Story: Revans, Samuel

Page 1 - Biography

Revans, Samuel

1807/1808?–1888

Merchant, printer, runholder, newspaper proprietor and editor, politician

This biography was written by Kathleen A. Coleridge and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 1, 1990

Samuel Revans, New Zealand's first commercial printer and newspaper proprietor, was born probably in 1807 or 1808, third of the six children of John Revans, a surgeon of Kennington, London, England, and his wife, Eleanor Kinsey.

After training as a printer Revans entered the timber trade in Lower Canada (Quebec) and in 1833 joined Henry Samuel Chapman in establishing British North America's first daily newspaper, the Daily Advertiser, in Montreal. An English-language paper, its editorial columns supported the Reformist aspirations of Louis-Joseph Papineau and the French-speaking community. The paper closed at the end of 1834 and the partners returned separately to England.

In London Revans renewed previous links with the radical circle around Canadian-educated John Arthur Roebuck, meeting several men later prominent in the New Zealand Company. Setting up as a merchant, Revans became a trading correspondent of the Montreal firm Larocque Bernard and Company, whose liquidation after Papineau's 1837 rebellion left Revans liable for a large debt in London. After this financial disaster Revans invested his remaining assets in New Zealand Company land orders, in partnership with T. M. Partridge, and sailed for Port Nicholson (Wellington) on the Adelaide in September 1839.

Before leaving London Revans raised a loan from merchants involved in the New Zealand Company, to buy the equipment and supplies for a printing establishment capable of producing a newspaper. The first issue of the New Zealand Gazette was published from the company's London address, and the second appeared on 18 April 1840, a month after Revans landed on Britannia (Petone) beach. He had hoped to be the company's emigration agent, but had to be content with the position of secretary to the colonists' council.

In his first months in Wellington Revans established a timberyard and an extensive stationery business alongside the printing business. In the Gazette (which became the New Zealand Gazette and Britannia Spectator from 22 August 1840 and the New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator from 28 November 1840) he emphasised the settlement's advantages and placed the blame for its difficulties on the government, although his private letters were scathing about many of the company officials. He also established a dairy and cattle farm in the Evans Bay area with William Mein Smith, and by late 1841 had broken with Partridge. He left the day-to-day printing business to his shop manager, and distaste for writing now led him to appoint an editor for the paper while he investigated the prospects for timber exports to Australia and a settlement in Manawatu. Early in 1845 he and Smith established one of the first pastoral runs in Wairarapa, at Huangarua, between what became Greytown and Martinborough.

Meanwhile the Gazette had become an unprofitable nuisance. The settlement's economic difficulties reduced business and bills were left unpaid. Revans leased the equipment to his printers and let the Gazette close in September 1844, to be succeeded by the New Zealand Spectator and Cook's Strait Guardian. In August 1845 creditors called in a debt, forcing Revans to sell the printing equipment to the Spectator proprietors. After this, Revans's only involvement with newspapers was as a contributor of economic and political articles to the Wellington Independent in the 1860s and to Wairarapa papers in the 1870s.

In late 1848 agitation for representative government led to the creation of the Wellington Settlers' Constitutional Association, in which Revans was a prominent officeholder. His activity in the campaign was brought to a halt by news of the California goldrush. In 1849 he sailed for San Francisco with a shipload of timber and potatoes, but could sell only the potatoes. After this entrepreneurial expedition he restricted himself to a stationholder's life.

Revans represented Wairarapa and Hawke's Bay in the Wellington Provincial Council (1853–57), in the General Assembly (1853–55), and then Hutt in the General Assembly (1856–58). A supporter of Isaac Featherston, he was a member of the provincial executive council in 1854, and briefly in 1857. He was active in the 1854 General Assembly sessions, taking a radical stance on all issues. He proposed unsuccessfully that there should be no opening prayer, and was a bitter opponent of Edward Gibbon and Edward Jerningham Wakefield. After the first year he did not attend Parliament, devoting himself to his own and his family's financial affairs.

After William Mein Smith died in 1869 Revans sold Huangarua and lived in retirement in Greytown in his brother Stebbing's household. He never married and was viewed by fellow colonists as 'rough' and of 'easy' morals, though much of this derived from his strongly asserted radical, democratic and republican views. Kindly, somewhat hot tempered, prone to over-optimism in business, preferring casual dress, he was typical of the man at home in a pioneer society who was censured by those preserving the standards and prejudices of the metropolitan society. Samuel Revans died on 14 July 1888 in Greytown.