Page 1: Biography
Seffern, William Henry John
Printer, newspaper editor, journalist, historian
This biography, written by Ross Harvey, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
William Henry John Seffern was born, probably in August 1829, in County Cork, Ireland; his parents' names have not been traced. Seffern was trained in the printing trade. He married in London, probably in 1849 or 1850; his wife's name is not known. About 1850 he emigrated to Australia where he worked for five years on the Illustrated Sydney News and other newspapers. He moved to Auckland, New Zealand, in 1856 and was probably employed there in the newspaper or general printing trade. At an unknown date Seffern's wife died, and on 29 January 1861 he married a widow, Mary Silverthorn, née McIvor, at Auckland. There were no children of either marriage.
By May 1864 Seffern was manager of the Auckland newspaper the New-Zealander, and in August he became one of its proprietors. By March 1865 John Williamson, the newspaper's founder, was again proprietor, and Seffern was the newspaper's printer. In May Seffern joined C. F. Mitchell as printer of the New-Zealander; their names remained on the paper's imprint until the end of 1865.
Still in partnership with Mitchell, with whom he conducted a general printing business in Auckland, Seffern established two short-lived weekly newspapers, the Penny Journal and the Auckland Budget. He also acted as Auckland correspondent for a Sydney newspaper.
In January 1868 Henry Weston, the proprietor of the Taranaki Herald, offered Seffern the paper's editorship and management. He accepted, and remained in these positions for the next 27 years. Under his direction the frequency of the Herald increased from weekly to bi-weekly (1 May 1869) and daily (14 May 1877), indicating the increasing stature of the newspaper as well as the growth of the Taranaki region. Seffern was also printer of the daily newspaper the Budget from its first issue on 18 January 1875. He converted it on 19 May 1877 to become the weekly edition of the Taranaki Herald. Under Seffern's editorship the Herald supported the abolition of provincial government on the grounds that large population centres would no longer monopolise government revenue. Seffern supported the occupation of Parihaka in October 1881 and the arrest of Te Whiti; again, because this would allow the speedy settlement and development of Taranaki.
Seffern's time was not solely occupied by the newspapers he managed. He acted as Taranaki correspondent for the Otago Daily Times from 1868 to 1875 and as New Plymouth agent for the United Press Association, reporting local events for newspapers throughout New Zealand. In 1869 he compiled and published the first Taranaki almanac. He was a member of the New Zealand Institute of Journalists, and was active in the Taranaki Agricultural Association and in amateur theatricals.
Seffern was also a prolific author. He published a history of the Taranaki Herald in 1892, and his assiduously collected information about Taranaki's early settlement formed the basis of several works. A series entitled 'The early settlement of New Zealand' appeared in several London and Auckland periodicals from 1888 to 1890 and was later published as Chronicles of the garden of New Zealand, known as Taranaki (1896). Other works on Taranaki history appeared in 1890 and 1891.
In 1895 Seffern retired from the Taranaki Herald after a long and successful career. He continued to write, and for some time worked on a history of the conflicts of the 1860s, which he left unfinished. He nursed his wife during a long illness; she died on 12 April 1899. Seffern died at his home in New Plymouth on 26 October 1900. His estate was certified at £1,165 18s. 2d.