WEST, Rev. John (1809-1873)


WEST, Rev. John (1809-1873)
historian and journalist
was born in England in 1809. He entered the Congregational ministry in 1829 and after working in England for some years, offered his services to the Colonial Missionary Society. He was sent to Launceston at the beginning of 1839, established a church, and there laboured for over 15 years. He took much interest in the convict question and originated at Launceston the anti-transportation league. In February 1851, with W. P. Weston (q.v.) as his fellow delegate, he attended a conference at Melbourne where "The League and Solemn Engagement of the Australian Colonies" was adopted. This organization was largely responsible for the putting an end of transportation to Tasmania and the eastern colonies of Australia. In 1852 he published his History of Tasmania in two volumes, an interesting and able piece of work. Having met John Fairfax (q.v.) at Sydney in April 1851, he contributed a series of letters to the Sydney Morning Herald on the question of the union of the Australian colonies. The first of these appeared on 30 January and the eighteenth and last on 8 September 1854. Nearly 50 years later Quick (q.v.) and Garran, in their historical introduction to their Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth, spoke of these letters as having "dealt convincingly with the need of union". Fairfax realized that West would be a valuable aid to his paper and early in 1854 offered him the editorship. West, however, was doubtful as to whether he should give up his pastorate to undertake secular work, and only consented to do so after the matter had been referred to the Rev. R. Fletcher of Melbourne. He, however, insisted on remaining at Launceston until a suitable successor was found five months later. He was to do much clerical work in the future but always refused to accept any remuneration for it. In November 1854 he became the first editor of the Sydney Morning Herald definitely appointed to that position. He held it for 19 years with much ability and a strong sense of the responsibility of his trust. A scurrilous attack on his character by the Rev. J. Dunmore Lang (q.v.) which was printed in the Empire was so specific that it could not be treated with contempt, and West felt compelled to bring an action for libel. He was awarded £100 damages which was promptly paid to a public charity. He died suddenly on 11 December 1873. He married and was survived by children. Apart from his History of Tasmania his only separate publications were a few lectures and sermons.
Personally West was a man of the highest character, philosophically and judicially minded, always using his influence for the good of the people.
A Century of Journalism; Correspondence respecting the libel action West v Hanson and Bennett; J. Fenton, A History of Tasmania; The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 December 1873.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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