The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Syme, Ebenezer
Syme, Ebenezer, M.L.A., brother of above, was born at North Berwick, Scotland, in 1826; received his early education at the school of his native parish, of which his father was master; and when about fourteen years of age entered the University of St. Andrews, where he obtained a bursary for excellence in Latin composition, and won the marked approval of his professors for diligence and proficiency in learning. From early youth he had strong theological tendencies, and a corresponding inclination towards the clerical profession in connection with the National church, or with one or other of the Presbyterian churches. But in the course of preparing for the realisation of his purpose he encountered a difficulty which eventually proved insurmountable, and thus occasioned a divergence from the regular clerical course. The difficulty was with the creeds. He could accept neither the full-blown Calvinism of the Westminster Confession, nor the new and more liberal doctrine known as the Evangelical Union or Morrisonian system then coming to the front. In fact, he could not accept any creed, if acceptance meant a pledge of absolute conformity. To him, with his highly idealistic way of looking at things, it seemed to be decidedly easier to forego the advantages of a recognised clerical position, than to surrender his liberty to think for himself, and to speak honestly the thing he thought. He came, therefore, to the conclusion that the best thing for him, in order to be independent of the churches and their restrictive creeds and obligations, was simply to find for himself a sphere of labour in which he could do the work of an evangelist freely, without pledge and without pay. And so, for several years he laboured, an evangelist at large, making tours in various parts both of Scotland and England, and preaching as he had opportunity in the towns and villages through which he passed. In course of time, and possibly as experience of hardships and privations cooled somewhat the ardour of his first enthusiasm, he sought a more domesticated life, settling for a while at Manchester, at Glasgow, Sunderland, and other places, ministering to small congregations whose views were more or less akin to his own. He varied his clerical duties, at this time, by lecturing on popular subjects, and by taking part in public discussions on important questions of the day. He began also to write for magazines and reviews, for the Westminster amongst others. This literary work brought him into notice, and being invited by Mr. John Chapman, proprietor and editor of the Westminster, to assist him in conducting that review, he removed to London, and stepped into the place that had just been vacated by Marian Evans, afterwards better known as George Eliot. At this time he was on friendly terms with Mr. Joseph Cowen and the late Horace Greeley. A new era in his life opened before him when he heard of the gold discoveries in Australia, and of the tremendous rush of population in consequence. Perceiving what a fine field for literary work was to be found there, he resolved at once to occupy it. He sailed for Melbourne in 1N52, and immediately on his arrival joined the ranks of journalism. In conjunction with his brother David, he purchased the Age newspaper, which had been recently started. He had a hard struggle at first, and for several years afterwards, for the Age was far from being in a flourishing condition when it came into his hands; but gradually, under the new and vigorous guidance, it made its way till at length it was recognised throughout the colony as the leader of public opinion. In 1859 he offered himself to the constituency of Avoca as a candidate for a seat in Parliament, and was returned by a large majority. Entertaining advanced Liberal views he, of course, took his place in the Assembly beside Mr. J. M. Grant, Mr. M. Wilson Gray, Dr. Owens, Mr. Richard Heales, and other like-minded reformers; and his name will always be associated with theirs in the history of the Parliamentary struggles which took place during the "fifties," when questions of the most urgent importance for the welfare of the rising colony—such as those relating to the opening of the land for settlement, education, vote by ballot, and so forth—were first introduced into the Parliamentary arena, and which have since, some of them after many and most arduous conflicts, been carried into law, to the immense advantage of the community. After a lingering illness, he died on March 13th, 1860, aged 34 years. His son, Mr. Joseph Cowen Syme, was for a number of years part proprietor and manager of the Age.