From 400 years of print in the UK, to print in Auckland, NZ – the Newcomb shift to the Antipodes.
Having established his base in Lincolnshire, Sir Hugo le Newcomen rode with the Knights Templar alongside Richard 1st in the 3rd Crusade of 1187. His offspring founded the Newcomb family name.
In the late 1600’s, following the long association of both Thomas Newcomb ‘The Elder’ and ‘The Younger’, both having been being the King’s Printer throughout the reigns of Charles 2nd, James 2nd, and William 3rd, the Newcomb power base became even more established in Lincoln.
Lincoln was situated on the Great North Road from London and the time was ripe to tap into the growing literate and educated population who had a thirst for reliable news. This lead to the birth of Britain’s oldest newspaper, the ‘Stamford Mercury’, in 1695. This business prospered, but the good times were short-lived as the government imposed a hefty newspaper tax under the Stamp Act 1712.
Like all good printers, a legal tax loophole was uncovered and the paper started again, in a larger format to sidestep the Stamp Act. Like all good governments, in 1725 the act was upgraded to stop the loophole, but the paper had grown sufficiently to weather this new storm.
In 1784, Richard Newcomb, became the registered proprietor, although family lore suggests Newcomb interests were involved in the enterprise for many years prior. He stamped his personality on the paper with his uncompromising standards, but his political beliefs lead to a war of words with a rival publisher- one Octavius Gilchrist of the Stamford News. This lead to a full-blown duel conducted on Sydenham Common in London, 1812. Shots were fired, both missed, and honour was served. Lucky really, as otherwise ‘yours truly ‘ may not have been here today.
Times were good, at least for the Newcomb family and the newspaper. A paper mill at Wansford was added to improve supply lines, and a large Italianate-style villa was built at Rock House in Stamford.
However, the good times were coming to an end, and in 1866 the Todd family of Northumberland acquired a controlling interest in the business. In order to maintain the Royal Licence to operate the business, the Todds had to assume the Newcomb name, and the very young Nicholas Todd-Newcomb became the proprietor. The paper lost its character, electronic telegraph changed the geographical importance of Lincoln, and a deep agricultural recession meant the Newcomb interests were sold in a depressed market to a Leicester financier.
The Stamford Mercury today is part of the very large Johnson Press Group.
It is interesting to note that technology was a disruptor even in these early times. The news that fed the influential Newcomb newspaper interests came to Lincoln up and down the Great North Road out of London by way of word of mouth and dispatches from travelers, until the advent of the telegraph in the 1870’s. This amazing new technology profoundly changed the way news was disseminated and lessened the importance of local word of mouth. Not the last time technology would profoundly change the Newcomb print business!
All this gets me to the stage where, around 1880, the very large estate at ‘Rock House’, Stamford, came under the control of a supposedly wicked American widow, and went under the hammer. The 9 surviving sons of William and Julia Newcomb struck out to seek fame and fortune elsewhere. Two became river pilot s in China, one owning the North China Trading Company in Tiensan, another a sea captain, one to Chile, and some set off for New Zealand. In 1884 two of the young brothers, Stanley and Neville (my grandfather) boarded the 3 masted Barque ‘Firth of Dornoch’ in London bound for Auckland.