Date of first ‘Evening Star’ nebulous

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‘The Evening Star’ was first published in 1863. Or was it? Recollections and records provide some doubt about the birth, as this excerpt from ‘The Star of the South’ shows.

Two authorities of different eras, Thomas Morland Hocken and Guy Scholefield, both say the Evening Star began on May 1, 1863 and that is the date generally accepted.

It was also the date a hundred years later that The Evening Star board deemed to be its centenary.

But The Evening Star that did appear on May 1, 1863 was numbered 69.

If there were 68 earlier editions, allowing for Sundays and Good Friday (April 3, 1863), the debut goes back to February 10.

Was there an earlier Evening Star or could the [recently defunct] Evening News have simply been renamed?

A clue came from the Dunedin correspondent of the Southland Times: “The Evening News, I think I told you, had stopped. It is to come out again very shortly, supplemented with money and brains – two great essentials in the conduct of a newspaper.”

The Otago Daily Times begged to differ: “We understand that this new candidate for journalistic honours is not an offshoot of the lately defunct Evening News, but an entirely new publication.”

Barbara Clapperton, who married a descendant of George Bells, thought there was an earlier, separate Evening Star, of which no copies survive.

A special feature marking The Star‘s move to its new building in Stuart St, in 1928, was unequivocal: The paper first appeared on May 1, 1863.

The Star centenary edition in 1963 also left no room for doubt: The official birthday was May 1 and its original owners were G.A. and W. J. Henningham.

But 61 years earlier, in a story marking the opening of the new bookbinding and boxmaking building on the corner of Bond and Police Sts, the paper said: “The Evening Star newspaper was originally started in 1863 by a Mr Hankins, who was bought out” by the Henninghams.

That story, like the vast majority at the time, was unattributed but the author was most likely The Star editor, Mark Cohen, who had the advantage of personal knowledge of the earliest days of The Star.

Mr Scholefield quoted Mr Cohen as saying the paper first appeared in the summer of 1862 (meaning 1862-63).

Mr Scholefield, himself an Otago newspaper pioneer but of a later generation than Mr Cohen, then wrote: “The founder is said to have been one Hanson, who afterwards migrated to the West Coast goldfields. A liberal reward offered for a copy of this paper produced no result.”

Tom Paul [Otago Witness editor] also subscribed to this version of events, saying: “In 1862 a diminutive sheet called the Evening Star appeared, its reputed founder being one Hanson, who afterwards migrated to the West Coast goldfields.

Of this effort no authentic record exists.” So who was this mystery man called either Hankins or Hanson?

There is no evidence to provide a conclusive answer but he could have been an early arrival from England, Henry George Hankin. He apparently went first to the Victorian diggings, then Otago and later the West Coast.