Williamson, John

He was born at Newry, County Down, where he served an apprenticeship as a printer. Emigrating to Australia in 1840 he worked on two Sydney newspapers before moving to New Zealand in 1841 to take up a position with the Auckland Printing Company. In 1845 he purchased the WM Mission's printing press and founded the bi-weekly New Zealander, which enjoyed Government stationery and printing contracts. It became the leading Auckland journal, taking a pro-Maori stance, supporting the Governor, liberal land settlement and assisted immigration. It became a daily in 1863, but ceased publication in 1866.

He had been associated with WM since his Newry days, when he was involved in the temperance movement and its anti-ascendancy and anti-Catholic stance had a lasting influence on his 'dissenter's distrust of Presbyterianism and Anglicanism'. Walter Lawry was credited with rescuing him from drunkenness and he was accused of hypocrisy. Regarded as the founding father of WM in Auckland, his activities involved him in the total abstinance movement, the Good Templars, the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Mechanics' Institute and the first Auckland Friendly Society. He was elected to the first Auckland Provincial Council in 1853 and again in 1865 and twice elected Superintendent. A populist politician, he maintained working-class interests in his newspaper and at both provincial and national level. He supported the King Movement's bid for Maori land rights and self-determination and his strong pro-Maori stance set him apart from most of his contemporaries. His commitment to so many social and charitable organizations was the result of 'dogged conviction' rather than religious expediency, editorial influence or social respectability. Despite charges that he was a tool of either the Government or the WM hierarchy, he was very much his own man. He died on 16 February 1875.

  • Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (Wellington, 1993)