By Jane Bloore

As I begin a task recently assigned to me, that of indexing our copies of the early Presbyterian Church journal The Evangelist, the opening line of L.P. Hartley’s novel The Go-Between  ‘The past is a foreign country’ couldn’t help but come to mind. The sentence continues ‘they do things differently there’ and anyone who takes delight in browsing through old newspapers, books or magazines can confirm the truth of L.P. Hartley’s assertion, but it is a partial truth only. The past can resonate with the present, may indeed both inform and illuminate it as I am currently learning.

The Evangelist, established in Otago in 1869, was a monthly magazine ‘devoted to the advancement of evangelical religion’ and whilst it naturally concentrated mainly on the affairs of the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand, (and to a lesser extent Australia); it also concerned itself with the political, educational and social life of New Zealand. In addition it reprinted articles on both religious and secular topics from a number of overseas publications, and it is this mix of local and international coverage which makes The Evangelist especially significant for church and social historians alike.

The first Editor of the 'Evangelist', the Rev. Dr. James Copland, 1869-1873

I knew from my knowledge of other early Presbyterian Church journals such as the New Zealand Presbyterian and the Christian Outlook that the task which awaited me would not be a dull one, and so it proved to be. Many of the issues raised in the journal remain relevant, not least the struggle of the Church to make its impact on the world.

The intriguing title of this blog is found in an extract  from a New York newspaper of a meeting held between the Old School and New School of the Presbyterian Churches of America in Pittsburg [sic] in July 1869. The purpose of the meeting was to bring about a reunion between the two bodies, and in this it was successful. In the euphoria over the reunion a Dr. Fisher offered a resolution “calling on the United Church for a special thank offering of a million dollars”.

A Mr John Hall seconded the motion, and in the enthusiasm of the moment went even further and moved that it should be 5,000,000 dollars instead.  He said the Union would help our young people to break in pieces the great golden image of Mammon and Fashion. He would use his hearty efforts to raise the five millions.  There are inherent ambiguities in this statement at which we may smile, but the imagery is potent in a year which has seen the world endure more than one financial meltdown.

The journal’s comments on various aspects of life in the colony may also raise a smile (condemnation of travel on the Sabbath for example) but strictures on the ‘spread of drunkenness’ will seem eerily familiar in our culture of ‘binge drinking’.  The authors of Alcohol in Our Lives: Curbing the Harm, the 2010 Law Commission’s final report on the review of New Zealand’s liquor laws would no doubt agree with the sentiments expressed in this leading article from the April 1st 1870 issue:

It is a hopeful sign that attention has been recently directed in various quarters to check the spread of drunkenness in our land. The extent to which that vice prevails, and the disastrous results to which it leads, are doubtless well known to our readers.

A meeting in Christchurch proposed various solutions to the problem, some of which will resonate today. One was to ‘discountenance all habits which tend to foster useless and excessive drinking, such as “shouting”, drinking at sales, [and] conducting bargaining in public-houses’; another was to discourage ‘drinking and inviting friends to drink at unseasonable hours.’

Suggested amendments to the laws regulating the liquor traffic included seeking the abolition ‘of what are termed “bottle licenses,” greater stringency in repressing the unlicensed selling of drink, and more carefulness in the granting of hotel licenses, so that they may be given only to those of good character, and only in districts which otherwise are not supplied with hotels.’

One solution was to abstain from alcohol altogether, and the rapid rise of temperance societies throughout the 1870s is well documented in The Evangelist

We hail with pleasure the formation of those societies which have been formed in various places for the maintenance and diffusion of this principle [abstention], and wish them great success.

Temperance Procession through the Main Street of Otautau, Southland, 1911

In the weeks to come I will highlight other topics discussed in the pages of The Evangelist which I think might be of interest, including reports on mission to the Maori, and to the Chinese gold miners in Otago, the latest scientific theories and their impact on Christianity (did meteorites seed life on earth?) emancipation (‘The educational zeal of the American Negroes’), and much more.

A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.
Robert Heinlein quotes

(The Evangelist merged with the Missionary Record  and was renamed the New Zealand Presbyterian  at the end of 1879.)


  1. Jane,

    What form will the index take?

    A paper index that will only be searchable by Archives staff, or a Web-enabled form, where the contents are searchable by the world and wife 24/7?


    • Hi Cathy, the indexing we undertake is not complicated, more time consuming. It will be mainly for the benefit of on-site researchers and ourselves. It will be entered into an electronic catalogue which in time may end up on the web that depends on band width etc. and how the powers that be feel about us taking up space. We index names of people and places, titles and subject categories within news items and articles, obituraries, and anything we think has research potential. Glad you liked the photo.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s