Otago Witness

The Otago Witness was a prominent newspaper in the early years of the European settlement of New Zealand, produced in Dunedin, the provincial capital of Otago. It existed from 1851 to 1932, and was notable as the first paper to use photos.

Inaugurated in 1851, three years after the founding of the city, the Witness was originally a four-page fortnightly paper, becoming a weekly publication within its first year. It was named the Otago Witness to indicate the city's connection with Edinburgh, where the Edinburgh Witness was a popular paper.[1]

The Witness was the country's first newspaper to start publishing photos from the mid-1850s, which gained it popularity through its introduction of illustrations. This forms the basis of the Otago image collection, which since 2006 has been digitising these historic photos.[2]

The Witness' early issues gained some notoriety for its polemical editorials, which were often skewed in favour of the political views and policies of Dunedin founding father Captain William Cargill, but soon became a more balanced journal and was widely distributed throughout the South Island, especially after the boom in Otago's wealth and population which followed the 1861 Central Otago Gold Rush. During this time a special gold fields edition of the paper was regularly published.[1]

One female writer, Louisa Alice Baker, became known as 'Dot' giving advice to children. She moved to England in 1894, but continued to write for the Witness from there.[3] Associate editor Eileen Louise Soper wrote for the children's pages for eight years, starting in the 1920s, and served as Dot of 'Dot's Little Folk' until 1932.[4]

The popularity of the Witness declined during the early twentieth century due to competition from other forms of broadcast, notably radio and the newspaper's daily rivals, the Otago Daily Times and Evening Star. The Witness eventually stopped publication in 1932.[1]


  1. "Otago Witness". National Library of New Zealand. Retrieved 23 December 2013.
  2. "About Us". Otago images. Retrieved 23 December 2013.
  3. McCallum, Janet. "Louisa Alice Baker". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 1 December 2011.
  4. Page, Dorothy. "Eileen Louise Soper". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 23 April 2017.

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