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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Wentworth, William Charles

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Wentworth, William Charles, the great Australian patriot, was of Irish extraction, being the son of Darcy Wentworth, a  surgeon from Dublin, who was appointed Imperial Medical Officer at Norfolk Island, where the subject of this notice was born in Oct. 1793. His mother's maiden name was Catherine Parry. When seven years old he was sent to England, and educated under Dr. Alexander Crombie, of Greenwich. After his return to Sydney (where his father became Principal Superintendent of Police) he joined with Messrs. Blaxland and Lawson in an attempt to cross the Blue Mountains, which had hitherto barred the way into the interior. The party started on May 11th, 1813, crossed the Nepean, and after undergoing great hardships returned successful on June 6th. In 1816 Mr. Wentworth revisited England, and went through the usual curriculum at Cambridge University. In 1819 he published his maiden work, "A Statistical, Historical and Political Description of the Colony of New South Wales," which went through three editions prior to 1824. At the annual commencement at Cambridge University in 1823, Wentworth competed against the well-known poet, Winthrop Mackworth Praed, and twenty-five others for the Chancellor's medal for a poem on "Australasia." The palm was awarded to Praed, and Wentworth was placed second; but it is generally considered as a matter of literary judgment that the order should have been reversed. The curious on such matters will find the two poems printed in extenso in Mr. Henniker Heaton's "Australian Dictionary of Dates." Having been called to the Bar in 1822, Mr. Wentworth returned to Sydney, where he was admitted to the colonial Bar in 1824. Besides practising his profession with great success, he went largely into squatting, and in conjunction with his friend, Dr. Wardell, started the Australian newspaper, the plant for which they had brought from England. Having established his repute as a writer and speaker, Mr. Wentworth became the head and front of the Patriotic Association, which was formed to promote the claims of the people of New South Wales to civil and political privileges similar to those enjoyed by other British subjects. In the famous Sudds and Thompson case, in which two soldiers committed theft in order to secure the milder treatment accorded to convicts, and were so severely punished that the former died under the infliction, Wentworth made himself the exponent of popular indignation, and in a pamphlet which he published in 1826, under the title of "The Impeachment," asserted his intention of pursuing Governor Darling to the gallows. A native of the colony, endowed with great gifts of speech and statesmanship, and fearless in his championship of what be believed to be just, Mr. Wentworth became the idol of the reaction against the spirit of military despotism which then pervaded the Government. The boasted palladium of the British constitution was withdrawn after a brief and partial trial in New South Wales, an Act which came into force in March 1829, placing the liberty and property of the Colonists in the hands, not of their fellow-citizens, but of a biassed and narrow class of military jurors. At a public meeting held in Sydney in 1830, to congratulate William IV. on his accession, Mr. Wentworth carried an amendment to the stereotyped form of address drawn up by the loyal promoters, calling for the extension "to the only colony of Britain bereft of the rights of Britons of a full participation of the benefits and privileges of the British Constitution." Though generally magnanimous and much beloved in his private capacity, Mr. Wentworth was not superior to the greed for territorial acquisition, which is the besetting vice of colonising pioneers, and which where it has succeeded not only victimises the natives, but inflicts a grievous wrong on future generations of industrial European immigrants. Public sentiment must therefore approve of Sir George Gipps' action in disallowing the bargain by which Mr. Wentworth had secured the whole of the Middle Island of New Zealand (including what are now the Otago, Southland, Canterbury, Nelson and Marlborough districts), together with some 200,000 acres in the North Island, for a paltry payment of £400 in cash and some small prospective annuities to the infatuated chiefs who were thus willing to fritter away their birthright for a mess of pottage. In the year 1843 the colony obtained a measure of the political rights for which Mr. Wentworth and his coadjutors had so long contended—a new Legislative Council with a partially representative element being constituted. Mr. Wentworth was at once elected for the city of Sydney, along with his friend Dr. Bland, the secretary of the Patriotic Association. As one by one the objects for which he had fought were conceded, Mr. Wentworth's liberalism began to pale, and ultimately to assume a decidedly conservative hue. Even on the great question of the renewal of transportation he did not take the popular view, which was championed with great ability by Mr. Lowe (now Lord Sherbrooke), who at the general election in 1848 was returned for the city of Sydney in the place of Dr. Bland, on whose behalf Mr. Wentworth made an eloquent appeal. Such was the esteem and gratitude with which the latter was still justly regarded, that no attempt was made to assail his seat, and he was returned at the head of the poll; but the defeat of his old and tried friend, Dr. Bland, in which Mr. (now Sir) Henry Parkes assisted, was nevertheless a severe blow to him. Besides being the father of the present political constitution of New South Wales, Mr. Wentworth was the founder of the Sydney University. Taking up the subject in 1849, he succeeded in passing the measure which constituted the University in 1850, and it was opened two years later. One other great service he was still to do his native land. In 1854 he carried the new Constitution Bill through the Council, and was deputed to go to England in conjunction with the Colonial Secretary, Mr. (afterwards Sir) Edward Deas Thomson, to advocate the measure before the Imperial Parliament. Their mission was completely successful, and the new Constitution came into force in 1856. Mr. Wentworth's waning liberalism was well illustrated by the proposal which he put forth in 1853, but subsequently abandoned owing to the popular distaste and ridicule with which it was received, for the establishment of a Colonial House of Lords on the hereditary basis. He was also strongly opposed to the legislation by which the Constitution Act was subsequently liberalised in its electoral arrangements. Despite this, when Mr. Wentworth returned to Sydney in 1861, his splendid public services were recognised by a demonstration in which nothing was wanting that cordiality and enthusiasm could supply. On the invitation of the Cowper Government, he agreed to become President of the reconstituted Upper Chamber, in succession to Sir William Westbrooke Burton, whose secession with the majority of the members as a protest against ministerial coercion is a matter of history. Mr. Wentworth held this position from June 1861 to Oct. 1862, when he once more returned to England, where he resided until his death, which took place at Marleigh House, Wimborne, Dorsetshire, on March 20th, 1872. By his express directions his remains were taken to Sydney and interred at Vaucluse, the New South Wales Parliament voting the great patriot the last tribute of a public funeral in the land of his birth and of his splendid achievements as a publicist. Mr. Wentworth in his lifetime refused knighthood, and the civic honours thus conferred were alone suitable to commemorate his obsequies, being the only species of distinction he had ever sought. Mr. Wentworth was the chairman of the committee which reported in favour of constituting the University of Sydney, the projector of the institution, and the author of the document in which the scheme for its formation was embodied, as well as the prime mover in the legislation which provided for its establishment, and one of the first members of the Senate. The gift of £2000 by his son, Mr. Fitzwilliam Wentworth in 1876, to found two bursaries in his father's honour, was thus felt to have peculiar fitness. Mr. Wentworth was married in Sydney in Oct. 1829 to Sarah, daughter of Francis Cox, who died in 1880.