Short-lived periodical conceals curious history

The McNab Collection at Dunedin City Library includes a rare copy of the sole issue of The Rag – a periodical controversially published by pupils at Otago Boys’ High School in October 1906.

A schoolboy rebellion against the heaviness of the official school magazine, approximately 200 copies of The Rag were issued. However, the unauthorised publication was sternly repressed, and, so far as possible, all copies were called in by those in authority.

All the contributors were summoned before the rector on the Monday morning following publication. It had been the rector’s intention to expel the offenders, but as they comprised several of the leading pupils who were subsequently to become leading citizens, he had second thoughts and was content with a reprimand.

The publication of the rebel School magazine coincided with the appointment of the “Wreck-tor”, Scotsman Alexander Wilson (1849-1929) as editor of the New Zealand Times in Wellington. “May his career be as successful as that of The Rag” was its recorded wish. The rebel magazine, however, got no further than the first issue, and Wilson’s journalistic career did not extend beyond its first year.

The chief contributor to The Rag was J.W.H. Bannerman, a pupil at Otago Boys’ from 1900 to 1906. Hugh Bannerman, the eldest son of accountant William Bannerman, was prominent at school in rugby, cricket, shooting, and – aptly enough - journalism, having won an essay prize in 1904. In 1908, he became editor of the Bluff Press and Stewart Island Gazette. He authored two histories of cricket in southern New Zealand, and the short book Milestones, or Wrecks of southern New Zealand. A journalistic career of immense promise was cut short when Bannerman, a Lieutenant in the Otago Regiment, died in action in France in December 1917.

Bannerman was outlived by his rector, Mr Wilson, who left his journalistic venture and returned to Scotland, where he died in 1929. He was affectionately remembered by his academic staff, and, in retrospect, by his pupils.

Among the other culprits was O.C. Mazengarb (1890-1963), a well-known New Zealand barrister who in 1954 was appointed to chair the Special Committee on Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents, popularly known as the Mazengarb Report. More than fifty years after the publication of The Rag, Ossie Mazengarb arranged for a facsimile copy to be made as a tribute to those involved. On the recommendation of A.H. Reed, Mazengarb donated a copy of his facsimile to the Library, where it remains alongside the original in the McNab Collection.