But before then he remained, as an apprentice, one of the lowest forms of life inhabiting a newspaper office. It is told that one of the duties of the night shift apprentice in the hand-setting days was to take a billy (about the size of a milking bucket) to the Metropolitan Hotel, 50 yards from the office, where it was filled with beer, (for 1 shilling) for the comps' supper.
It was well-established practice until one very naive youth "spilt the beans" to his parents that the previous night - his first on night shift - one chore had been to visit the Met.
It was a breach of his indentures, they proclaimed. Furthermore, the boy was under age. Furthermore, what sort of men would send an innocent youth into a hotel at night?
An innocent youth? In a newspaper office? The protest sparked off a fine how-d'ye-do. There was no talk of strike, or even an insurrection. Actually, the story today has no ending. But one thing was sure: the compositors would have their beer!
… would be allocated a "frame," usually by flickering gaslight and a few inches of candle
BUT eventually all good things come to an end. Even a six-year apprenticeship. And the newly fledged journeyman, admitted to the companionship of the chapel - that embryo union, so-named because Caxton set up the first printing works in a chapel of Westminster Abbey - if he was both lucky and good enough, would be allocated a "frame," usually by flickering gaslight and a few inches of candle, and he became a pieceworker, handpicking type for the news columns of the New Zealand Herald and Weekly News.
Or he became a grasshand. To be a "grassy" was an ideal occupation for a young single man. Particularly in summer. He would appear in the office in the early afternoon and if a permanent employee was to absent himself for a night's work, his "frame" went to the first grasshand available. Otherwise he was "turned out to grass" for that day and night.
One old "grassy" told me that for four years he wanted nothing better. He would get three to four nights a week, earn maybe 3 pounds, and wouldn't call the king his uncle. Particularly when he could go swimming or pulling a whaleboat for the Auckland Rowing Club in the afternoons.
And then a girl. Finis.
… joined the ranks of the "piano players," as the scoffers and the Jeremiahs dubbed them
FORTY-EIGHT hours a week newspaper hands worked in those days. But the 48 hours did not include the couple of hours spent every afternoon "dissing" the type of the previous night's paper. Under the jurisdiction of the Father of the Chapel all type was evenly and fairly distributed among the pieceworkers and it was their responsibility - indeed a necessity to fill their cases for the coming night's work. They worked hard and they played hard.
They started work at 6 p.m. They finished when the paper went to press, be it 3 a.m., 4 a.m., or 5 a.m. It is even on record that after the introduction of linotypes the "higher-ups" planned to introduce double-column introductions to one or two stories. At seven a.m. the introductions still had not been set - no operator had ever set such a long line of type mechanically without a literal error. The story goes that the first attempt was given up in disgust at 7.30 a.m.
The first linotypes came to the Weekly News before 1900. They were the objects of derision here as they had been overseas. But when several hand compositors were given the opportunity to operate the new wonders they accepted with alacrity. And thereby they joined the ranks of the "piano players," as the scoffers and the Jeremiahs dubbed them.
"To think that such heaps of junk will replace hand compositors!" they said. "They'll be thrown out in six months and you fellows will be looking for jobs."
But that is another story … even if it does appear that the days of the linotype are about to be numbered in metropolitan newspaper offices.
Linotypes made possible the production of bigger papers in a shorter time. They made composing cleaner, perhaps less injurious to health, perhaps they made the work easier.
At any rate they could not have influenced their operators to play any easier. For, as with their hand setting forebears, their day of the year was the annual "wayzgoose."
Peculiarly a printer's excuse for a beanfeast - as if printers and their minions ever needed an excuse for a beanfeast! - the wayzgoose has been brought from England when the colony was settled.
In the Old land it had been celebrated usually about August 24, the excuse being that with the advent of winter and the failing of natural light, the masters were required to provide their compositors with an extra inch or two more of candle by which to set type.
Well, in New Zealand the goose was dispensed with. And instead of holding their annual wayzgoose in August the Weekly News newsroom staffs and the editorial staff held their wayzgoose annually in January, sometimes in February. It was usually hotter weather for the object of the exercise.
In horsedrawn brakes they journeyed to Howick, 12 miles from Auckland, through the green farmlands of those days. Now Howick is a city. But for the purpose of a wayzgoose 60, 70, 80 years ago it was ideal. There was a store, a post office, an Oddfellow's Hall, a paddock for athletic exercises - and there was a pub.
Even more popular was Riverhead, ideally situated at the head of the Waitemata Harbour. There was a paddock - and there, too, was the welcoming entrance of the Foresters Arms.
Almost 60 years ago the highlight of virtually the last Weekly News wayzgoose held at Riverhead could still raise a chuckle from one of the hand comps who had been present. And, I suspect, a participant.
By way of the Eden Vine, the Stone Jug and the Haupai Hotel the Weekly News brake arrived at Riverhead, only to find that their paddock had been invaded by the Sunday School picnic of a church which still flourishes today.
Undaunted, and knowing that not all the revelers would be on the paddock at the same time, they took over a small corner, both parties treating that other with strict ignore.
The highlight of the wayzgoose was the greasy pig competition. Not only had the poor beast been literally dabbed with grease, but also some alleged wit had painted on his flanks the words "wrong fount," meaning a size of type of particular face which had strayed from its fellows and was due to find its way into the "hell box."
Never was a pig, greasy or otherwise, more aptly named. He was released seconds before the padre clapped his hands together to start the single ladies, race, run over a distance of 75 yards, for no purse at all. And while the junior student' lolly scramble was in progress too.
Possibly seeking ecclesiastical sanctuary, Wrong Fount took off. He upset the single ladies when in full cry and the others in the field became surrounded with Whirling Dervishes from the wayzgoose. The lolly scramble disintegrated and Wrong Font was swimming furiously in the direction of South America.