History of West Australia/Charles Edward Dempster


CONSIDERABLE difficulty was experienced in the early days of West Australian history in utilising and developing that land which had been extensively assigned to the colony. Enterprising agriculturists and squatters were beset by a host of depressing and formidable difficulties that arose from no cause of the colonists themselves. The exigencies of early pastoral and agricultural life demanded a stout heart and a strong, ready hand. Into the dark, deep, and unknown recesses of the interior, across vast and dreary wastes of solitude, these pioneers of colonisation cheerfully forced their way, heedless of discomfort and adventurous hardships. The mode of life to which necessity forced adaptation has individualised them as a colony.

Mr. Dempster is a notable illustration of these generalisations. He has been a worthy coloniser. Born in Fremantle, in December, 1839, he received a primary course of education under Mr. Owen, at the Port. From Fremantle, Mr. Dempster was sent to Guildford to the tutorial care of Mr. Williams, a gentleman of considerable capacity as a scholar and teacher. Mr. James Maclean Dempster, the father of Mr. Dempster, was a shipmaster, well-known and highly respected in the little town of Fremantle. He at one time held a lease of Rottnest Island. Agricultural pursuits were almost the only careers open to the colonial youth, and to this sphere of life Mr. Dempster attached himself. From the first he showed unmistakable capabilities for the peculiarities of this mode of life. At Toodyay, and round the rich agricultural centre of Northam, he engaged in the agricultural industry till he reached the age of twenty-seven. He now resolved to launch out more widely and deeply on the sea of this life which had been carved out for him by the curious law of destiny. In 1860, with Mr. C. Harper and Mr. B. Clarkson, he explored in the east country for new pastures. This party had many interesting experiences (referred to in history), and were probably the first to traverse Golden Valley, since rendered notable by gold discoveries. The young men gathered useful information, and though they did not discover any rich pastoral lands, they were practically the forerunners to the opening up of the eastern gold fields. After other journeys, Mr. C. E. Dempster, accompanied by his brothers, James Pratt, Andrew, and William Simon, Dempster, set out on a tour in the direction of Esperance Bay. With untiring energy and unflagging hearts they pushed on till that southern bay was reached. There they discovered a wide tract of suitable pastoral country, comprising 300,000 acres, and this they turned into a station for pastoral and grazing purposes. They had been so far successful in their mission, but they did not content themselves with halting here. They proceeded northwards from Esperance, and in the vicinity of Fraser's Range, about 180 miles from their starting point, they took up a pastoral selection of 200,000 acres. Mr. Andrew Dempster assumed the managership of these large pastoral areas, which were gradually stocked with a full complement of sheep. The remainder of the brothers returned, and inherited valuable property in the Toodyay district. Mr. Dempster engaged thereafter for several years in storekeeping and milling in Newcastle, till, at last in 1886, he grew tired of these commercial pursuits and sold out. He had been fairly fortunate during his stay at Newcastle, and the nucleus of the capital he had by hard and industrious effort acquired was invested in the purchase of the Springfield Estate, near Northam—a property of 1,500 acres of exceedingly fertile and productive soil. This investment has proved highly remunerative, and the estate is now reckoned one of the most valuable and desirable in the colony. Satisfied with his transaction, he joined with his brothers in the conduct of a large property called Wongamine, about nine miles from Northam. This estate, which ranks second to none in the colony, comprises 4,000 acres of beautifully rich soil, and its productive capacity has been appreciably witnessed in recent years. Fifteen hundred acres of this estate have by unceasing industry been put under cultivation, while the remaining 2,500 are cleared.

Mr. Dempster is undoubtedly recognised as a successful farmer, and that halo of prosperity is the happy result of devoted attention to agricultural matters, and long experience in the great pursuit. His skill is the sequence of close and shrewd observation to the requirements of nature's laws, while the joint felicitous progress of the brothers can only be ascribed to their enterprise and enthusiastic energy. The welfare of agriculture is, of all industries, nearest to Mr. Dempster's heart, and every action or movement that may tend howsoever to foster its growth is embraced warmly by him.

In Northam, the heart of a great agricultural centre, his services, so voluntarily rendered, have marked him out as an esteemed resident. For many years he occupied the position of chairman of the Northam Road Board, and he contributed to the weal and utility of that body. Modest in his principles of action, and diplomatic in his overtures and dealings, he soon demonstrated his efficiency to represent the district in some higher capacity. Mr. Dempster was a conspicuous figure in the Agricultural Society of Northam, and closely identified himself with its growth and importance from the first days of his membership. Long association and skill in all agricultural matters were only fitly awarded by his election as president of the society—a position which he still holds. The name of Mr. Dempster can never be dissociated from the welfare of Northam and agricultural interests generally throughout the colony. In 1894 Mr. Dempster was elected senior member of the Eastern Province in the Legislative Council. In the Upper House he has won for himself enviable "kudos" and influence by his ability and tact. His knowledge of Western Australia is comprehensive and wide. Mr. Dempster possess a solid cast of temperament, and a clear and decisive mind. Wherever he is known he bears with him the evergreen marks of general respect and communal affection.