cross of gold”), the US Secretary of State witnessing in his office the impact of alcohol poured over plants (“What seemed to please Mr. Bryan most was that- when the plant was given alcohol it passed through a- brief period of obvious exhiliration, followed by a decided drooping, indicating that even plants must pay the price of “the morning after.”)
- The progress of new consumer-oriented technology, in Germany.
- The weekly book reviews
And a remarkably long discussion on the latest northern hemisphere spring fashions.
It is a fascinating snapshot, of the quotidian affairs amid the most awful, and escalating, war. Of course, there is no hint of the next morning’s Gallipoli landings, or of the systematic Turkish efforts to slaughter Armenian Christians just getting underway in Constantinople that very Saturday.