WENTWORTH, William Charles (1792-1872)


WENTWORTH, William Charles (1792-1872)
statesman
was born at Norfolk Island, apparently during the latter part of 1792 (A. C .V. Melbourne, who consulted the Norfolk Island returns at the colonial office). His father was D'Arcy Wentworth, who belonged to an Irish branch of the well-known Wentworth family. There is some doubt about the name of his mother, but there is reason to believe that originally it was Catherine Williams (Melbourne). D'Arcy Wentworth (1762-1827) came originally from the north of Ireland and went to London to study medicine. In 1787 he was charged with highway robbery and acquitted, but in December 1789 he was again charged with the same offence. He was not convicted, but agreed to go to New South Wales, having obtained the position of assistant-surgeon on the Neptune. He arrived at Sydney on 28 June 1790. He was immediately appointed an assistant in the hospital at Norfolk Island, became a superintendent of convicts in 1791, and acted at the same time as assistant-surgeon. He returned to Sydney in 1796, eventually became principal surgeon and superintendent of police, and a magistrate. From the time he arrived in the colony until his death in 1827 his life was free from blame. He laid the foundation of a large fortune as one of the contractors for the building of the "Rum Hospital", known by that name because the builders of it had agreed to erect the building on condition that they were allowed a monopoly of the sale of spirits for three years.
Little is known of the youth of William Charles Wentworth. He was sent at an early age to England to be educated, and his father made unsuccessful efforts through his friend and distant kinsman, Lord Fitzwilliam, to have him admitted to the military academy at Woolwich, or to obtain an appointment in the East India Company's service. He arrived in Sydney again in 1811, and in August 1812 was granted 1750 acres of land. In the following year, with Gregory Blaxland (q.v.) and Lieutenant William Lawson (q.v.), Wentworth crossed the Blue Mountains and found a way to open up the fertile country to the west of them. Many attempts had been made before, but all had failed. Only 17 miles were covered in the first week, but at the end of the third week they saw from Mount York the open country beyond. Wentworth, however, found that the privations he had endured had injured his health, and in 1814 took a voyage to the Friendly Islands to enable him to recover. In 1816 he went to England. His father hoped that he would enter the army, but Wentworth was anxious to study law. In a letter to Lord Fitzwilliam he spoke of acquainting himself "with all the excellence of the British constitution, and hope at some future period to advocate successfully the right of my country to participate in its advantages". It is clear from this letter that Wentworth intended to make the bar a stepping stone to the fulfilment of greater ambitions. He entered at the Inner Temple and began a five years' course of study. At this time he was friendly with John Macarthur (q.v.) and his two sons, and obtained parental consent to a marriage with John Macarthur's daughter. The elder man, however, advised Wentworth to complete his law studies before returning to Sydney, and a subsequent quarrel with the Macarthurs made an end of the proposed marriage. In 1817 Wentworth went to Paris, lived there for more than a year, and obtained a good working knowledge of French while not entirely neglecting his study of the law. In Paris he was in close touch with John Macarthur junior, who suggested that he should write a book on the state of New South Wales, which he practically completed by May 1818. About this time he suffered a great shock. He found in a public letter addressed to Lord Sidmouth by the Hon. H. G. Bennet a statement that his father had gone to New South Wales as a convict. He interviewed Bennet and denied the charges, but from further inquiries he learned that his father had twice been tried for a capital offence. His distress was great but he did what he could. Bennet amended the wording of his pamphlet, and made "a somewhat ambiguous apology in the house of commons", and Wentworth wisely carried the matter no further. His book was published in 1819; its long and cumbrous title will suggest the scope of it—A Statistical, Historical and Political Description of the Colony of New South Wales and its dependent Settlements with a Particular Enumeration of the Advantages which these Colonies offer for Emigration and their Superiority in many Respects over those Possessed by the United States of America. The book contained a remarkable amount of information relating to the colony, with many proposals for the improvement of its government. It went into a second edition in 1820, and the third edition, considerably revised and augmented, appeared in 1824. John Macarthur did not approve of it and objected strongly to Wentworth's estimates of the profits to be made by growing fine wool. Neither did he approve of trial by jury nor ex-convicts being eligible for the proposed houses of parliament, both of which were advocated in Wentworth's book. In 1823 Wentworth became a student at Peterhouse College, Cambridge, and shortly afterwards entered a poem for the Chancellor's gold medal. It was placed second to a poem by Winthrop Mackworth Praed, afterwards to become well-known as one of the most graceful and polished of English minor poets. More than one good judge has questioned this decision. The subject was Australasia and Wentworth not only knew more about his subject, he felt a genuine emotion for it. Apart from a few early anonymous satires this was the only verse written by Wentworth. It was published in 1823 and reprinted 50 years later. Extracts from it have been included in various Australian anthologies. Wentworth was called to the English bar, and having revised and completed the third edition of his book on New South Wales during 1823 he sailed for Sydney and arrived about September 1821.
In England Wentworth had become friendly with Robert Wardell, LL.D (q.v.). They came to Sydney together and immediately started a paper, the Australian. It was conducted with ability, fought against the colonial office, and demanded an elected legislature. When the new governor, Sir Ralph Darling (q.v.), arrived he soon realized that Wentworth was a force in the community. The case of Sudds and Thompson, two soldiers who had committed a theft so that they might be sentenced to transportation, was seized on by Wentworth and others as a means of harassing the government. The two men had been sentenced to hard labour in irons and Sudds who was ill died. Wentworth in letters to the governor and secretary of state allowed his strong feelings to run away with him, and to some extent defeated his own object by the extravagance of his language. A new constitution act had been passed in 1828, but though minor changes had been made no concession of importance had been made to the views of Wentworth and his party. On 9 February 1830 a draft of a petition to the house of commons was brought before a public meeting. The objects desired by Wentworth's party were trial by jury and a "House of the People's representatives" (The Australian, 10 February 1830). The petition was presented to the house of commons without effect. The agitation was renewed early in 1833, and in May 1835 the Australian Patriotic Association was formed. Wentworth took a leading part, but the fervour of youth had departed, and he was now a rich man, becoming much more conservative in his outlook than when he wrote his book on New South Wales. The exclusives and the emancipists were still at odds but there had been great increases in the number of free settlers coming to the colony. The adoption by the home authorities to some extent of Wakefield's (q.v.) land policy brought the hitherto opposed James Macarthur (q.v. [under entry for John Macarthur]) and Wentworth together, and Wentworth gradually lost his place as the people's leader. Wentworth was not in most circumstances a man of a grasping nature, indeed it is recorded of him that when he bought his estate, Vaucluse, finding he had got it too cheaply he insisted on paying an additional amount. But when seven Maori chiefs arrived in Sydney early in 1840, he made a bargain with them that in consideration of a pension of £200 each, they would sell him 100,000 acres in the North Island and 20,000,000 acres in the South Island. It was an audacious scheme, but though the rights of native races were little recognized in those days, Governor Gipps (q.v.) refused to ratify the bargain. The governor was right in his action, though unwise in denouncing the transaction as a corrupt job, and Wentworth never forgave him.
Wentworth's early labours for the people had at last begun to have effect. Trial by jury had become law in 1838, and the first real step towards representative government was effected in 1842 when a new constitution act was passed. In 1843 writs were issued for the election of 24 members to the legislative council and Wentworth received full credit for his part in the long-awaited reform. At the election held in the middle of 1843 he was returned as one of the members for Sydney. When the council met Wentworth let it be known that he would like the position of speaker, and was much disappointed when even his best friends declined to support his candidature on the ground that it should not be held by a partisan. Wentworth made a long speech in which he admitted there was force in the argument, and that he had been a partisan for the liberty of the press, for trial by jury, and for an elected house of legislature. He argued that McLeay (q.v.) who had been nominated for the position was just as much of a partisan in his way. McLeay, although 77 years of age was elected to the position. Wentworth became leader of the opposition, which included all the elected members, and it was not long before he was in conflict with Governor Sir George Gipps. He identified himself with the cause of the squatters and a bitter struggle ensued. It was not until 1846, when some concessions were made to the squatters, that the agitation temporarily died down. In 1844 a select committee had been appointed to inquire into "General Grievances". The report of this committee gave Wentworth an opportunity of advocating a further development in responsible government. His views on the relations between the colonies and the United Kingdom may have been before their time, but they have practically been adopted in the present century. In the meanwhile all that Wentworth could do at this period was to obtain more control over the colony's revenues. He also took part in improving the state of education, and in bringing in a lien on wool and live stock act, a most useful measure. In 1846 Lord Grey, the new secretary of state for war and the colonies, tried to bring in a new constitution with a system of double elections. District councillors were to be elected who in turn would elect members of the legislative council, which gave Wentworth an opportunity to thunder against it with all his power. It was also proposed to start transportation again and here he had Wentworth's support. Like the other squatters he was, for once, more interested in obtaining cheap labour for his stations than in the general good of the colony. Now he had Robert Lowe (q.v.) and the young Henry Parkes (q.v.) as his opponents. At the 1848 election he faced his constituents with characteristic courage, realizing that he was on the unpopular side. His power and personality carried him to the top of the poll. When yet another constitution act was passed in 1850 the existing legislative council in New South Wales was empowered to enact the constitution of its successor. An attempt was made to divide the representation so that the agricultural and pastoral interests should have a secure majority, and indeed after the election it was found that of the 36 elected members 17 came from agricultural and eight from pastoral constituencies. Wentworth had a hard fight for his Sydney seat. He had become unpopular with the Sydney press, and his speech on the hustings was greeted with groans and hisses. He was apparently unmoved and defended all his actions: "Whether you elect me or not," he said, "is to me personally a matter of no consequence, but it may be a matter of importance to you and to the public . . . if I am rejected—one of two questions will be decided, either I am not deserving of the constituency, or this constituency is not worthy of me. This question cannot be answered by men whose interests and passions are inflamed. It must be referred to a remote tribunal, where all the events and circumstances affecting it will be calmly weighed. It must be referred to the tribunal of posterity, and to that tribunal I fear not to appeal." He was elected the lowest on the poll of the three chosen. He had travelled far from the democratic ideas of his youth, and at the declaration of the poll told the electors that: "He regretted to find that there was a spirit of democracy abroad which was almost daily extending its limits."
Wentworth was far from satisfied with the constitution act of 1850. As leader of the elected members of the council he framed a "declaration and remonstrance" in which the legislative council of New South Wales solemnly protested and declared (1) That the Imperial parliament has no power to tax the people of this colony or to appropriate any monies levied by authority of the colonial legislature, (2) that the revenue arising from public lands is as much the property of the people of this colony as the ordinary revenue, (3) that the customs and all other departments should be in the direct control of the colonial legislature, (4) that except in the case of the governor offices of trust and entolument should be conferred only on the settled inhabitants, (5) that powers of legislation should be conferred upon and exercised by the colonial legislature, and no bills should be reserved for the signification of Her Majesty's pleasure unless they affect the prerogative of the crown, or the general interests of the Empire. Earl Grey's reply to the remonstrance was unsatisfactory, but his successor, Sir John Pakington, was more sympathetic and he advised the council to draft a constitution. A select committee was appointed with Wentworth as chairman and the resulting draft of a constitution was strongly coloured with his views. On 9 August 1853 Wentworth obtained leave to bring in his "Bill to confer a Constitution on New South Wales". It was hotly debated, the chief cause of dissent being the proposal that the upper chamber should consist of members with hereditary claims of membership. "Why," said Wentworth, "if titles are open to all at home should they be denied to the colonists?" The hostility to this proposal was, however, so great that it was abandoned, and in the upshot the upper house became a nominated chamber and the assembly elective. Wentworth's unpopularity with the people increased; as Parkes expressed it nearly 40 years later (Wentworth's) "unwise proposals to secure his handiwork from alteration by those who might come after him, and his hasty and intemperate epithets of 'democrat', 'communist' and 'mob-rule' applied to his opportents made him extremely unpopular with large numbers who had not watched his steady, unwearied, and enlightened labours in championing the main principles of constitutional government. His aversion to the unrestricted franchise, and his desire to tie the hands of the legislature . . . were eagerly seized upon, and his noble contention throughout for the right of the country to dispose of its own lands, impose its own taxes, expend its own revenues, and appoint its own public servants, were lost sight of in the transient fury of opposition". (Parkes, Fifty Years of Australian History, p. 36.) In March 1854 Wentworth with Deas Thomson (q.v.) sailed for England to see the bill through the Imperial parliament. It received the royal assent on 16 July 1855. This was the crowning event of Wentworth's life. But he had realized that with the increase of responsibility must come increase of knowledge. Six years before he had moved for a select committee to consider the institution of a university at Sydney. He brought in a bill for that purpose in 1850, and the first university senate was constituted on 24 December 1850. Wentworth remained in England for some years. In 1853 his constitution committee had advocated a general assembly to make laws in relation to intercolonial questions, but nothing definite had been done. In 1857 Wentworth brought up the question again and prepared a short "enabling bill" which was sent to the colonial office. Copies of the proposals were sent to all the colonies. The time was, however, scarcely ripe and the proposals were allowed to drop. Wentworth returned to New South Wales in 1861 to find political affairs in confusion. (Sir) Charles Cowper's ill-advised attempt to swamp the upper house had resulted in the resignation of many of the other members, and Wentworth was persuaded to become president of a reconstructed legislative council in 1862. He supported a bill providing for an elected upper house. "I never contemplated," he said, "that any ministry would have the audacity to sweep the streets in Sydney in order to attempt to swamp the house . . . and I see no other alternative but to adopt in the constitution of this house some modification or other of the elective principle." The bill was adopted by the legislative council but Cowper allowed it to be dropped. In October 1862 Wentworth went to England, originally on matters of business, but he never returned. He died at Wimborne on 20 March 1872. He married on 26 October 1829 Sarah, daughter of Francis Cox, who survived him with two sons and four daughters. Wentworth's body was brought to Sydney for a public funeral, and was laid in a vault at Vaucluse. The chief justice, Sir James Martin (q.v.), delivered the funeral oration. A portrait is hung in the legislative assembly, his statue is in the great hall of the university of Sydney.
Wentworth was over six feet in height with a Roman head and a massive form. His vehemence and force were not always at once apparent, yet when he set himself to any task it was only a matter of time before it was accomplished. When little more than a youth he took part in a successful piece of exploration, the first crossing of the Blue Mountains. His first published writing, his book on New South Wales, ran into three editions within five years and had much effect on emigration to Australia. Then noticing that Australasia had been selected as the subject for the prize poem at Cambridge he confidently wrote and entered a poem of far greater merit than the average prize poem which, though it did not win the prize, deserved it. Coming back to Australia he established a reputation at the bar as an advocate, and, entering politics, a great reputation as an orator. Yet these all pale before the essential Wentworth, the patriot and lover of his country, though without his power as an orator he could not have achieved his tasks. His voice was powerful, his manner vehement, and once aroused his eloquence carried his hearers away. He was not always perfectly scrupulous in his methods, and his lapses into abuse of his opponents sometimes marred his oratory. But his disposition was really warm and generous, and he was ready to forget quickly his resentments. He had a good knowledge of constitutional law, quick comprehension, and great logical powers united with great force and accuracy of expression. Behind all this was an immense sincerity, the real secret of his power. He passionately felt that trial by jury, a free press, and the right of the colonies to govern themselves were things worth living for and fighting for, and while he fought for these things the sword never dropped from his hand. He was the greatest man of his time and possibly the greatest man in the history of Australia.
A. C. V. Melbourne, William Charles Wentworth; Lewis Deer and John Barr, The Story of William C. Wentworth; K. R. Cramp, William Charles Wentworth, reprinted from Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. IV, p. 389; A. Jose, Builders and Pioneers of Australia; H. M. Green, Wentworth as Orator; G. W. Rusden, History of Australia; A. Patchett Martin, Life and Letters of Viscount Sherbrooke; J. D. Lang, An Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales; Henry Parkes, Fifty Years in the Making of Australian History; Public Funeral of the late William Charles Wentworth, Sydney, 1873; Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vols. I-XXI, XXIII-XXVI, ser. III, vols. II, IV, VI, ser. IV, vol. I; Burke's Colonial Gentry, which traces Wentworth's ancestry back to Rogert Wentworth living in Yorkshire in the sixteenth century. The date of W. C. Wentworth's birth differs from that given above, and also the maiden name of his mother.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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