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Early Go in Otago - August 1990

The first regular go column ever to appear in a newspaper, anywhere in the world, was published in the Otago Witness, from February 1902 until March 1903! This startling discovery was made recently by Stephen Cardno, when he approached the Dunedin Public Library for information on go. The go column was a translation of the articles by O. Korschelt, published originally in a German magazine. The Otago Witness appeared every week, and beginning on February 5, 1902, a column on go was published alongside chess and draughts columns. The articles were initially translated by Mr John Mouat, chess editor of the Otago Witness, but the task seems to have been taken over by two players in the local chess club, Messers O. Balk and D. Forsyth. Of course, we can't verify that this was the earliest regular newspaper go column, but it is not an unreasonable claim, given that Japanese go was not a widely popular game at this time, and so may not have appeared in regular columns for readers. We make the claim inviting contradiction, and until a counter-example is produced, a New Zealand newspaper has the distinction of being the first in the world to run a regular go column.

Arthur Smith published a book in 1908 called 'The Game of Go', in which he states of Korschelt's articles on go "his work has not been translated". As we have shown, Mr Smith's statement was six years out of date, and we are pleased to be able to set the record straight. When Samuel King and George Leckie published their English translation of Korschelt in 1963 (The Theory and Practice of Go), they also appear to have been unaware that they had been preceded 60 years earlier by some games enthusiasts in the South Pacific!

It is not surprising that these later translators of Korschelt should have been unware of the Otago Witness go columns. Dunedin in 1902, although the centre of New Zealand commerce, was barely 50 years old as a city and only 40 years past the begining of the gold rush which gave it the wealth to raise a Victorian city in solid stone, the rival any in the Empire. It shows the innate appeal of the game that it should have made an appearance in the newpaper of a town which only a generation earlier could reasonably have been called a Gold-Rush town.

In one column the editor advises readers how they may construct a set, and suggests the use of marbles on a board which has depressions at each intersection to prevent the marbles from migrating! Perhaps somewhere in Dunedin, in a dusty attic, lies the earliest New Zealand Go set. Given the puns modern go players in New Zealand are subject to, imagine what these pioneers must have suffered. "Hey Forsyth! Any of you go players lost your marbles?!".

©2004 Leon Phease