Story: Ivess, Joseph

Page 1: Biography

Ivess, Joseph

1844–1919

Newspaper proprietor, politician

This biography, written by Ross Harvey,  was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.

Joseph Ivess, who was associated with some 40 New Zealand newspapers between 1868 and 1907, was born in Askeaton, County Limerick, Ireland, probably on 8 February 1844. He was the son of John Pope Ivess, a storekeeper, and his wife, Anne Santwell. In 1852 Ivess accompanied his parents to Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, where he was educated at Barnett's Grammar School, Emerald Hill. He married Sarah Anne Reddin at Castlemaine, Victoria, on 2 August 1864.

Ivess worked on the staff of the Bendigo Independent before moving in 1868 to Hokitika, New Zealand. Here he became manager, perhaps also printer, of the Irish Catholic newspaper the New Zealand Celt, whose proprietor, John Manning, was that year convicted of seditious libel. This heady political atmosphere may have nurtured Ivess's political ambitions. By 1870 he had established a printing business with George Tilbrook in Hokitika, printing and publishing the satirical weekly the Tomahawk and its successor the Lantern.

Ivess became joint proprietor of the Inangahua Herald, Reefton's first newspaper, in early 1872, energetically canvassing Reefton and surrounding areas to solicit support. His involvement in local affairs was frequently noted in the Herald. These mentions must have assisted with his election in December 1872 to represent Inangahua on the Nelson Provincial Council. Ivess contrived to keep his name prominent in the Herald and was re-elected in November 1873. He retained his seat until the provinces were abolished in November 1876.

While on the West Coast Ivess expanded his newspaper activities, in 1873 establishing a newspaper at Lyell, then withdrawing from the Inangahua Herald and purchasing an interest in the Greymouth Evening Star. In 1875 he looked further afield and established the Patea Mail at Carlyle (Patea) in Taranaki. As a general election was to be called at the end of the year Ivess, who still harboured political ambitions, again contrived to be frequently mentioned in his newspaper, standing unsuccessfully for the Carlyle Town Board and participating in local activities. In September 1875 the first hint that Ivess would stand against the sitting member, Harry Atkinson, appeared in the Patea Mail. Ivess could not realistically have hoped to succeed against the colonial treasurer and Atkinson won with a large majority. Ivess was, at about this time, 'a fine plump man with a well-groomed appearance. He wore a moustache and a little bunch of hair on his under lip.…Always an optimist, it was hard for others to compete with him.'

Ivess leased out the Patea Mail and moved to Canterbury where he established the Akaroa Mail, and Banks Peninsula Advertiser in July 1876 and in 1877 set up the Ashburton Mail. Ashburton and the Mail were to remain one of the few obvious constants in Ivess's life. While in Ashburton he started the Temuka Leader'purely as a commercial speculation', and began the short-lived Evening News to support (successfully) the conservative candidate Edward George Wright for the Coleridge electorate. Ivess was elected as a borough councillor in 1878 and was runner-up to Hugo Friedlander in an election for mayor of Ashburton in 1879.

The year 1880 saw another burst of 'rag-planting', first in Taranaki ( Hawera Times ) then near Christchurch ( Ellesmere Advertiser, Southbridge). In 1881 Ivess established the Wairarapa Star but quickly sold it and announced his intention to start a daily newspaper in Wellington to support the liberal cause. He was persuaded not to persevere. Back in Ashburton he regained control of the Ashburton Mail, using it to campaign for the Wakanui seat. Although he was defeated, the election was declared void and Ivess won a by-election on 16 June 1882. Ivess's newspaper was clearly significant in his campaign: 'now the elections are over, and the Mail is no more useful as an electioneering paper, it may change hands…[and] change tactics'. In 1884 he lost his seat to John Grigg who retired soon after, allowing Ivess to regain it in a by-election in July 1885. His parliamentary career was undistinguished, although he achieved brief notoriety in 1887 during the debate on Sir Julius Vogel's bill on women's suffrage by unsuccessfully moving that the vote for women be confined to property holders.

While a member of the House of Representatives, Ivess maintained close links with newspapers. He leased and later sold the Ashburton Mail, took over the ownership of the Timaru Herald in 1886, and was in Melbourne in early 1887, perhaps to establish a newspaper there. In 1887 he relinquished control of the Timaru Herald to establish the Timaru Evening Mail. Meanwhile he leased the Napier Evening News and Hawke's Bay Herald to campaign for the Napier seat, but was unsuccessful against the sitting member, J. D. Ormond. He then departed for New South Wales where he established newspapers in Albury and Newcastle.

Back in New Zealand by 1893, Ivess established the Paraekaretu Express in Hunterville, using it to campaign unsuccessfully against the Marton-based candidate John Stevens for the Liberal nomination for Rangitikei. The Liberal party's rejection of Ivess effectively shut him out from any further role in national politics, although he stood again several times.

Ivess's 'rag-planting' continued until at least 1908. In 1894 he established a chain of newspapers based at Stratford ( Egmont Post, Eltham Guardian, Hawera Morning Post ), then newspapers in Pahiatua ( Pahiatua Argus, 1895), Levin ( Levin and Manakau Express, 1896) and in Ashburton again ( Ashburton Standard and Farmers' Advocate ). In early 1898 Ivess was at Paeroa ( Hauraki Tribune ) and Karangahake ( Goldfields Advocate ), then South Canterbury to start another chain ( Geraldine Advocate, Temuka Times, Fairlie Star, Pleasant Point Mail, Mackenzie County Chronicle ). A further chain was based at Riverton ( Riverton Times, Orepuki Miner, Otautau Mail ). He returned again to Australia but was soon back at the Ashburton Standard. The Taihape & Mangaweka News (1903) was next, followed by the Waimarino and Ohakune Times (1907). In Taihape he was known as 'Joey Low Wages' but was apparently highly respected. In Ashburton again in 1905 he unsuccessfully attempted to resuscitate the Ashburton Standard as the Ashburton Daily News.

Ivess died in Christchurch on 4 September 1919; Sarah Ivess had died on 28 May 1909. They were survived by five daughters and three sons. Ivess had had a remarkable career. As a newspaper proprietor he had developed, rather than initiated, methods of conducting newspapers: the newspaper chain, the use of non-union labour at low wages, and active soliciting of government advertising. His success depended on 'planting' a newspaper in an up-and-coming town, then rapidly selling it to local interests. His methods were not widely admired by his contemporaries. The motivation for his establishing so many newspapers was not simply economic necessity, as several of his papers provided a comfortable living. The overriding reason was a wish to wield political power. Yet despite his command of the power of the press, he was unable to sustain his early political successes.

How to cite this page:

Ross Harvey. 'Ivess, Joseph', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2i3/ivess-joseph (accessed 21 September 2020)