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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Lang, Rev. John Dunmore

Lang, Rev. John Dunmore, D.D., one of the ablest pioneers of Australian autonomy, was born at Greenock, in Scotland, on August 25th, 1799, and graduated at Glasgow University, of which he was made D.D. in 1825. His attention being early directed to Australia, then almost a terra incognita, he determined to leave Scotland, and in Sept. 1822 was ordained by the Irvine Presbytery minister for the Scotch National Church in Sydney. He arrived in the metropolis of New South Wales in 1823 and met with a warm welcome from his fellow-countrymen who had settled there. The Courthouse was placed at his disposal for holding services, and his preaching attracted what in those days might be styled large congregations. Subscriptions were liberally promised towards the erection of a church, the Governor, Sir Thomas Brisbane, heading the list; but, in consequence of a quarrel, the Governor declined to afford State endowment and withdrew his own subscription. Dr. Lang, undaunted by the want of official patronage, proceeded to build his church and went to England to lay his complaint before the Secretary of State for the Colonies. He was favourably received, and in 1826 returned to Sydney with a direction from Earl Bathurst to the authorities in New South Wales that one-third of the cost of the Presbyterian Church should be paid by the State, and a salary of £300 a year paid to Dr. Lang out of colonial funds. To him belongs the real honour of introducing the Presbyterian church and school system into Australia. He was instrumental in establishing the Australian College in Sydney in 1832, and to effect this object made considerable personal sacrifices. Shortly after a visit to England in 1841 he joined the Presbyterian Synod of Australia, but in the following year pursued a course adverse to the views or the majority of the Synod, and was censured for disregard of the authority of the Church by refusing to appear when cited to answer charges made against him. He was deposed from his ministerial office, and the deposition was confirmed by the Church courts in Scotland. He applied for relief to the Court of Session, and the Lord Ordinary held that the decision was illegal. The Sydney Presbytery endeavoured to oust him from the possession of Church property, but after a long course of litigation the matter was, in 1862, finally decided in his favour. He held the ministry of the Scots Church, Sydney, from 1823 until his death. On Dec. 17th, 1872, he celebrated the jubilee of his ministry; amidst universal congratulations. The position of Dr. Lang as a politician in a great measure overshadowed his calling as a minister of religion. From the time of his arrival in the colony he took an active interest in social and public questions. In 1835, dissatisfied with the colonial press which then existed, he started the Colonist, a weekly journal, in which he advocated the discontinuance of the system of granting waste lands to settlers, and urged the adoption of the Wakefield principle of selling the lands at an upset price and devoting the proceeds to immigration. He maintained that the waste lands were not the property of the inhabitants, but of the people of the British empire, and ought to be administered in that spirit. His proposal met with some acceptance, was recommended by a select committee of the Legislative Council, and received the approval of Lord Glenelg, the then Secretary of State for the Colonies; but a land system on a different basis was afterwards established by Wentworth. Dr. Lang was an ardent supporter of immigration. In 1830 he addressed a letter to Viscount Goderich, pointing out the means of conveying thousands of the distressed agricultural population of Great Britain to the plenty of New South Wales without expense to the mother country. His idea was to obtain the necessary funds by sales of building allotments in Sydney, and by resuming and selling land granted on conditions unfulfilled to the Church and School Corporation of New South Wales. He published this letter in the colony, and his proposal gave offence to the possessors of the land he proposed to resume. A wordy warfare followed, lasting for years, and the struggle entailed on him much expense and annoyance. He was blamed by Lord Goderich for the indiscreet publication of the letter, and the Legislative Council passed a vote of censure. In 1836 he brought out from England a supply of suitable ministers for the Church, a number of schoolmasters and others, numbering with their families about three hundred persons. He lectured on immigration during his frequent visits to England, and used his influence to promote the settlement of Protestant people in the colony. The bounty system he condemned as calculated to unduly encourage the introduction of Roman Catholics at the expense of the State. In 1843 Dr. Lang was elected a member of the first Legislative Council of New South Wales under the constitution of 1842. He was returned for the district of Port Phillip, now the colony of Victoria. His principal aims in entering political life were to put a stop to the preponderance of Irish Roman Catholic immigrants and to secure for the colony a general system of education adapted to its wants. On the latter question he had been opposed to the Irish national system, but after a visit to Ireland he changed his views and advocated its adoption. A select committee of the Legislative Council, of which Mr. Robert Lowe (now Lord Sherbrooke) was chairman, recommended the system. He was a foremost actor in the movement for the separation of Port Phillip from New South Wales. He broached the idea to the residents of Port Phillip, who were labouring under a feeling of dissatisfaction at the neglect they experienced from the central Government, and he received such encouragement that in 1844 he proposed in the Legislative Council of the mother colony the separation of Port Phillip and its erection into a distinct colony. The six Port Phillip representatives voted for the motion, but the only member among the thirty representatives of New South Wales proper who gave in their adhesion was Mr. Lowe. Not discouraged, Dr. Lang drew up a petition, which was numerously signed, and sent home to her Majesty. Lord Stanley gave a favourable reply, but separation was not consummated until the year 1851. The services rendered by Dr. Lang were recognised by the Victorian Parliament, who in 1872 voted him a sum of £1000. He was also a warm advocate of the separation of Queensland from New South Wales. His interest in the Moreton Bay district dated back to the years 1848 and 1849, when he introduced there at considerable personal expense about six hundred immigrants. His services in the cause of separation were acknowledged by the Queensland Legislature. He was also the promoter of the land order system established in that colony. He was always strongly opposed to the transportation system, the agitation in regard to which lasted from 1846 to 1851, Earl Grey, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, persisting in his determination to force the system on the colony. Ultimately, however, the order in Council declaring New South Wales a place where convicts might be sent was revoked. Dr. Lang was elected member for Sydney in 1850, defeating the transportation candidate. In 1849 he addressed a letter to Earl Grey on the subject of his misgovernment of the Australian colonies during the three years he held office, couched in language which gave great offence, and which openly threatened separation from the mother country and the formation of an Australian republic In Sept. 1851 he was elected at the head of the poll for Sydney, John Lamb and W. C. Wentworth being his colleagues, but he resigned almost immediately and went to England. During his absence a new Constitution Act was passed, containing a clause rendering ministers of religion ineligible for Parliament, and he was thus precluded from entering the Legislature for a time. This clause was repealed in 1857, and at the general election in 1859 he was again returned for Sydney. After the introduction of responsible government he was elected three times for Sydney West, twice at the head of the poll. He retired from the Parliamentary arena in Nov. 1869. Among other measures advocated by him during his political career were the extension and equalising of the representation (in 1843), the establishment of a uniform postage rate of twopence (in 1844), triennial Parliaments, a single chamber Legislature, cheap and efficient railway communication, and permanent discontinuance of State aid to religion. In 1839 he visited New Zealand and wrote to Lord Durham urging the Government to take possession of those islands. During his long connection with Australia he visited England nine times. In 1846 he was examined before a committee of the House of Commons on the question of transportation. Dr. Lang was a voluminous writer. He is the author of a history of New South Wales, which ran through four editions, the first issued in 1834, the latest in 1875. His other works are—"Origin and Migration of the Polynesian Natives" (1834); "Transportation and Colonisation" (1837); "New Zealand in 1839: Position and Prospects of its Inhabitants"; "Religion and Education in America" (1840); "Cook's Land, Australia" (1847); "Phillip's Land" (1847); "Freedom and Independence for Australia" (1852); "The Coming Event" (1876); "Aurora Australis," a series of poems (1826). He was also a ready pamphleteer, and wrote on a variety of subjects. "The career of Dr. Lang," writes Mr. Blair in his admirable "Cyclopaedia," "embraces a period of very great interest to Australians. He saw the foundations of a nation laid, and was an instrument in the work. He was witness of the wonderful progress and prosperity of the colonies, and did not pass away until he had seen the handful of settlers ripen into a community numbering nearly two millions and the continent explored and settled throughout the eastern half. He lived through the viceroyalties of nine Governors of New South Wales, commencing with Sir Thomas Brisbane and ending with Sir Hercules Robinson. He was a man of indomitable energy, of liberal views, of considerable ability, of great public spirit, and utterly careless about pecuniary advantage. He achieved a position among the early colonists of Australia which will not readily be forgotten." Dr. Lang died in Sydney on August 8th, 1878, and was accorded the tribute of a public funeral.