Printer, newspaper proprietor, politician.
A new biography of Williamson, John appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
John Williamson was born in Newry, Ireland, in 1815, where he was educated and learnt his trade as a printer. In 1840 he went to Sydney and, in the following year, to New Zealand, arriving in Auckland with his wife in the schooner Shamrock on 1 July 1841. He was engaged by the Auckland Printing Co., and, on 7 June 1845, founded the newspaper, The New Zealander, purchasing the plant from the Rev. H. H. Lawry. In 1848 he was joined by William Chisholm Wilson, who remained his partner until 1863.
In 1853 he entered politics as a member of the Auckland Provincial Council for the Pensioner Settlements, and he was Superintendent of the Province from 1856 to 1862, from 1867 to 1869, and from 1873 to 1875. In 1855 he was elected to the House of Representatives and remained a member until his death in 1875, representing the Pensioner Settlements until 1860, and the City of Auckland West from 1861 until 1875. He was Minister without portfolio during the Fox Ministry in 1861. He also held office as Waste Lands Commissioner, Crown Lands Commissioner, and Curator of Intestate Estates.
When he was appointed Superintendent in 1856 he found he could not work with his first council, so applied for a dissolution. He again stood, and was elected unopposed. During his first period as Superintendent the foundations were laid for many essential works and services, such as wharf accommodation and hospital accommodation. He was an ardent supporter of the provincial system and throughout his career he worked for its preservation. He was deeply interested in land settlement and introduced the 40-acre system, a scheme intended to encourage immigration, whereby every immigrant was entitled to 40 acres of waste land from the Crown. In 1862 he resigned as Superintendent owing to the attitude of the council to his land policy. He also did a great deal for the development of the Thames goldfields.
He held extreme views on native policy and was strongly opposed to the wars of the sixties, advocating peace. This unpopular attitude led to his newspaper, The New Zealander, having to cease publication in May 1866, with a heavy financial loss to himself. He died at Auckland on 16 February 1875.
Williamson always showed a single-minded devotion to the colony and in particular to the Province of Auckland. To a remarkable degree he was prepared to sacrifice personal ambition for the sake of his convictions and was influenced only by what seemed to him was for the good of the country. Not even the prospect of financial loss made him swerve from what he believed to be right. He has been described as “a man of strong will and great energy of character, yet with a most charitable and humane outlook”, and he has been considered by some to have been more of a statesman than were certain of his contemporaries who were popular political leaders.
- A History of Printing in New Zealand, 1830–1940, McKay, R. A. (ed.) 1940
- Early Conflicts of Press and Government, Meiklejohn, G. M., 1953
- Daily Southern Cross, 18 Feb 1875 (Obit)
- New Zealand Herald, 16, 17 Feb 1875 (Obit).