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date: 11 December 2017

Serializing Fiction in the Australasian Press

Summary and Keywords

As Australia and New Zealand gradually emerged as independent nation-states around the turn of the 20th century, the serial issue of literature became steadily less prevalent and influential. During the colonial era itself, with the local book industry still in its infancy, periodical publishers assumed a crucial role in the distribution of literary material and the formation of cultural identity. Trends already apparent in the metropolitan print market in the later 19th century were thus found in even more marked form at the Australasian periphery. Though prose fiction was by no means the only literary genre to be issued in installments, novels and short stories dominated to an overwhelming extent. And, while monthly literary magazines also had a significant qualitative role to pay, general weekly newspapers (or, more accurately, “news miscellanies”) were quantitatively the much more important venue in terms of both supply and readership. It is necessary to distinguish three major sources of provision, each constrained by distinct business practices and intellectual property regimes:

(A) metropolitan fiction, initially supplied through informal “borrowing” from British periodicals, but later distributed in broadcast fashion by British syndication bureaus like Tillotson’s of Bolton, supported locally by agents such as Gordon & Gotch in Melbourne;

(B) colonial fiction of local color by local authors, often for little remuneration, and typically flagged by phrases such as “specially written” for the local press; and

(C) other peripheral fiction, including from the British provinces, from other British colonies, and, last but not least, because of the lack of international copyright protection, from America (with New York story papers such as Robert Bonner’s Ledger or Street & Smith’s Weekly common sources).

All three types represented important influences in the process of negotiating community affiliation during the lengthy transition from colony to nation, but, though the first was undoubtedly most pervasive, in literary terms at least the second was by far the most valuable. The historical details concerning the cultural role of the press indeed serve to cast doubt on the more generic theorization concerning center/periphery relations found in the work of scholars advocating a “world literature” approach, who tend to focus exclusively on the market for books. To sum up in the words of Clara Cheeseman (1852–1943), a New Zealand serial novelist of the final decades of the 19th century whose fiction was exceptional in finding an outlet among the London publishers: “It is to the old newspapers that we must go if we want to see the beginning of colonial fiction . . . there are in the dusty files of these [the Australasian and the Sydney Mail] and other journals many stories of colonial life which have never struggled out of the papers into book form” (“Colonials in Fiction,” NZ Illustrated Magazine 7 (1903): 273–282, here 274). As early 21st-century research in this field attests, with the long-term commitment of both governments to making their press heritages digitally accessible via the “Trove” and “Papers Past” websites of the National Libraries of Australia and New Zealand, respectively, this task has now become a good deal less formidable.

Keywords: serialization, newspapers, center, periphery, colony, nation, provenance, affiliation, Australia, New Zealand

The Social Role of the Newspaper

The press has played a complex role in shaping the sense of community in modern society. James Carey advocates “a ritual view of communication” valuing the “representation of shared beliefs” that draw people together “in fellowship and commonality,” as opposed to the “transmission view,” which focuses on “imparting information . . . for the purpose of control” and tends to dominate our perception of modern media.1 In doing so, he finds support in the apparently perverse example of “the role of the newspaper in social life,” explaining that, from a ritual perspective, “news is not information but drama. It does not describe the world but portrays an arena of dramatic forces and action; . . . it invites our participation on the basis of our assuming, often vicariously, social roles within it.”2 From the corantos of the early 17th century through to its mobile digital manifestations in the early 21st, the newspaper has served diverse social functions, typically featuring a far wider range of material than suggested by a “report or account of recent . . . events or occurrences,” the basic definition of news in the OED.3 The flourishing of installment fiction in the 19th-century press offers an especially telling instance of Carey’s point. Benedict Anderson, in analyzing the origins and spread of nationalism, draws particular attention to novels and newspapers as the “two forms of imagining which . . . provided the technical means for ‘re-presenting’ the kind of imagined community that is the nation,”4 situating these new communication forms within the development of “print-capitalism, which made it possible for rapidly growing numbers of people to think about themselves, and to relate themselves to others, in profoundly new ways.”5 Though it is not a point that Anderson himself addresses, novels in newspapers represent a particularly powerful form of this phenomenon. Yet the serial fiction encountered in the columns of the newspapers at the periphery suggests that the new identification with an imagined national community often had to compete with affiliations more diverse in character.

As Australia and New Zealand gradually emerged as independent nation-states around and after the turn of the 20th century, the serial issue of literature became steadily less prevalent and influential. Thus it was during the colonial era itself, with the local book industry still in its infancy, that periodical publishers assumed a crucial role in distributing literary material and shaping cultural identity. Though prose fiction was not the only genre serialized, novels and short stories dominated to an overwhelming extent. And, while monthly literary magazines also had a significant qualitative role to pay, general weekly newspapers (or, more accurately given the cultural material included, “news miscellanies”) were quantitatively by far the more important venue in terms of both supply and readership. Indeed, during the second half of the century, such news miscellanies became the most comprehensive print resource for the communities they served, and still represent the most detailed record of developments in colonial society and local culture. However, we need to distinguish three major sources of fiction provision, each constrained by distinct business practices and legal regimes:

  1. (A) metropolitan fiction, increasingly supplied by British syndication agencies;

  2. (B) local fiction of local color by authors based in the colony, often written for little remuneration; and,

  3. (C) other peripheral fiction, from the British provinces, other British colonies, and America, often reprinted without authorization.

All three types represent potential influences in the process of negotiating community affiliation during the lengthy transition from colony to nation, but, though the first was most pervasive, in cultural terms the second was the most valuable. In the words of the Auckland novelist Clara Cheeseman (1852–1943), we must go “to the old newspapers . . . if we want to see the beginning of colonial fiction . . . there are in the dusty files . . . many stories of colonial life which have never struggled out of the papers into book form.”6 Such historical details concerning the cultural role of the press indeed serve to cast doubt on the more generic theorization concerning center/periphery relations found in the work of scholars such as Franco Moretti and Pascale Casanova,7 who, in advocating a “world literature” approach, tend to focus exclusively on the market for literature in volume form.

Sketching the socioeconomic background to the emergence of the weekly news miscellany, the press format in which serial fiction particularly thrived in Australasia, helps to offer an overview of the main forms of serial fiction found there, touching at the same time on sources of supply and modes of affiliation. With the commitment of both governments to making their press heritages digitally accessible, via the “Trove” and “Papers Past” websites of the National Libraries of Australia and New Zealand, respectively, this task is now rather less formidable than in Cheeseman’s day.

The News Miscellany

On the eve of the midcentury gold rush, internal communications remained largely undeveloped, and the European population of the Australian colonies stood at only around half a million people. This despite the introduction of schemes for assisted emigration from Britain and of convict transportation to Western Australia. Though convict transportation to the extensive Australasian penal colony of New South Wales (founded in 1788) had been terminated in 1840, the separation of Victoria (1851) and Queensland (1859), together with effective mechanisms of self-government, remained aspirations yet to be realized. The rapid development of the Australian newspaper industry during this period was thus a source of pride to early colonial commentators. Shortly after the midcentury, there were established dailies in the major population centers along the eastern seaboard: the Sydney Morning Herald (1842), the Argus (1848) and Age (1854) both in Melbourne, and finally the Brisbane Courier (1861). Soon each of these was to found a jumbo companion weekly journal—respectively, the Mail (1860), Australasian (1865), Leader (1856), and Queenslander (1866)—combining a summary of recent news with miscellaneous literature. Similar roles were later taken on in South Australia and Western Australia by the Adelaide Observer (1843) and (Perth) Inquirer (1855), respectively. Perhaps the biggest and most successful was another latecomer, the (Sydney) Australian Town and Country Journal (1870), weekly companion to the new Evening News, which served the rural hinterland as well as the urban coastal areas of New South Wales. Yet the Australian press boom was by no means limited to the major cities. By the early 1880s, with the population of the continent approaching three million, numerous smaller Australian towns had started up daily papers. Many, however, were economically unstable and short-lived, so that the local weekly miscellany continued to provide the staple diet of recent news and contemporary literature for most communities. With the help of syndicated material (news, fiction, and features, as well as advertising), it was not too difficult for a jobbing printer or news agent to start up a Saturday paper in a township of little more than a thousand inhabitants.

Similar developments are apparent in New Zealand, though inevitably with something of a time lag. Though in theory the islands to the southeast had formed an outlying part of the original penal colony of New South Wales, they were not constituted as a separate Crown Colony until after the contentious Treaty of Waitangi of 1840. Given that as late as 1831, the number of European colonists could still be measured in three figures, the process there was also on a smaller scale. By midcentury the settler population was still only around 20,000, concentrated on the South Island with the now-declining Maori majority overwhelmingly located on the North Island.8 As a consequence, book and magazine publishing in New Zealand was less well advanced than in the Australian cities, and there was an even heavier reliance on the local newspaper press for the supply of literary and other cultural material. According to James Traue,9 the number of English-language newspapers of all kinds was sixteen in 1851, rising to twenty-eight in 1858, while by the end of the 1870s, when the European population had ballooned to around half a million, there were over two hundred, many serving townships of no more than a thousand souls. The first dailies date only from the 1860s, the period of New Zealand’s own gold rush, with the Otago Daily Times (1861) the pioneer. Nevertheless, independent weekly journals, or weekly companions or supplements to dailies, remained the most popular and prevalent. Like the Australian equivalents, these news miscellanies reached poorer urban colonists as well as settlers in the sparsely settled inland areas. Among the most perennially successful were the (Dunedin) Otago Witness (founded in 1851, but altered in character with the launching of the companion Daily Times); the (New Plymouth) Budget, or Taranaki Weekly Herald (1875), companion to the Taranaki Herald (1852), which then moved to daily publication; and the Saturday edition of the daily (Auckland) New Zealand Herald (1863), which included serial fiction from 1876. However, in the Maori-language press, fiction was not a feature.

The role of the weekly news miscellany in stimulating the local economy and in fostering communal identity was recognized by David Christie Murray, the British journalist who made a two-year tour of Australasia from mid-1889, beginning with lectures in Tasmania and eventually covering all seven colonies. On his return to London, he wrote not only a melodramatic serial novel with its central scenes set in Victoria—Bob Martin’s Little Girl (1892), which was syndicated widely in Australian journals—but also a series of articles in the Contemporary Review. There he commented favorably on the colonial press, noting its superiority over the metropolitan in at least one respect:

We have nothing to . . . compare with the Australasian or the Leader; but it is easy to see that they and their congeners of other cities . . . owe their especial excellences to local conditions. . . . between their first sheet and their last they render their readers what we in England buy half a score of special journals to secure. The reason for their existence is simple. There is not population enough to support the specialist as we know him at home, and an eager and inquiring people will be served.10

However, at the same time, Murray was aware of the growing tensions in cultural affiliation: he was reassured by the warmth of loyalty to Crown and homeland that he often encountered in New Zealand, Tasmania, and South Australia, especially, but disturbed by the passionate federalism and republicanism that seemed to prevail among working people elsewhere. These sentiments he associated particularly with the nationalist weekly Sydney Bulletin, which, though it featured the “brightest Australian verse and the best Australian stories,” was nevertheless “probably the wrongest-headed and most mischievous journal in the world.”11 He thus concluded regretfully that “the strongest current of Australian feeling is setting with a tide of growing power against the Mother Country.”12 It is in this context that we need to consider the character of serial fiction met with more widely in the weekly colonial press.

Sources of Supply and Modes of Affiliation

In analyzing fiction found in eight major 19th-century Australian journals, Toni Johnson-Woods has located a total of nearly a thousand serial novels.13 Among these, she calculates, fewer than two hundred were local colonial compositions, while nearly two-thirds of the imported works were by British authors, with the overwhelming majority of the remainder coming from the United States; that is, in round terms the three categories respectively represented less than a fifth, more than half, and over a quarter of the total. Regarding the New Zealand colonial press, Traue suggests that the proportions of both local and American serials might be slightly smaller than this.14 The first point is supported by Paul Hunt’s index to serials in the weekly Otago Witness, the journal most heavily committed to colonial material, which reveals that only around a quarter were of local origin.15 The other point concerning American material is perhaps debatable, as the Papers Past archive does not include the (Taranaki) Budget and other popular weeklies heavily dependent on American popular fiction.

Metropolitan Fiction


Even without access to agency records, the simultaneous appearance of a single imported work in multiple colonial journals is a sure sign of the involvement of a syndicator. However, few such indications can be found until near the end of the third quarter of the 19th century, though thereafter they become pervasive. Throughout the 1850s and 1860s, the main way of acquiring overseas fiction was clearly to cut-and-paste text—with acknowledgment but not permission—from imported British serial publications, including novels issued in independent numbers (fascicles) as well as in newspapers and, most notably, in magazines. The advertising columns in Australasian colonial newspapers provide ample evidence of an active market for journals from “home.” As early as the first quarter of the century, settlers in Tasmania were informed of the availability of nearly thirty British periodical titles that could be transmitted within six months of publication and at a premium of only 25 percent on London prices.16 And in the last decades of the century, W. J. Prictor & Co., newsdealers in Dunedin, announced regularly in the local papers their supplies of British newspapers and magazines; a list of fifty or so was typically available, from Answers to Correspondents to the Weekly Times.17 And by this time, with the development of steam-powered vessels and the opening of the Suez Canal, the transmission delay had been cut to less than a third.

There was thus no shortage of copy on hand for colonial editors wishing to entertain their subscribers with installments of the latest London literature. During the period of rapid growth at and after the midcentury, the newspaper columns were littered with prose extracts, both fiction and nonfiction, from metropolitan literary monthlies like the Cornhill, weekly miscellanies like Chambers’s Journal, and pictorial papers like the Illustrated London News, with no indication of authorization or payment made to reprint. In the New Zealand press before the mid 1860s, though short tales reprinted from journals like Charles Dickens’s Household Words were common, imported serial novels are thin on the ground. Early attempts were made to run two Edward Bulwer-Lytton novels (What Will He Do With It? in the Hawkes Bay Herald from early 1858, and A Strange Story in the Otago Witness from late 1861), but both were discontinued without explanation after only a handful of episodes. In Australia, the three imported British novels serialized during the early 1860s in the weekly Sydney Mail were all taken from family magazines noted for their domestic fiction: Ellen Wood’s A Life’s Secret “From the Leisure Hour” (1862), Dinah Craik’s Mistress and Maid “From Good Words” (1863), and Wood’s Oswald Cray again “From Good Words” (1864). Around half a dozen of the overseas stories carried in the Melbourne Leader during the 1860s were lifted with acknowledgment from Dickens’s All the Year Round, each with a delay of under three months from the London issue. These included the work of Charles Reade, Charles Lever, and Edmund Yates, but began with Boz’s own Tale of Two Cities.

Such “borrowing” was not uncommon during this period in the British provincial as in the colonial press; all the same, though there was some confusion concerning the extent of copyright in newspapers, the practice was in fact in breach of British intellectual property law, which, in theory at least, was in force throughout the Empire.18 Nevertheless, reprinting without acknowledging the source seems to have been unusual in the colonial press. A rare case is found in 1870 in an early issue of the Australian Town and Country Journal, where Sheridan Le Fanu’s A Lost Name, published several years earlier by Richard Bentley in London both as a monthly serial and in volume, ran under the title The Shadwells of Raby, with no indication of author or provenance.19 Claims that reprinting had been authorized and paid for were slightly more common, though still far from the norm. A notable instance is found in the Australasian, where local fiction is thin on the ground in the earlier years. Almost from the beginning, the Melbourne weekly issued with each of its imported serial installments a notice proclaiming, “The right of republishing ‘XXX’ has been purchased by the proprietors of this journal.”20

The first work concerned was Our Mutual Friend, the copying of which led Dickens, always keen to maintain his rights, to initiate legal action against two different Antipodean journals. The author’s last completed novel appeared in London in twenty monthly installments beginning May 1864. In mid-July 1864, the Melbourne Leader began to reprint the new work in installments; the opening chapter was given an editorial preface that at first made the item appear to be simply a review, but this concluded with the promise that the serialization would continue “from week to week.”21 Six months later, when the Leader was just into the seventh (November) number, the rival weekly Melbourne Australasian began to serialize the same work from the start. This was the first fiction to be carried in that paper, with an editorial suggesting that it was preferred to local efforts as the “colonial brain has its merits but they are certainly not of a literary order.” This also announced that an agreement had been concluded with the author in London, ceding “to The Australasian the exclusive right of publishing in its columns the future numbers of . . . Our Mutual Friend,” and arranging for advance copy to be sent to forestall unauthorized competitors.22 Without naming the Leader, the same editorial threatened reprisals against any journal flouting this right, with the following justification:

all over Australasia, journals . . . are drawing the principal interest of their pages from a practice of literary piracy . . . . No sooner has the successful novel of the day reached our shores than it is . . . bodily transferred to their columns by the highwaymen of the press . . . . The interval of three oceans and a two months’ voyage have screened a practice which could not be carried on for a week in England, and the colonial market has probably not appeared of sufficient value to the defrauded author to induce him to call for those heavy damages which an Australian Judge would unquestionably direct a jury to give.23

The following week the rival journal responded contemptuously:

It has been the practice of colonial newspapers to republish the tales of popular English authors. If offence it be, we plead guilty. Certainly there is no breach of the law, nor indeed any injury to the author. . . . if all the newspapers in the colony were to publish “Our Mutual Friend,” the profits of Mr Dickens’s publishers would not be diminished a farthing. There was no advantage to the Australasian in securing—if it really has done so—the copyright of Mr Dickens’s work, inasmuch as it was as free to publish it as we were.24

But, as Dickens’s correspondence reveals, in November 1864 the author had had a power of attorney drawn up enabling an action in the Australian courts against the proprietors of the offending journal.25 Presumably as a result, though without any announcement of the reason, the Leader abruptly discontinued the serial following the issue of March 25, 1864, where the narrative had reached only the beginning of the ninth (January) number. Dickens’s letters also reveal that a similar legal process later occurred in New Zealand. In May 1866, through a parallel power of attorney, Dickens brought an action claiming £1,000 damages from the proprietors of the (Auckland) Weekly News, which had begun the serialization of Our Mutual Friend, again without permission or payment. On receiving the writ, the paper immediately ceased reprinting, at the same time revealing it had insufficient funds to meet damages of more than £50, so that the case was eventually dropped.26 Though not always ending in litigation, such cases of conflict and confusion help to explain why the systematic supply of metropolitan fiction to colonial readers through syndication agencies began to appeal both to journals needing more reliable sources of supply, and to authors demanding a financial return on the exploitation of their intellectual property at the periphery.


When Murray stated in 1891 that the British press had “nothing to . . . compare with the Australasian or the Leader,” he was not quite right. Although the statement held good for the London press, news miscellanies parallel in form and content to the colonial version had been available in the provinces for thirty years and more, with the (Dundee) People’s Journal (1858) notable among the pioneers. This was due to similar “local conditions,” that is, the market for specialist journals was considerably less developed in the outlying regions and among the lower social ranks. Serial fiction was again a key ingredient. To begin with, sources of supply were casual or irregular—through informal arrangements with individual local authors or unauthorized “borrowing” from periodicals serving other communities. But, by the fourth quarter of the century, serial stories were far more likely to be provided systematically by a variety of central agencies, which could soon offer premium rates to the most popular London authors, with sensationalists like Mary Braddon always in demand. The most important agency was the syndication bureau set up in the early 1870s by the newspaper proprietor W. F. Tillotson of Bolton.27 A decade or so later, the pioneer metropolitan literary agent A. P. Watt also began to sell on secondary rights to serial stories carried in major London weeklies like the Graphic.28 Such agents soon realized they could supply newspapers not only in provincial Britain but also in the United States, the Australasian colonies, and elsewhere. In this case, the British syndicators could easily speed up the transmission process by arranging with their authors to provide “advance sheets” of their work, so that readers overseas could get the latest serial installment at the same time as readers at home. Here, also, there was an additional role for local distribution agents like the firm of Gordon and Gotch, which already had offices in Melbourne, Sydney, and London by 1870.29

Mary Braddon was Tillotson’s first major client author, from the beginning earning the substantial sum of £450 per serial. Her first novel thus contracted was Taken at the Flood (1873), which appeared in not only a dozen British provincial journals but also, with delays of eight and eleven weeks, respectively, in the (Melbourne) Leader and Otago Witness, though these Australasian serializations seems to have been set up via another agent. Later, however, Tillotson was responsible for all arrangements: for Braddon’s Phantom Fortune, the Bolton man offered £750 for global serialization rights for one year only, with the author’s husband and agent John Maxwell jokingly conceding, “Australia; Australasia; New Zealand; Queensland; and the Polyponnesian [sic] Islands. I add them all, together with the newly discovered islands in ‘Mars.’”30 From spring 1883, the novel duly appeared in the Illustrated Sydney News and the Otago Witness, this time virtually at the same time as the runs in the United Kingdom and United States, with a second wave of appearances starting six months later in less prestigious papers such as the South Australian Weekly Chronicle. The records of the “Fiction Bureau” suggest that, for best-selling metropolitan authors around this period, the going rate was £100 for entire Australasian serial rights, or £75 for a single colony.31 A little earlier and lower down the popularity scale, on top of the £500 for other serial rights to his 1879 novel For Cash Only, James Payn had sold New Zealand rights separately for £12 only.32 Many of the smaller Australian weeklies seem to have relied for their fiction material almost exclusively on supplies from Tillotson’s, distributed in the colonies by Gordon & Gotch. In 1889, one of the new stars of British fiction was the Manxman Hall Caine, and serial rights to his new novel of that year, The Bondman, a pseudo-biblical saga set in Iceland, were sold to the Fiction Bureau for £400.33 The novel duly appeared not only in Tillotsons’s own “Lancashire Journals,” but also in a syndicate of major British provincial papers headed by the Weekly Scotsman. In the colonies, it has been traced in more than a dozen Australian papers, the list including not only more substantial journals like the Adelaide Observer but also a string of papers serving small townships, including the Avoca Mail, Bacchus Marsh Express, and Coleraine Albion.34

The most concerted evidence of Watt’s colonial activities is found in the columns of the Sydney Mail, where, from the late 1880s until the turn of the century, all the serials offered derived from British sources, with at least two-thirds replicated from London journals supplied by Watt’s “Literary Agency,” and over half from the Graphic alone. The twenty novels appearing in the same sequence in the London and Sydney papers began impressively with Ryder Haggard’s She in 1887, and concluded with H. G. Wells’s When the Sleeper Awakes in 1899, with Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbevilles between in 1891. Each was published simultaneously (or virtually so) in London and Sydney, and with the high-quality plates created for the Graphic illustrations also often used prominently in the Mail.

Thus, over the second half of the century, with the shift from informal “borrowing” to systematic syndication, the supply of metropolitan serial fiction to the Australasian colonies improved significantly, undoubtedly in terms of quantity and arguably in terms of quality also. Still in the third quarter, provision concentrated mainly on the best-known authors, but the available selection was rather random in any particular colony, while publication was sometimes interrupted because of transport delays or curtailed due to copyright issues. By the fourth quarter, supplies were more varied, comprehensive, timely, and reliable; if sensation took the lion’s share, there was also space for domestic fiction and social realism. What sort of cultural effects did this broadcasting of literature from the metropolis have at the colonial periphery? Did it stimulate nostalgia for “home,” and encourage solidarity with British imperial policy? Or did it provoke resistance to British domination by reminding emigrants of the class consciousness they had travelled so far to escape? Or, despite the idea of the newspaper inviting vicarious social participation (in Carey’s terms) or creating affiliation with an imagined national community (in Anderson’s), did many readers simply turn to the fiction columns as an escape from such issues of identity? The simple answer is an element of each; but to pursue the question further, we need to consider such material not in isolation but in relation to the local and other peripheral stories encountered in the Australasian press.

Local Fiction

Though least in quantity, local fiction was greatest in cultural significance, if for no other reason than its uniqueness. Due to its broadcast nature, the metropolitan fiction found is readily accessible in many other places, while most of the local fiction can be found literally nowhere else. Among the rare exceptions are reprinted volumes from pioneering colonial houses such as George Robertson in Melbourne and from contemporary academic presses like Mulini, as well as reissues in either book or periodical form by publishers in Britain. Johnson-Woods reports that fewer than forty of the nearly two hundred Australian serials found in her eight major journals have been reprinted,35 while the total of ninety-seven otherwise unpublished New Zealand serials Traue has located outstrip by some margin those issued in volume form over the same period.36 In considering Cheeseman’s “stories of colonial life which have never struggled out of the papers,” let us turn first to Australia then to New Zealand, in each case starting from a summary of the numerical data available.

In Australia

Table 1. Proportion of Local Among all Serials in Eight Major Australian Journals, 1860–1899

Brisbane Queenslander

Illustrated Sydney News

Melbourne Australasian

Melbourne Australian Journal

Melbourne Leader

Melbourne Once a Week

Sydney Australian Town & Country Journal

Sydney Mail


18/83 (21.7%)

17/26 (65.4%)

25/95 (26.3%)

55/127 (43.3%)

19/121 (15.7%)

1/324 (0.3%)

31/90 (34.4%)

27/103 (26.2%)

193/969 (19.9%)

Source: Johnson-Woods, Index, pp. 14, 21, 36, 41, 49, 63, 68, 75

Note: * Arithmetical error in Johnson-Woods’s table corrected

Table 2. Number of Local Serials in Eight Major Australian Journals by Decades, 1860–1899

Brisbane Queenslander

Illustrated Sydney News

Melbourne Australasian

Melbourne Australian Journal

Melbourne Leader

Melbourne Once a Week

Sydney Australian Town & Country Journal

Sydney Mail


% of Total 1860–1899























































Source: Johnson-Woods, Index, pp. 14, 21, 36, 41, 49, 63, 68, 75

Note: * Arithmetical error in Johnson-Woods’s table corrected

Johnson-Woods’s Index provides data on serials appearing over the last four decades of the 19th century in eight major Australian journals, two of them literary magazines (Once a Week and the Australian Journal) and the rest news miscellanies. (Tables 1 and 2 both overlook the handful of works recorded during the 1850s.) Table 1 indicates that the literary magazines are outliers regarding the proportion of local fictional material found. Once a Week has by far the lowest, with only a single colonial work, Frank “Atha” Westbury’s novella ’Gainst Wind and Tide (1887–1888), which is in fact set mainly in New Zealand, while the Australian Journal shows well above the average with 43.3 percent. At 65.4 percent, the Illustrated Sydney News is the only journal to devote more than half its serial space to colonial work, though here the absolute number of stories is tiny in comparison to the industrial quantities found in Once a Week. In the other five weekly news miscellanies, the proportion of local serials ranges from the (Melbourne) Leader at 15.7 to the Australian Town and Country Journal with 34.4 percent. Each of the three papers devoting more than a third of its serial space to local work justified its preference in editorial comments that to some reflect the line of the Bulletin. In its opening issue, the Town and Country Journal declared that both its informative and entertaining branches were “designed to promote the harmonious co-operation of all in our progress towards the great national future which is undoubtedly before us.”37 In the final decade of the century, the Illustrated Sydney News jokingly informed potential contributors that submissions “should savour of the Australian soil,” adding that mentions of “the eucalyptus are permissable [sic], but the wattle [then a potent icon for the Australian Natives’ Association (ANA)] is barred.”38 The Australian Journal, which constantly sounded a patriotic note in both its title and its rallying call (“Colonial Literature for Colonial Readers!”),39 in its sixth annual message to subscribers, confirmed that, despite the introduction of imported material, it would remain the policy “to give preference to . . . articles from the pens of colonial writers.”40

Nevertheless, how local authors’ submissions were solicited and remunerated suggests that commercial as well as ideological motives were involved. Lacking the financial stability deriving from affiliation with a daily newspaper, the Australian Journal always relied a good deal on voluntary contributions from readers, notably in its extensive “Answers to Correspondents” column. Surprisingly, Johnson-Woods states that, in addition to much of the shorter fiction, around a quarter of the local serials were supplied by such volunteers, who received only a copy of the journal as reward.41 The Journal also seems to have been a pioneer in organizing prize competitions to elicit fiction from readers, in mid-1875 offering rewards of ten and five guineas, respectively, for professional and amateur efforts on local themes. Along with other weekly papers, the Australian Town and Country Journal later became heavily committed to the use of such promotions to supply its shorter fiction. In September 1886, the paper announced a giant contest offering five prizes totaling £75 for tales of around three columns depicting the “Hidden Romances of Australian Life,” with the winners decided by readers themselves.42 The response was enormous, and the pattern was repeated in following years. The editors were thus able to publish two colonial stories per week for a period of over five years, thus receiving a page and a half of copy per issue for the outlay of little more than a pound. At the same time, this long-term involvement of its readers as authors and evaluators was clearly an effective marketing strategy resulting in increased repeat subscriptions.

Whatever the motives, there is no doubt of the steady commitment over several decades to the prominent inclusion of fiction of local color in a number of major journals. It is true that, as Table 2 indicates,43 after the steady rise over the previous three decades, there is a significant fall in the proportion of local serials published during the 1890s. Yet, given that the trend is much less apparent in the journals committed long term to colonial themes, this should probably not be taken as evidence of a general weakening of Australian nationalist sentiment. Rather it suggests that by then the syndication system was so efficiently organized that it became difficult for local editors without strong ideological affiliations to resist the centripetal pressure to prioritize metropolitan entertainment material. This, of course, lends some support to Moretti’s economic argument: “While the consumption of fiction was becoming more and more widespread, then, its production was becoming more and more centralized, both within each individual nation-state, and within the larger system of European states.”44 By this time, however, the political impetus toward Australian federation and independence was already powerful, and the key debates were taking place beyond the literary department of the newspapers.

Although it seems that virtually all the local fiction appearing was ephemeral matter produced occasionally by amateurs, “Rolf Boldrewood” (T. A. Browne, 1826–1915), Marcus Clarke (1846–1881), and Ada Cambridge (1844–1926), foremost among the canonical names of early Australian fiction, built their literary careers writing for the colonial press. All had established reputations as representative colonial authors and were widely published in the metropolis before the turn of the 20th century. Though Boldrewood had earlier had a couple tales of local color accepted by the Cornhill Magazine in London, and many of his longer serials, beginning with “The Fencing of Wanderowna” in 1873, had their first readers in the Australian Town and Country Journal. Robbery Under Arms, the novel celebrating a gang of bushrangers that made his name, ran in weekly parts for over a year from July 1, 1882, in the Sydney Mail. The novel eventually appeared in book form in London late in the decade, thus marking the beginning of the regular publication of his work by metropolitan houses. The debut of several of Clarke’s longer works was in the Australian Journal, though the Australasian had run his sequence of stories “Old Tales Retold” from July 2, 1870. The Journal serials included his best-known work—the harrowing account of the Tasmanian convict system, His Natural Life—running from March 1870 to June 1872, with reappearances in 1881 and 1885. This was well after the work had been published in a revised and abridged version as a volume from Robertson in Melbourne in 1874, and as a triple decker from Bentley in London the following year. Cambridge’s longer stories appeared in several colonial weekly papers, including at least ten in the Australasian from “Up the Murray” in 1875. However, her next novel, My Guardian, was accepted by Cassell’s in London in 1877, appearing both in the house magazine and in book form, and thereafter most of her Australasian serials were reprinted in the metropolis. For example, In Two Years Time ran in the Melbourne paper for the first three months of 1879 and was issued in two volumes from Richard Bentley the same autumn, while Not All in Vain appeared as a single volume from Heineman in early 1892, nearly a year after the end of the colonial serial run.

Another female author who belongs to this group but whose work never “struggled out of the papers” is the journalist Jessie Lloyd (1843–1885). Her earlier tales and serial novels ran in the Sydney Echo (including “All Aboard” in 1879), while her “Silverleaf Papers” evoking the physical and social landscape of New South Wales were a regular feature in the Illustrated Sydney News from 1881 to 1883. These included a fascinating four-part series on “The Aborigines of New South Wales,” depicting in anthropological vein the “rigorous system of custom and laws . . . which the white man has broken down, without substituting anything better, but much that is infinitely worse.”45 Completed shortly before her untimely death, her full-length novel “Retribution,” running in thirteen monthly installments from June 1884, is undoubtedly the outstanding literary production of the local serials. The story concerns a young man of character falsely accused of embezzlement and his struggle to expose the true criminal and establish his own innocence. Before the romantic dénouement, there are disturbing scenes of sexual jealously and marital discord. Lloyd gives a panoramic portrait of Australian life, with the action set by turns in the coastal cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Hobart. But there are also dramatic scenes when the hero joins an exploratory expedition to cross the outback north to south. With the depictions of Aboriginal culture there unlikely to strike readers today as insensitive or offensive, Lloyd’s “Retribution” represents a colonial newspaper novel that calls out to be reprinted.

In New Zealand

New Zealand’s first lengthy novel of local provenance appeared in the Otago Witness. This was “Christopher Congleton,” which ran from May 17, 1862, unsigned but in fact by Benjamin Farjeon, who was already on the editorial staff of the companion Daily Times. Ironically, though, Farjeon had just arrived in the colony from east London via Melbourne, and the story’s setting was thoroughly English. Moreover, the serial was never completed, ending after just over a year in the middle of chapter 45 with no apology or explanation, while no further local novels appeared until the following decade. This was hardly an auspicious start, though Farjeon remained at the Dunedin paper, and his next full-length novel, Grif (1866), a story of colonial life, was set in type at the Times offices and published with the imprint of the local bookseller William Hay, thus counting among the earliest original works of fiction to appear in volume form in the colony.46 Insufficient data are available to offer an equivalent to Table 1 for the New Zealand weekly news miscellanies generally, though Hunt’s index to serial fiction in the Witness from 1861 to 1900 suggests that, among the 102 works of at least six episodes, only 24 were of local origin (23.5 percent).47 Thus it seems there was no parallel across the Tasman Sea to the Australian Journal with its average of more than 40 percent around the same period, or indeed to the strident literary nationalism of the Sydney Bulletin. Traue’s “Checklist,” which uses rather more liberal criteria of inclusion (a minimum of three episodes only), allows us to create Table 3, showing changes over time in raw numbers of local serials carried. Comparing the decade percentages for Australian newspapers in Table 2, New Zealand shows a much slower start in the 1860s and a rather steeper decline in the 1890s. The reasons again seem to be less ideological than socioeconomic, with the demographically smaller peripheral community likely to be dominated even more by cultural material from the metropolis, particularly at periods of change in distribution patterns.

Table 3. Local Serial Stories in Selected New Zealand Journals by Decades, 1860–1899

Canterbury Oxford Observer

Dunedin Saturday Advertiser

Dunedin Southern Mercury

Otago Witness/ Daily Times

Wanganui Herald/ Yeoman






5 (4.9%)







29 (28.4%)







42 (41.2%)







26 (25.5%)








102 (100%)

Source: Traue, “A Checklist”

Prize fiction competitions also seem thinner on the ground than in the Australian press. On the “Papers Past” database, no local story competitions for adults appear before the late 1870s, and no prizes for longer serial fiction whatever. The (Dunedin) Saturday Advertiser seems to have been a pioneer, with Cheeseman’s “In the Olden Time” winning the first £20 prize in December 1879.48 The (Canterbury) Weekly Press was one of the most regular sponsors, beginning in autumn 1886 with a prize of 5 gns for a tale with the scene “laid in New Zealand,”49 followed up by an annual prize story for the special Christmas issue. By the 1890s, such festive story competitions seem common, particularly on the South Island. The Otago Witness, for example, attracted 115 entries for its first “Witness Prize Tale Competition” in 1895, with the judge M. J. Scobie Mackenzie, who read the entries blind, awarding all three prizes to female authors, the first position going to “The 32nd Share” by Francis Edwina Cotton (1846–1919), a regular contributor to the paper for almost twenty years under her nom de plume “Fabian Bell.”50 The experiment was repeated the following year when the winning entries were again awarded prizes of 10, 5, and 3 gns, and published in order of merit in the Christmas issue. While it has not been possible to locate specific information concerning payments to professional authors for serials accepted, if any guide is provided by the financial situation of the (Auckland) Weekly News in the mid-1860s, or the sums Tillotson paid for serial rights in New Zealand a decade or so later, these must have been small at best.

And in the case of New Zealand also, it is still difficult to talk of a canon of early fiction,51 though there are several women authors in particular of a similar standing to Jessie Lloyd in Australia, who contributed regularly to the local press, who were occasionally picked up by metropolitan publishers, and who deserve to be more widely read and recognized for their contribution to the formation of an imagined national community. Here, the most prominent names are Cheeseman, Cotton, and Lizzie Frost Rattray (1855–1931). Rattray published three serials of growing length in the Waikato Times between 1889 and 1892, when her “Ruha: A Tale of Adventure in the Maori War” was accepted by Cassell’s Magazine in London. In addition to placing other short serials in local papers, Cheeseman had a longer narrative, “Estranged for Life,” accepted by the Sydney Mail around the same time as her success in the Advertiser prize competition. Later, A Rolling Stone, with its leisurely depiction of bourgeois domestic life in Otago, appeared as a triple decker from Bentley in London in 1886.

In terms of both quantity and quality, however, Cotton’s writings stand out. Her original contributions as “Fabian Bell” to the Otago Witness over four decades were by no means limited to the ten serials beginning with “Stella: A Tale of Two Hemispheres” in 1877. There was also a plethora of short tales throughout the 1880s and beyond, especially at the Christmas season, when both the adult and juvenile material in the special holiday issues came mainly from her pen. Moreover, there were many contributions to “The Traveller Column,” such as her “Recollections of Belgium” series in 1884. None of this appeared in book form back in Britain, though Cotton did manage to sell two novels to Tillotson in the mid-1890s. She received £10 for the serial rights to “A Letter in Cypher,” which had already run in the Witness back in 1882–1883, and £30 for the entire copyright of “The Price of a Life,” which ran in the Manchester Weekly Times in the second half of 1895, before being sold on to the Witness and other British provincial, colonial, and American journals for secondary serialization.52 As its subtitle suggests, like many of her later serials including “The Price of a Life,” the setting of Cotton’s first novel “Stella” moves from the Old World to the New. At the beginning of the second part, there is a moving account of the three-month voyage as the recently married Scottish heroine Stella Leyden sails in trepidation to Dunedin in search of her husband Mark, who has gone ahead to set up home in New Zealand, but from whom she has not heard for almost a year. The second chapter, “Dunedin from the Bay,” ends with Stella’s first sight of the colonial landscape, a personalized description redolent of surprise at the socioeconomic development as well as natural beauty of the place:

On either side of the harbour Stella saw a range of undulating hills descending to the water in broad scallops—a succession of tiny bays and headlands. On the hills she saw wide stretches of cultivated land, rising townships, scattered farms and cottages, with here and there a really handsome house. Along the side of the hills wound good metalled roads; and nearly level with the harbour, following the curved line of the coast, was a railway. She could see the smoke from the engine as it went screaming past. On the waters of the harbour—now several miles wide—she counted five steamers coming and going, several sailing vessels of different sizes, and many rowing boats. And then, all at once, the hills opened out into a wide amphitheatre, and before her, in the hollow, lay a large town. A town covering miles of ground—a town full of trade and commerce, whence the busy hum of thousands of workers rose on the still air— . . . a town most beautifully situated, with its face to the rising sun, and its foot on broad blue waters, which form “the highway of the world.”53

It is also surprising that this fine debut serial has never been reprinted in book form for either colonial or metropolitan readers.

Other Peripheral Fiction

Here the main subcategories are fiction from the British provinces, from other British colonies, and from the United States, each capable of fostering complex feelings of solidarity. Potentially at least, these could take the form of, respectively, filial links with a local community “back home,” fraternal links with neighboring colonial communities with national aspirations, and cousinly links with a pioneer society that had led the way in forming an independent federal republic. However, potentiality is not actuality, and the available records suggest that such senses of affiliation, while not entirely absent, are weaker in both quantitative and qualitative terms than might be anticipated.

From the British Provinces

It is no accident that Fabian Bell made her heroine Stella a Scot: a subsidiary theme of the later part of the novel is tension in Dunedin between the original colonialists of the 1848 Scottish Settlement and the influx of migrants from elsewhere with the discovery of gold in 1861. Australian demographic data show that, while the proportion of Scots among transported convicts was well below the overall norm, among the free settlers it was significantly higher, with notable concentrations in and around cities such as Adelaide and Perth.54 Similar concentrations are apparent in New Zealand’s South Island in general, and Dunedin in particular, where the settlers came mainly from eastern Scotland.55 British news miscellany flourished first north of the Scottish border and was quick to feature fiction of local color by authors such as William Alexander in Aberdeen, or David Pae in Dundee.56 Moreover, taking advantage of cheap postal rates for printed paper, Scottish local newspapers, plus regional story papers like the People’s Friend, edited by Pae, were sent regularly to colonists by family members back home to maintain cultural as well as personal contact.57 It is surprising, then, that, during the period when “borrowing” from British periodicals was the main mechanism for introducing overseas fiction into the colonial press, there is almost no sign of cutting-and-pasting from provincial sources. Although they offer plenty of evidence elsewhere of the sense of Scottish heritage, the Adelaide Observer, the Inquirer in Perth, and the Otago Witness in Dunedin (which often dwelled on Caledonian affairs in its “Our Home Letter” column) have virtually nothing to offer in their fiction pages. The first serial in the Witness by a Scottish author was as late as 1876: The Maid of Killeena by the Glaswegian William Black, who, though he explored Scottish themes, already had a metropolitan reputation. And something similar is true of journals from other colonial cities with strong links to particular regions back in Britain, such as those between Tasmania and the West Country, or the new Newcastle in New South Wales and the old in Northumbria.

With the flourishing of the syndicates, British regional fiction became more prevalent, although, because the works of provincial authors were sold at lower rates than those of metropolitan stars, the reasons may be as much economic as cultural. Tillotson’s regular British clients included smaller country journals that could not afford the substantial sum required for the latest novel from a metropolitan star like Braddon. These tended to be concentrated in the north, and to prefer cheaper stories with a general northern flavor. From the 1880s, the Fiction Bureau thus began to contract with a number of reliable regional authors of limited fame. These notably included Adeline Sergeant, who specialized in romances set in Scotland; Dora Russell, a Northumbrian sensationalist; and J. Monk Foster, a former miner from Lancashire writing local industrial serials.58 There was also a significant demand for authors such as these in the Australasian papers. Sergeant’s Jacobi’s Wife, which won a prize from the People’s Friend in 1882, ran in the Adelaide Observer and other papers from late 1883. Foster’s For the Love of a Lancashire Lass was serialized in the Australian Journal from May 1890, only a month or two after its appearance in Tillotson’s Bolton Weekly Journal, apparently stimulating an appetite for such mining stories. Finally, a dozen of Russell’s novels ran in the Otago Witness from 1881 to 1898, sometimes in unbroken sequence, and presumably reflecting an avid local following. As I have argued elsewhere,59 in Britain the broadcasting of such regional fiction in the later 19th century fostered a “North British” consciousness that included not only Scotland but also English counties north of the Trent River. Echoes of this phenomenon at the colonial periphery are not out of the question, but it is nevertheless difficult to argue that the syndicated appearances of Russell et al. provide evidence of continuing affiliation with a specific local community “back home.”

From other British Colonies

The situation is, however, slightly more positive concerning the importation of fiction from other British colonies, at least with regard to exchange between Australia and New Zealand themselves. Again, though columns devoted to intercolonial issues were common elsewhere in the Australasian newspaper press, often under regular headings such as “Our Kith and Kith,” there is almost nothing to show with regard to the reprinting of fiction material from distant colonies. But, given that the Crown Colony had only separated from New South Wales a generation earlier, that Australian coastal cities represented major ports of call on the long journey between Europe and New Zealand, and that strong links remained between commercial, church, and government bodies, it is hardly surprising that stories as well as goods and people often made the voyage of a few days across the Tasman Sea.

Though Boldrewood, Clarke, and Cambridge are not infrequently discussed in the literary columns of the New Zealand press, and the latest editions of their work from London publishers often appear in the advertisements of local booksellers, there is little evidence of their local serialization. One exceptional appearance was of Boldrewood’s short story “Mick Rafferty’s Trip Home” in the Christchurch Press on October 6, 1888 (reprinted from the Sydney Telegraph). Rosa Praed’s Australian stories appear more frequently: prior to volume publication in London, there were virtually simultaneous appearances on either side of the Tasman Sea of, for example, Miss Jacobsen’s Chance in 1886 (Melbourne Leader and Otago Evening Star) and Outlaw and Lawmaker in 1893 (Leader and Otago Witness), the latter syndicated by Tillotson.60 Traue’s Checklist includes a number of interesting items illustrating the flow of fiction in the opposite direction: the first example is the unsigned serial “Kiorana: A Tale of the Maori War” in the (Melbourne) Leader in later 1873; the appearance of an early Cheeseman novel in the Sydney Mail from January 1880; and, again distributed by Tillotson’s, Fabian Bell’s “The Price of a Life” appeared as late as 1895–1896 in the Bendigo Advertiser, Barrier Miner, and perhaps other weeklies serving small Australian communities.61

In cultural terms, though, perhaps the best example concerns an author with extensive experience of life on both sides of the Tasman Sea. This is “Atha” Westbury (1838–1901), who was born in Yorkshire and joined the British army at the age of sixteen, serving finally in New Zealand during the Second Taranaki War (1863–1866), before settling in Australia for the rest of his life. Westbury wrote many short tales and at least half a dozen serials, including, as we have seen, ’Gainst Wind and Tide, the only colonial work to appear in Once a Week. Most move in setting between New Zealand and Australia and were widely published in newspapers in both places. The most frequent venues in Australia for his original stories seem to have been the Pictorial Australian in Adelaide (from “The Mystery of Fernbrook,” 1884), the Australian Journal in Melbourne (to “The Expiation of Claude Wingate,”1899), and the Camperdown Chronicle also in Victoria (from “Maoriland Ho!” 1893), while quite a number were reprinted in New Zealand in the (Otago) Tuapeka Times. Late in his career, Atha’s work was recognized in London when “The Mystery of Fernbrook” was reprinted as The Shadow of Hilton Fernbrook by Chatto & Windus in 1896, while his collection of Australian Fairy Tales appeared from Ward, Lock, a year later. As for the beginnings of his career, there is now evidence that “Kiorana,” published anonymously in the Melbourne Leader in 1873 and named for its tragic Maori heroine, was among the first newspaper serials he penned: the title was listed among previous work when his Talbot Fane, Bachelor was serialized in the literary supplement to the Pictorial Australian from December 1885. Like a number of his later novels, with the hero’s “sword turned into a ploughshare” at the end of the Second Taranaki War, “Kiorana” concludes in a tribute to the cultural integrity and military valor of the Maori people as well as to the glorious future in store for the Antipodean colonial settlements.62 Atha’s work thus provides a good example of the fostering of fraternal links between neighboring colonial communities through newspaper serial fiction.

From the United States

In numerical terms, serials imported from the United States were by far the most significant. With no legal safeguard for the intellectual property of American authors in most overseas territories until the passage by Congress of the 1891 Chace Act, which created the framework for reciprocal protection with the British Empire, there was little discouragement of the informal “borrowing” of American popular fiction.63 And even after 1891, there seem to have been few attempts to enforce the new constraints in distant colonies, and old habits clearly died hard, so that there was only a limited reduction in the flow. Cheap New York story papers like Robert Bonner’s Ledger or Street & Smith’s Weekly long remained common sources. In Australia, the two most obdurate borrowers were the Australian Journal and Once a Week, both story papers issued by Clarson, Massina & Co. in Melbourne; while in New Zealand, the journals involved tended to be on the North Island, most notably the (Taranaki) Budget, a popular weekly literary miscellany, and the Saturday Supplement to the (Auckland) New Zealand Herald. But with American popular fiction, genre and setting tended to go together, so that, while detective and cowboy stories were typically infused with the New World local color of mean city streets and the Wild West, respectively, love romances often cultivated Old English aristocratic backdrops. In other words, U.S. sources of supply did not guarantee ideological content consistent with a democratic, frontier society.

According to Johnson-Woods, by the end of the century, the Australian Journal had carried only nineteen serials by American authors (around 15 percent of the total), with a rough balance between adventure and mystery stories by the likes of Leon Lewis or Sylvanus Cobb Jr., and love romances by Harriet Lewis and others.64 Like these three, most authors were associated with the New York Ledger, and a comparison of dates of publication suggests generally that advance sheets were not involved, and thus the reprinting in the Journal was typically unauthorized.65 In Once a Week, the overwhelming majority (around 85 percent) of serials were of American origin, with scores of different authors involved. Frank H. Stauffer, “Captain Tom,” “Fannie Fairie,” and Grace Thornton were among the outstanding names in the early 1880s, all authors associated at this time with James Elverson’s Philadelphia story paper Saturday Night. (This was the title under which the Melbourne weekly had run from 1879 to 1881.) At least five serials carried in the Australian Journal during 1882–1883—Stauffer’s “ Missionary Madge,” “Wauwauko the War Chief” by Captain Tom, both “A Broken Ban!” and “A Dark Secret!”by Fannie Fairie, and Thornton’s “Always True”—had all appeared in the Elverson’s Philadelphia paper under the same title over the previous few years.66 Undoubtedly only the tip of the iceberg, this strongly suggests that such republication was again unauthorized. Over the long term, among the many genres involved, love romances with British settings seem particularly plentiful.

With the American fiction in New Zealand papers, the dependence on such romantic material is even more marked. For their serial fiction, both the Budget and the New Zealand Herald relied long and often on material lifted from Smith & Street’s New York Weekly, with a particular taste for the works of “Bertha M. Clay,” a brand identity created by the New York house for a multitude of British-style romances in fact composed by many different pens. The Budget carried a virtually unbroken sequence of around fifty of these stories, beginning with “His Wife’s Judgment” from June 8, 1878, and continuing until well into the 20th century. As with “His Wife’s Judgment,” most if not all were lifted from the similar sequence in Smith & Street’s Weekly. The delay was typically around three months, a good indication that there was no authorization, while from the 1890s, titles seem to have been altered a good deal, perhaps to throw sand in the eyes of any guardians of international copyright. The Herald began to carry Clay romances slightly earlier, beginning with “Between Two Loves” in mid-1877, following its run in the New York Weekly from Christmas 1876. Though the Herald did not rely quite so heavily on Clay’s work alone, there was also frequent recourse to similar English aristocratic romances by, among others, Georgie Sheldon and Charles Garvice. The first Sheldon serial in the Herald seems to have been “Dorothy Arnold’s Escape” in early 1884 (from the New York Weekly, November 26, 1883 onward), and the first Garvice “Better than Life” in mid-1892 (probably from George Munro’s dime novel “Seaside Library”), though there was no acknowledgment or claim of authorization in either case. This is in marked contrast to how the Auckland paper heralded the appearance of Braddon’s latest novel: “The right of publishing ‘Splendid Misery’ in the North Island of New Zealand has been purchased by the proprietors of the New Zealand Herald.”67 Ironically, many of the serial reappearances of material from American journals in the New Zealand press must have been illegal not under the U.S. Chace Act, but under British Imperial copyright law. Charles Garvice (1850–1920) was a British citizen, while a good proportion of the serials sold under the “Clay” signature in the United States were originally from the pen of Leicestershire author Charlotte M. Brame.68 Since the Family Herald and Family Reader, the London story papers from which Smith & Street themselves lifted Brame’s serials, were regularly shipped to the Antipodean colonies, some readers at least must have noticed the duplication.

Just as important is the ideological impact of the broadcasting of such literary material. It was at the height of the American fashion for English romantic fantasies that Mark Twain had pointed out, with comic exaggeration, that the dangerous “enchantments” of Walter Scott in celebrating the values of an ancien régime “had so large a hand in making Southern character, as it existed before the war, that he is in great measure responsible for the war.”69 The possibility that this material may have helped to reinforce similar conservative social identities in Australasia makes it difficult to argue that the supplies of serial fiction from American sources in the colonial press served simply to promote cousinly links with a revolutionary community that had led the way in achieving independence from the motherland.

The Cultural Effects of Serial Fiction

In sum, the cultural effect of the imported fiction, whether from metropolitan/provincial Britain or from America, found throughout the Australasian press often seems mixed and muted, perhaps because the selection of material was largely determined by commercial considerations. This again reflects Moretti’s position on the increasing centralization of the market for popular fiction. Yet to differ from Moretti’s general verdict on the quality of fiction produced in colonial situations, which, it is true, has often been written off even by critics in the colonies, there is more to the story.70 Despite Anderson’s stress on the roles of both novel and newspaper in fostering a new national consciousness, Moretti himself entirely overlooks the massive expansion over the 19th century of the roman feuilleton. Thus, judging only from the thin fictional pickings from the shelves of national libraries, he finds at the periphery little other than “‘half-baked’ replicas of a few successful models.”71 In contrast, despite the range of narrative themes and styles, the stories of Antipodean colonial life found in the columns of the local news miscellany typically function not as a diversion from the quotidian sociopolitical concerns of the press, but rather, in Carey’s words, serve to portray “an arena of dramatic forces and action” inviting readers to participate by “assuming, often vicariously, social roles within it.” Whether Carey’s “ritual view of communication” and Anderson’s “imagined community” represent the most fruitful concepts to apply to the serial fiction found in Australasian colonial newspapers must remain a matter for debate, but what is indisputable is that plenty of research and retrieval remain to be done.

Discussion of the Literature

Three distinct critical strands are significant here: theoretical work that stresses the asymmetrical character of relations between metropolitan center and colonial periphery while advocating a “world literature” approach; studies from a publishing history perspective on the general development of the newspaper novel in the United Kingdom and United States, which also recognize causes and effects beyond national borders; and detailed case studies of serialization in 19th-century Australia and New Zealand, whether focused on specific novels, authors, journals, or genres.

Key works from the “world literature” movement here are Pascale Casanova’s The World Republic of Letters (1999/2004), which attempts to “connect the idea of an economy peculiar to the literary world with the notion of a literary geopolitics,”72 and Franco Moretti’s pair of essays offering “Conjectures on World Literature” first appearing in the New Left Review in 2000/2003, and reprinted in Distant Reading (2013),73 which, borrowing “an explanatory matrix from social history and applying it to literary history,” argue that there exists a global cultural system that is “simultaneously one, and unequal.”74 What Moretti sees as the debilitating consequences for fiction produced at the periphery are outlined in his earlier monograph, Atlas of the European Novel, 1800–1900 (1998), which concludes that, in the case of “less powerful literatures . . . the success of the Anglo-French model on the international market implies an endless series of compromise formations.”75

Seminal empirical research on the growth of fiction syndication is found in Peter Lyon’s Success Story (1963) in the case of America,76 and Michael Turner’s Oxford B.Litt. dissertation in the case of Britain.77 However, more comprehensive analytical histories have since appeared: Charles Johanningsmeier’s Fiction and the American Literary Marketplace (1997),78 which stresses the influence of European syndication systems, and Graham Law’s Serializing Fiction in the Victorian Press (2000), which gives a good deal of attention to the penetration of overseas markets by pioneering British agencies.

As editors respectively of the Cambridge Companion to Australian Literature (2000) and New Zealand Studies: A Guide to Bibliographic Resources (1985), both featuring in “Further Reading,” Elizabeth Webby and J. E. Traue have helped to lay firm foundations for 19th-century Australasian fiction studies. With Webby, Paul Eggert has helped to create a model for scholarly editions of colonial classics first issued in newspapers.79 Prior to Traue (2015) and Toni Johnson-Woods (2001), whose work underlies the tabular data in the main article, Elizabeth Morrison made significant contributions to the identification and indexing of local fiction in Australasian news miscellanies.80 The generic forms of antipodean colonial literature have been addressed recently in two works also included in “Further Reading,” the anthology of gothic fiction by Ken Gelder and Rachael Weaver (2007), and the collection of essays on domestic fiction from Tamara Wagner (2016).

Further Reading

Belich, James. Making Peoples: A History of the New Zealanders, from Polynesian Settlement to the End of the Nineteenth Century. London: Penguin, 1996.Find this resource:

Garlick, Barbara, and Margaret Harris, eds. Victorian Journalism: Exotic and Domestic. St Lucia: Queensland University Press, 1998.Find this resource:

Gelder, Ken, and Rachel Weaver, eds. Anthology of Colonial Australian Gothic Fiction. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Griffith, Penny, Ross Harvey, and Keith Maslen, eds. Book and Print in New Zealand: A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa. Wellington: Victorian University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Jupp, James, ed. The Australian People: An Encyclopedia of the Nation, Its People and Their Origins. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Law, Graham. Serializing Fiction in the Victorian Press. New York: Palgrave, 2000.Find this resource:

Martin, Shannon E., and David A. Copeland, eds. The Function of Newspapers in Society: A Global Perspective. London: Praeger, 2003.Find this resource:

Patterson, Brad, Tom Brooking, and Jim McAloon, eds. Unpacking the Kists: The Scots in New Zealand. Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Wagner, Tamara S., ed. Domestic Fiction in Colonial Australia and New Zealand. London: Routledge, 2016.Find this resource:

Webby, Elizabeth, ed. Cambridge Companion to Australian Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.Find this resource:


(1.) James W. Carey, Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society (New York: Routledge, 2009), 15.

(2.) Carey, Communication as Culture, 17.

(3.) “news, n.OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2016.

(4.) Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1991), 24–25.

(5.) Anderson, Imagined Communities, 36.

(6.) Clara Eyre Cheeseman, “Colonials in Fiction,” NZ Illustrated Magazine 7 (1903): 273–282; here 274.

(7.) See, in particular, Franco Moretti, Atlas of the European Novel, 1800–1900 (London: Verso, 1998); and Pascale Casanova, La République Mondiale des Lettres (Paris: Seuil, 1999), translated by M. B. DeBevoise as The World Republic of Letters (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004).

(8.) James Belich, Making Peoples: A History of the New Zealanders, from Polynesian Settlement to the End of the Nineteenth Century (London: Penguin, 1996), 278–312.

(9.) James Edward Traue, New Zealand Studies: A Guide to Bibliographic Resources (Wellington: Victorian University Press, 1985), 12.

(10.) David Christie Murray, “The Antipodeans,” Contemporary Review 60 (1891): 293–312, 450–468, 608–623; here 305–306.

(11.) Murray, “The Antipodeans,” 297.

(12.) Murray, “The Antipodeans,” 296.

(13.) Toni Johnson-Woods, Index to Serials in Australian Periodicals and Newspapers: Nineteenth Century (Canberra: Mulini Press, 2001), 4–8, 48–49.

(14.) James Edward Traue, “Submerged Below the Codex Line: New Zealand’s Neglected Nineteenth Century Serial Novels,” Journal of New Zealand Studies n.s. 20 (2015): 2–9; here 6.

(15.) Paul Hunt, “Serial Fiction in the Otago Witness, 1851–1906,” BSANZ Bulletin 27 (2003): 94–103; here 96–99.

(16.) “Literary Commissions,” Hobart Town Gazette, August 23, 1823, 2d.

(17.) E.g., “W. J. Prictor & Co.,” Otago Witness, August 10, 1899, 1e.

(18.) See Frederic R. Daldy, The Colonial Copyright Acts (London: Longmans, 1889).

(19.) Johnson-Woods, Index, 74–75, 112–113.

(20.) The first instance is found in the Australasian, May 13, 1865, 2a.

(21.) “Our Mutual Friend,” Leader, July 16, 1864, 18d.

(22.) Editorial, Australasian, January 21, 1865, 40b–c.

(23.) Editorial, Australasian, January 21, 1865, 40c.

(24.) “‘Our Mutual Friend’ and the Australasian,” Leader, January 28, 1865, 14b–c.

(25.) The Letters of Charles Dickens (Pilgrim Edition), 12 vols., eds. Madeline House, Graham Storey et al. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1965–2002), vol. 11, 74n3.

(26.) Letters of Charles Dickens, vol. 11, 73–74nn1–2.

(27.) Graham Law, Serializing Fiction in the Victorian Press (New York: Palgrave, 2000), 64–91.

(29.) See A Retrospect, 1853–1903: A Brief Description of Fifty Year’ Progress in the History of Gordon & Gotch ([Melbourne]: Gordon & Gotch, [1903]).

(30.) Graham Law, “‘Engaged to Messrs. Tillotson and Son’: Letters from John Maxwell, 1882–8,” (Waseda University Law Society) Humanitas 37 (1999): 1–42; here 10–11.

(31.) Law, Serializing Fiction, 76.

(32.) Tillotson Fiction Bureau Records, Bodleian Library, Oxford, Notebook A, 15.

(33.) Tillotson Fiction Bureau Records, Notebook A, 4.

(34.) Graham Law, “Savouring of the Australian Soil?: On the Sources and Affiliations of Colonial Newspaper Fiction,” Victorian Periodicals Review 37 (2004): 75–97; here 78–79.

(35.) Johnson-Woods, Index, 5.

(36.) Traue, “Submerged,” 6.

(37.) Editorial, Australian Town and Country Journal, January 8, 1870, 8a.

(38.) “To the Contributor,” Illustrated Sydney News, September 1892, 10a.

(39.) See Pauline Kirk, “Colonial Literature for Colonial Readers!” Australian Literary Studies 5 (1971): 133–145.

(40.) Australian Journal (August 1871), 330.

(41.) Johnson-Woods, Index, 17.

(42.) Australian Town and Country Journal, September 11, 1886, 638.

(43.) The trend is confirmed in Katherine Bode, Reading by Numbers: Recalibrating the Literary Field (London: Anthem Press, 2012), 38.

(44.) Moretti, Atlas, 170–171.

(45.) Silverleaf, “The Aborigines of New South Wales—their Habits, Laws, and Customs,” Illustrated Sydney News, February 17, 1883, 3a.

(46.) George J. Griffiths, “Regional Publishing: Otago,” in Book and Print in New Zealand: A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa, eds. Penny Griffith, Ross Harvey, and Keith Maslen (Wellington: Victorian University Press, 1997), 118–122.

(47.) Hunt, “Serial Fiction,” 96–99.

(48.) James Edward Traue, “Nineteenth Century New Zealand Novels and Novellas Published as Serials in New Zealand, Australian and British Newspapers and Periodicals and Never Published as Monographs: A Checklist,” Journal of New Zealand Studies n.s. 20 (2015): 10–23; here 13.

(49.) “Prize Story Competition,” (Canterbury) Press, April 27, 1886, 2b.

(50.) “Witness Prize Tale Competition,” Otago Witness, December 19, 1895, 17a.

(51.) Compare Traue, “Submerged,” 2.

(52.) Tillotson Fiction Bureau Records, Notebook A, 206.

(53.) Fabian Bell, “Stella: A Tale of Two Hemispheres,” Otago Witness, May 5, 1877, 20b–c.

(54.) The Australian People: An Encyclopedia of the Nation, Its People and Their Origins, ed. James Jupp (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 644–674.

(55.) Rebecca Lenihan, “Distinguishing Former Worlds: Who Were New Zealand’s Scottish Migrants,” in Unpacking the Kists: The Scots in New Zealand, eds. Brad Patterson, Tom Brooking, and Jim McAloon (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2013), 21–55. See also John Wilson, “Scots: The Otago Settlement,” Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

(56.) See William Donaldson, Popular Literature in Victorian Scotland: Language, Fiction and the Press (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1986).

(57.) Graham Law, “Distribution,” in The Routledge Handbook to Nineteenth-Century British Periodicals and Newspapers, eds. Andrew King, Alexis Easley, and John Morton (London: Routledge, 2016), 42–59; here 52.

(58.) Law, Serializing Fiction, 84–90.

(59.) Law, Serializing Fiction, 188–191.

(60.) Tillotson Fiction Bureau Records, Notebook A, 68.

(61.) Traue, “Checklist,” 11, 13, 15.

(62.) [Frank “Atha” Westbury], “Kiorana,” (Melbourne) Leader, November 1, 1873, 25–26.

(63.) See Graham Law and Norimasa Morita, “Internationalizing the Popular Print Marketplace,” in The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture, vol. 6: U.S. Popular Print Culture, ed. Christine Bold (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 211–219.

(64.) Johnson-Woods, Index, 21.

(65.) Compare Toni Johnson-Woods, “The Virtual Reading Communities of the London Journal, the New York Ledger and the Australian Journal,” in Nineteenth-Century Media and the Construction of Identities, eds. Laurel Brake, Bill Bell, and David Finkelstein (New York: Palgrave, 2000), 350–361.

(66.) From a search on the limited holdings of “Saturday Night” at “Edward T. LeBlanc Memorial Dime Novel Bibliography.”

(67.) M. E. Braddon, “Splendid Misery,” New Zealand Herald, September 27, 1879, 3c.

(68.) Graham Law, with Greg Drozdz and Debby McNally, Charlotte M. Brame (1836–1884): Towards a Primary Bibliography, Victorian Fiction Research Guide 36, 1–14.

(69.) Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (Boston: James R. Osgood, 1883), 467–469.

(70.) Compare, for example, the judgment that colonial culture exhibits “a lamentable deficiency, which renders the prospect of the higher literature among us very remote” in Thomas G. Tucker, The Cultivation of Literature in Australia (Melbourne: Echo Publishing, 1902), 37.

(71.) Moretti, Atlas, 194–195.

(72.) Casanova, World Republic, 36.

(73.) Franco Moretti, “Conjectures on World Literature,” New Left Review 1 (January–February 2000): 54–68; and “More Conjectures,” New Left Review 20 (March–April 2003): 73–81, both reprinted in Franco Moretti, Distant Reading (London: Verso, 2013), 43–62, 107–120.

(74.) Moretti, “Conjectures,” 56–57.

(75.) Moretti, Atlas, 194–195.

(76.) Peter Lyon, Success Story: The Life and Times of S.S. McClure (New York: Scribner, 1963).

(77.) Michael Turner, “The Syndication of Fiction in Provincial Newspapers, 1870–1939: The Example of the Tillotson ‘Fiction Bureau’” (B.Litt. diss., Oxford University, 1968).

(78.) Charles A. Johanningsmeier, Fiction and the American Literary Marketplace (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

(79.) See, most notably, the Australian Academy of the Humanities Edition of Rolf Boldrewood, Robbery Under Arms, eds. Paul Eggert and Elizabeth Webby (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2006), and Henry Lawson, While the Billy Boils: The Original Newspaper Versions, eds. Paul Eggert and Elizabeth Webby (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2013).

(80.) See, in particular, Elizabeth Morrison, “Newspaper and Novelists in Late Colonial Australia: Serial Fiction in the Melbourne Age, 1872–1899” (M.A. diss., Monash University, 1983); and “Serial Fiction in Australian Colonial Newspapers,” in Literature in the Marketplace: Nineteenth-Century British Publishing and Reading Practices, eds. John O. Jordan and Robert L. Patten (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 306–324.