Story: Blundell, Henry

Page 1 - Biography

Blundell, Henry

1814/1815?–1878

Newspaper editor and proprietor

This biography was written by Leslie Verry and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 2, 1993

Henry Blundell was born in Dublin, Ireland, probably in 1814 or 1815. The names of his parents are not known. He worked for the Dublin Evening Mail for 27 years, becoming manager, before he resigned over a disagreement about the treatment of staff. He arrived in Melbourne, Australia, in 1860, accompanied by three sons and three daughters. His wife, Margaret McGowan, did not come with him. He had married her in Dublin probably in 1845 or 1846, but little knowledge of her survives. According to family legend she ran away with an army sergeant major.

Henry Blundell first came to New Zealand in 1861. He worked for the Lyttelton Times at Lyttelton from 1861 to 1862 as an assistant manager, then as manager. After returning to Melbourne briefly, he brought his family to settle in New Zealand in 1863. At first he worked for the Otago Daily Times in Dunedin, but, still restless, he moved to Havelock in 1864. There, with a partner, David Curle, he started the Havelock Mail on 1 June. When the Wakamarina goldfields closed later that year the Mail soon followed suit, and the partners moved to Wellington.

On 8 February 1865 Blundell and Curle published the first issue of the Evening Post, Wellington's first daily newspaper. They were assisted by Henry Blundell's sons, John and Thomas Henry. Although Wellington became the country's capital in 1865, launching a daily was a hazardous venture because the town had a European population of only 5,000 and business confidence was low. The partners nearly failed, and when it became clear in July that the frail business would not support two families, Blundell bought out Curle. Henry Blundell's youngest son, Louis Proctor, also joined the family business. The three Blundell daughters were never associated with the Evening Post.

The first four-page issue of the Evening Post had been produced on a hand-operated press that could print 250 copies an hour. Henry Blundell had promised a liberal policy and had said that the proprietors would not overstep the bounds of moderation in expressing their views as journalists. That liberal policy was pursued faithfully: in the view of the politician Robert Stout, the Evening Post was the slave of no party; its keynote was a judicious independence. For several years editorials were mostly written by Henry Blundell, who was both manager and editor. He also gathered news and superintended and assisted in the advertising, publishing and typographical work.

Blundell's hard toil, and the loyal support of his three sons, eventually saw the Evening Post well established and unshaken by various rivals, which came and went. In more relaxed moments Blundell was known as a genial and kindly man, who occasionally met with some of his Irish friends to recall old Dublin days over a glass of whisky. He steadfastly refused all pleas to enter local or national politics, holding that a newspaper proprietor must retain complete independence.

By 1874 the newspaper was prospering and Henry Blundell retired, leaving his sons to carry on the business. He made a trip to Ireland and travelled freely for several years. On 15 June 1878 he died in Sydney, Australia, while on a visit there. His remains were brought to Wellington by steamer and he was buried in Bolton Street cemetery on 2 July.

The black-bordered issue of the Evening Post of 17 June noted that Henry Blundell 'was a genuine, sterling man, who fearlessly and independently expressed his honestly held convictions, who loved truth, and who abhorred all that partook of pretence, or was false, base, or mean.' He imposed on the newspaper his own standards of fairness and independence, and by example set those same high standards for succeeding generations of Blundells. The Evening Post was run as a family business until 1972, when mergers changed the whole pattern of newspaper publishing in Wellington and throughout New Zealand.