First edition found
A copy of the very first edition of The Timaru Herald from June 11, 1864, was found at a house in Christchurch last week.
Fairlie tour bus driver Gary Kerr discovered the newspaper while clearing out the belongings of a deceased relative's home in Christchurch.
He did not immediately realise the significance of the paper or why it had been kept for so long until he noticed the year and then later discovered it was volume 1, number 1, the original Timaru Herald.
Mr Kerr's relatives of different generations, who stored the paper for the last 149 years, had their roots in South Canterbury, with links to Burkes Pass.
Ironically, an Edward George Kerr bought the Timaru Herald in 1877, but Gary Kerr is no relation to him.
Mr Kerr has sought Burkes Pass Heritage Trust chairwoman Jane Batchelor's advice on conserving the paper.
Ms Batchelor said the paper has been folded into a small square. The outside edges are fragile and insects have made lace from it.
"However when unfolded it is in reasonably good condition and clearly readable," she said.
Unlike today's newspaper, with its important front page lead story, the 1864 version's front page is devoted to advertisements.
"The principal aim of producing this newspaper, we are informed on page four, is to enhance the commercial activity of linking buyers and sellers as it creates or enlarges the market for all sorts of goods and so enhances the value of all property," Ms Batchelor said.
Within its pages the main news is headlined "A Great Fire in Christchurch" in Colombo St. A fictional story, and cases before the court including arson, rape, a stabbing and forgery, also keep readers entertained and informed. An advertisement offers a reward of £5 for the return of a bay gelding lost from Burkes Pass five months previously.
"I wondered why it took so long to advertise this loss, as it was clearly a valuable animal. However, considering this was in fact the first edition of the paper, it was also the earliest opportunity," Ms Batchelor said.
Though South Canterbury Museum has about three copies of the first paper in its archives, Timaru District Library has none and has offered to look after it for posterity.
There are also likely to be copies in private collections and at the National Library in Wellington.
Museum curator of documentary history Tony Rippin said papers in the 1800s were better quality than modern newspapers, so lasted longer.
"They were made of rag cotton then instead of wood pulp," he said.
The Timaru Herald