History in the making

Last updated 00:00 01/01/2009
Blenheim residents getting the results of the 1911 election from the Marlborough Express

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On an autumn Saturday in April 1866, The Marlborough Express published its first edition with a pledge to be a newspaper that served its province.

That first gray fraying edition is a museum piece alongside today''s colour-splashed newspaper, but the promise all those years ago still holds true. This will endure because Marlborough will not accept anything less and the newspaper's owner Fairfax is committed to editorial excellence and independence.

Not that Marlburians can have found much fault with The Express over its history.

In 1866 two printer brothers, Samuel and Thomas Johnson were looking for a place to set up business and they chose the untidy little village, at a river junction on the Wairau Plain as their headquarters. From a little office in Alfred Street, Blenheim, the first issue of The Marlborough Express emerged on Saturday April 21, 1866.

Its leading article declared the proprietors aim "to establish a well-conducted paper that shall contain the most recent information on all subjects of general interest".

Today, from a town with a busy modern shopping and business centre providing for a internationally reknown viticulture, horticultural and sea food industry, The Marlborough Express, equipped with the latest technology in the newspaper industry, provides the Marlborough area with local, national and international news as well as being a powerful and award-winning advertising medium.

With a dedicated staff, The Express has come a long way since Samuel and Thomas Johnson toiled in dust by day and the smoke of their oil lamps by night in their dingy shack in Alfred Street. This is the story of some of the highlights in the growth of The Express over its history.

A history of ownership

Established in 1866 by Samuel and Thomas Johnson, The Express as it was then known, became Marlborough''s first daily paper, although it was not the district''s first newspaper.

In 1879 The Express was bought by James Henry Boundy and Smith James Furness. The latter had been trained on the Wellington Independent and assisted in founding the Ashburton Guardian. In 1893 he bought James Boundy''s interest and became the sole owner.

In 1910 Smith James Furness retired and his sons Roy and Geoffrey acquired the business. Geoffrey Furness disposed of his interest to his elder brother in 1917. The third generation of the Furness family came into the picture in 1931 when Roy Furness'' son Donald joined the staff. Four years later Roy turned the business into a private company and The Marlborough Express Newspaper Company Ltd was formed. In 1950, two years before the death of his father, Donald became managing director.

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Rapid expansion of The Express in the 1950s led to the acquisition of shares in the company by Rangatira Pty Ltd. Twenty years later when Rangatira sold out the Lucas family from the Nelson Evening Mail bought a 50 percent shareholding, and The Express was managed for the next four years by Kenneth Lucas. He was succeeded by, Roger Rose, the son-in-law of Don Furness, who with his wife Carol bought the Nelson Mail''s shareholding back in 1982. The Express was owned by the Roses and their family trusts until bought by INL in October 1998 and became a division of INL Publishing Ltd.

The Express was sold as part of INL to the Fairfax publishing group, becoming part of Fairfax New Zealand Limited on July 1 2003.


1866 - Saturday April 21. From their Alfred Street premises, Samuel and Thomas Johnson produced the first issue of The Express. When Thomas Johnson withdrew less than a year later, Samuel carried on as sole proprietor.

1877 - the premises moved to High Street. This site was occupied until 1982.

1879 - December 31, saw the name Furness first appear, when Smith James Furness and James Henry Boundy purchased the paper from Johnson.

1880 - January 5. With this issue The Marlborough Express became Marlborough''s first daily paper.

1893 - July 13. Smith James Furness became the sole proprietor. Since then 11 descendants and five generations of the Furness Family have been involved with The Express.

1905 - A contract was let for a new brick and concrete building of two storeys. Installed in this new building were three of the then amazing new linotype typesetting machines. Later models of the linotype and similar machines continued to be used until they were replaced by computer setting equipment in the 1980s.

1910 - James Furness retired and his sons Roy Patterson and Geoffrey became joint proprietors. In 1917 Geoffrey sold out to his brother to go farming, but returned to become a staff member in 1923.

1920s - in this period there was an expansion programme and this included building extensions and the installation of the new reel-fed Cossar press.

1930s - the third generation of the Furness family, Donald Milsham Furness joined the company in 1931. R P Furness formed the Company into a private company in 1935.

1951 - Don Furness became Managing Director in 1951 and remained involved in the firm in various roles until shortly before his death in 1994.

1957 - A major step was taken with the installation of a three unit rotary press and its ancillary equipment. In this year a photographic department was set up.

1966 saw The Express celebrate its 100th year and a special tabloid centennial issue was printed. (This publication still remains as a source for early company and Marlborough history.)

1978 - This year saw the start of a further update of plant when a Goss Community offset press was installed in the then Express Printing Works in Arthur Street. Linotype machines were replaced with modern computer setting equipment during the 1980s.

1998 - During the 1990s the whole production of The Express has moved to full computerisation - Editorial stories, advertising, and production linked into the one system.

1998 - Purchased by INL.

2003- Purchased by Fairfax.

2007- Qantas Media Award for best newspaper of the year (under 25,000 circulation) and best community newspaper, the Saturday Express.

2010- Qantas Media Awards finalist for best newspaper of the year (under 30,000 circulation).


The Express survived competition from scores of early rivals. Its founders, the Johnson brothers, both printers, faced a formidable hurdle in the form of opposition from established papers but they set firm a base for The Marlborough Express so that it survived where others failed. By 1911 it had become the only newspaper published in Blenheim. It still is.

First in the newspaper field in Blenheim was the Marlborough Press. It moved to Picton in 1861 to be close to the seat of the old Provincial Government which had been transferred there. However jealousy of Picton by Blenheim people compelled the owners of the Press to give Blenheim its own paper.

They started the Wairau Record in 1864, but changed its name the following year to the Marlborough News and General Advertiser. About this time another paper emerged called the Marlborough Times, but it only lasted about six months.

Some radical changes were about to affect The Marlborough Express. Thomas Johnson withdrew from the paper in 1867 and 12 years later Samuel sold out to Smith James Furness and James Henry Boundy.

The partners, both printers, took over the first issue of 1880, having converted it from a bi-weekly to a daily. While that in itself was an act of faith, it paid off. The Express prospered.

As newspapers were the only means of public communication in those days, it was surprising that they came and went like hot cakes!

Samuel Johnson had established in earlier years, 1871, a separate journal, The Express Telegram, to publish about the middle of the week the telegraphic news to which he had started to subscribe. But after three months he converted it into a "Town Edition" of The Express.

Evening Herald

About that time a paper called the Evening Herald was started by two immigrants from Suffolk, England, but a benefactor who promised financial support died in Manchester leaving them in the lurch. The newspaper folded. A weekly, the Marlborough News, was absorbed in 1874 by a new bi-weekly, the second Marlborough Times, which became a daily two years after The Express.

In 1880 Furness and Boundy started an extra weekly edition of The Express and in 1887 it became known as the Marlborough Weekly News.

For a period from 1893, when records indicate a short-lived weekly, The Evening Star came into being, there must have been no fewer than four newspapers circulating in Blenheim – The Express, its offshoot, the Weekly News, and the separately owned Times and Star.

Smith James Furness bought the Marlborough Times in 1895 and carried it on as a daily morning edition, soon afterwards dropping the Weekly News.

When a fresh rival, the Marlborough Herald, entered the field in 1905, he closed The Times to consolidate his forces for the fight. He won.

The Herald, which had announced its intention of ousting its "reptile contemporary" – a term used by newspaper owners in those days to describe their opponents – switched to morning publication in 1910 to improve its position. It failed and closed the following year.

Since then The Express has been the only daily newspaper published in Blenheim.

Although it survived while so many others failed, it cannot claim to be Marlborough''s pioneer newspaper: that honour went to the Marlborough Press.

But The Express was a pioneer in many other fields: it was the first daily, it was the first to adopt mechanical typesetting, the first to print eight pages and set many other "firsts" since it became the province''s only daily paper. It reached a significant milestone in 1977 with the switch to offset printing.

The Marlborough Express is a division of Fairfax Media NZ Ltd.

- The Marlborough Express

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