SHEA, WILLIAM RICHARD, printer and newspaperman; b. 1813 in St John’s, fourth son of Henry Shea* and Eleanor Ryan; d. there 17 March 1844.
William-Richard Shea belonged to a prominent St John’s family. His father was a merchant and one of the founders in 1806 of the Benevolent Irish Society. William must have gained a measure of importance at an early age for he is listed as a petty juror in 1833.
Having served his apprenticeship in the newspaper business under John Williams McCoubrey* of the St John’s Times and General Commercial Gazette, William became the printer and publisher of the Newfoundlander in May 1837. This paper had been established in 1827 by his brother John. William may also have acted as editor at the beginning of his tenure but by November 1842 his brother Ambrose* occupied the position. The Newfoundlander engaged in a lively and continuing controversy with the other Newfoundland newspapers of the day, particularly the Times and Henry David Winton*’s Public Ledger. Shea, who vigorously defended the British Whigs, was especially critical of the Tories’ proposed policies for Ireland. Yet he pleaded non-partisanship in politics.
The Newfoundlander supported the campaign through 1837–38 for the dismissal of Chief Justice Henry John Boulton*, who had been accused of being too severe in his judgements and of adhering too rigidly to the law. The celebrated case in 1838 of Dr Edward Kielley*, a government medical officer, implicated Shea as printer of the Newfoundlander. On 6 August an altercation had arisen in the streets between Kielley and John Kent*, reform member for St John’s, in which Kielley was alleged to have threatened the member. Kent curiously appealed to the assembly for the settling of the affair and the arrest of Kielley was ordered by the speaker, William Carson. The following day, 7 August, he appeared before the house. Kielley was subsequently returned to custody but acting assistant judge George Lilly released him on 10 August and declared that the assembly had acted beyond its legal powers. The Newfoundlander had published a report on Lilly’s judgement and the house considered a motion that Shea should be brought before it to answer for gross violation of privileges. The exercise proved to be futile and Shea was not summoned to appear.
In 1841 the collector of customs, James Morton Spearman, brought a libel action against the Newfoundlander based on charges made by the paper in early 1840. The newspaper reported that Spearman had attempted to obtain for himself from the local branch of the Bank of British North America three per cent interest on the public monies of his department deposited there prior to making the quarterly payments to the colonial treasurer required by law. Spearman sought £1,000 in damages but in July 1842 the verdict was given in favour of the defendants. During the proceedings it was revealed that Spearman had indeed applied to the manager for this arrangement but had been refused.
Shea retained his position as printer and publisher of the newspaper until his death after a three-day illness. His brother Ambrose succeeded him. In 1846 another brother, Edward Dalton*, assumed control of the Newfoundlander and retained it until 1884.
Newfoundlander, 18 May 1837–25 April 1844. Newfoundland Indicator (St John’s), 23 March 1844. Patriot & Terra Nova Herald, 20 March 1844. Public Ledger, 19 March 1844. Royal Gazette and Newfoundland Advertiser, 19 March 1844. Star and Newfoundland Advocate (St John’s), 21 March 1844. Times and General Commercial Gazette (St John’s), 20 March 1844. A list of names of prominent people at the time Newfoundland was granted representative government: St John’s, 1833 (St John’s, 1971). Newfoundland men; a collection of biographical sketches . . . , ed. H. Y. Mott (Concord, N.H., 1894), 1. Notable events in the history of Newfoundland; six thousand dates of historical and social happenings, comp. [P. K.] Devine and [J.] O’Mara (St John’s, 1900). When was that? (Mosdell), 117. P. K. Devine, Ye olde St. John’s, 1750–1936 (St John’s, 1936), 16, 96–97, 110–11. Gunn, Political hist. of Nfld., 52–61. Joseph Hatton and Moses Harvey, Newfoundland, the oldest British colony; its history, its present condition, and its prospects in the future (London, 1883), 87–91. Paul O’Neill, The story of St. John’s, Newfoundland (2v., Erin, Ont., 1975–76), 104, 184, 400–1, 462, 464, 824, 831, 909, 918. Charles Pedley, The history of Newfoundland from the earliest times to the year 1860 (London, 1863), 399–409. W. H. Hayward, “Sir Ambrose Shea, K.C.M.G. (18151905), one of the fathers of confederation,” Atlantic Guardian (Montreal), 6 (1949), no.2: 27–29.