Died While At Tea“!

This week my thanks goes to the National Library of New Zealand.  Papers Past, a collection managed by the National Library, is where millions of pages of digitised New Zealand newspapers, magazines and letters are stored.  Here I found 3,910,746 articles tagged ‘Tea’.  🙂

I wanted to know: what was it about tea that made it so newsworthy in 19th and 20th Century New Zealand. What did readers want to know about tea back then?

1. Early articles were concerned with tea’s safe arrival by sea.  A notice titled ‘Tamsui From Foochow’ reported on the arrival of ‘new seasons tea’ on August 5th 1885 in the Grey River Argus.


2. Quality.  Readers had justifiable concerns about the quality of tea back then.   An article in the Oamaru Mail in 1882,  headlined ‘Adulteration of Tea‘, reported on a bill to parliament that  aimed to put an end to unsavoury methods in the tea industry.  “Tea unfit for human consumption”, the article reads, “is to be forfeited”. “Exhausted tea” and “tea mixed with other substances” would not to be delivered to the importer. The importer also had to pay all costs incurred in analysis.

In 1889 in the Nelson Mail it was reported a tea company had been fined for weighting tea packages with “paper and lead“. The defense claimed the practice was ‘the custom of the trade’.

In 1923 there was a Green Tea Scare.  Arsenic was found in ‘facing’.  I do not know what ‘facing’ was/is but arsenic near tea is not good.

Three years earlier, on 2 November 1920, it had been reported in The Herald: “While having tea at the Shades Hotel Mr Frank Tomlinson, aged 40 years, a returned soldier, collapsed and died immediately.”  Shady or what?


3. Tea was also a source of inspiraton for humourous, general interest and how-to articles.

Here is a humourous piece from the Wanganui Herald headlined: Tea Drinking Condemned: “The Irish Milk Commission roundly condemns tea-drinking and states that common use of bread and tea instead of milk and oatmeal tends to degeneracy.” That was 1913 for you.


“The Ceylon Tea Planter’s Association has offered a million pounds of Tea to British troops in the field” the Northern Advocate 1914 reported.

And in 1937 the Dunston Times circulated a rumour that claimed tea would ‘go further’ if placed on a sheet of brown paper in a warm – but not hot – oven for 10 minutes.  The article also claimed the flavour of tea would be improved in this way.

4. Supply

‘Troubles in Tea Growing Areas”.  The Colonist reported a drought in Assam was “imperilling” the tea crop.  (1900)

“Indian Tea Crops Destroyed By Hail” declared the Wanganui Herald in May, 1914.

In 1915 a “Tea Famine” was anticipated.  The trouble with supply this time was due to “difficulty in obtaining freight” and “the enormous demand in Europe and Russia” the Ashburton Guardian explained.


Tea Forever appeared in the Press on the 14th January 1904 and may even be considered an early attempt at flash fiction.


This post was made possible by the National Library of New Zealand. Thank you National Library.  I do not recieve commercial gain from this blog.  And even if I did, which I do not, I would donate all proceeds from this post to you – The National Library of New Zealand.  You, library, have made knowledge available to me for free.       And I am grateful.  Libraries feed the future.  #lovecottageresearch.

Link to copyright for Papers Past









10 replies on “Tea: 19th Century Clickbait

  1. One of the definitions of “facing” in an old Blackie’s Standard Dictionary (c. 1918) is “a mode of adulterating tea”. Maybe it was a fairly common practice to pad out the tea with any old rubbish to falsify the weight. Something like the dust in modern teabags. Unfortunately, in this case, the dust was dyed green with arsenic to match the genuine leaves.


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