Story: Horton, Alfred George

Page 1 - Biography

Horton, Alfred George

1842/1843?–1903

Printer, newspaper proprietor and editor, businessman

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

According to his own account Alfred George Horton was born in Lincolnshire, England, probably in 1842 or 1843. His father was Henry Horton, but his mother's name is unknown. He worked on the Hull Daily Express as a reporter before emigrating to Lyttelton, New Zealand, in 1861.

Horton began work as an apprentice printer on the Press, Christchurch. In 1864 he bought a small hand-printing plant, took it to Timaru and began the weekly Timaru Herald. It was a bold move for such a young man. Horton edited and sub-edited the paper, and took a role in local politics. He briefly represented Timaru in the Canterbury Provincial Council; as a supporter of local self-government for his area he helped to promote the establishment of the Timaru and Gladstone Board of Works. He is credited with persuading Edward Stafford to stand (successfully) for the parliamentary seat of Timaru in 1868.

In 1872 Alfred Horton sold his interest in the Timaru Herald and left for a visit to England. On his return in 1874 he and William Wilkinson purchased the Thames Advertiser. They often disagreed on Maori policy and on Julius Vogel's development policies. Finally, in 1876, each wrote a leader expressing his own views, as a result of which they agreed to end their partnership. Wilkinson bought the newspaper and Horton moved to Auckland.

In Auckland Horton purchased the Daily Southern Cross from Vogel's company. Then, in 1876, he joined the Wilson family in a partnership which combined their New Zealand Herald and Weekly Herald with Horton's Daily Southern Cross and Weekly News. The weaker of the firm's competing papers consequently ceased publication.

Horton interested himself in the technological side of the newspaper industry, partly, perhaps, because of his constant concern with competition from the Evening Star (later the Auckland Star ) and other papers. His many trips to Europe and North America helped to widen his knowledge of printing and publishing, and his observations are recorded in many letters. As a result of these trips, Wilson and Horton installed New Zealand's first rotary press in 1883, a web machine in 1887 and linotypes in 1898. The New Zealand Herald became a leader in technological innovation. In 1878 Horton participated in the founding of the New Zealand Press Association, whose purpose was to share local news among its members and to obtain cables of overseas news. In December 1879 he helped solve a dispute with a rival organisation when the two merged to form the United Press Association.

Horton took an active interest in commercial affairs in Auckland and had interests in the Bank of New Zealand, the New Zealand Insurance Company and the Bank of New Zealand Estates Company. Horton's work in assisting the reconstruction of the Bank of New Zealand following disastrous loans in the 1880s, involved travelling to England to raise capital for the bank. His successful efforts helped to mitigate the bank's financial problems. He was also a founding director of the New Zealand Sugar Company, later taken over by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company.

Alfred Horton had married Jessie Haliburton Chisholm at Dunedin on 5 March 1867. Jessie Horton died in 1879, and Alfred Horton died at Auckland on 11 March 1903, survived by six children. His son Henry succeeded him in his position at Wilson and Horton.

Acquaintances spoke of Horton's Yorkshire attributes of blunt speaking, charm and good humour. His letters and diaries reveal a warm and active man keen to advance his business interests and to act in the best interests of the community. Horton was a clear writer with an easy, expressive style, but he appears not to have written much for his papers. He is best remembered for his wise and cautious stewardship of what was to become one of New Zealand's largest and most influential newspaper publishing companies.