McCOUBREY, JOHN WILLIAMS, newspaper proprietor; b. of middle-class Protestant parents in Waterford, Ireland, in 1806; d. at St John’s, Nfld., on 10 Oct. 1879.
In 1819 John Williams McCoubrey’s family emigrated to St John’s, Newfoundland, where he was apprenticed to a well-known printer, Robert Lee Jr. After his seven years as an apprentice he went to work for John Shea’s newspaper, the Newfoundlander, apparently both as printer and as journalist, until 1832, when he founded his own newspaper, the Times and General Commercial Gazette.
McCoubrey had no trouble with the colonial authorities, despite the tight control of the Newfoundland press at the time. Throughout his career he avoided the political and sectarian controversies usual in the journalism of St John’s, and achieved a reputation for impartiality and personal integrity. A rival newspaper, the Public Ledger, records his support for Conservative candidates in the 1842 election. The incident in his life most celebrated by the obituarist in his own newspaper was his refusal to compound with his creditors, at great personal expense, after the fire of 1846, when his business was almost wiped out. Perhaps the most fitting last words on his career come from an anonymous correspondent to the Times, who wrote on 17 Oct. 1879 that he had never known McCoubrey “either through the press or otherwise utter one word to wound the feelings of any man, no matter to what creed or party he belonged.”
Public Ledger (St John’s), 4 Oct. 1842. Times and General Commercial Gazette (St John’s), 1832–94. “Chronological list of Newfoundland newspapers in the public collections at the Gosling Memorial Library and Provincial Archives,” 18-page typescript compiled by Ian McDonald (copy at the Reference Library, Arts and Culture Centre, St John’s). E. J. Devereux, “Early printing in Newfoundland,” Dal. Rev., XLIII (1963), 57–66.