The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Westgarth, William

Westgarth, William, the Australian financier, was the son of John Westgarth, Surveyor-General of Customs in Scotland, and was born in 1815. He emigrated to Melbourne in the early days of what was then the Port Phillip settlement, leaving Leith in a sailing ship in July 1840. In Sept. 1845 he was nominated one of a committee appointed at a great public meeting in Melbourne to frame a petition to the Imperial Parliament protesting against the credit of the Port Phillip district being pledged jointly with that of New South Wales for an immigration loan for the latter colony. Mr. Westgarth took a very prominent part in the movement for obtaining the separation of Port Phillip from New South Wales, and was also one of the leading opponents of the admission of convicts into Australia. In the latter connection he was a party to the "League and Solemn Engagement of the Australasian Colonies" declared by the delegates at the conference held in Melbourne in Jan. 1851, and subscribed a hundred guineas towards the funds of the League. In the same year Mr. Westgarth was elected to represent Melbourne in the then only partially elective Legislative Council which was established after separation from New South Wales had been achieved, and the colony of Victoria constituted. In May 1851 the discovery of gold at Bathurst in New South Wales was made public, and greatly depressed the inhabitants of Melbourne, who feared that population would leave them for the El Dorados of the mother colony. Accordingly a public meeting was convened on June 9th, and it was determined to offer a reward to any person who should disclose to a committee, of which Mr. Westgarth was a member, a gold mine capable of being profitably worked within two hundred miles of the city of Melbourne. The discovery of gold in Victoria very shortly afterwards followed. In April 1852 Mr. Westgarth was one of the speakers at a great meeting held in Melbourne "to protest against the inundation of the Australian colonies with British felonry through the medium of Van Diemen's Land." He was also one of the promoters of the Act passed by the Legislative Council in this session for the prevention of convict immigration into Victoria, and took a prominent part in the agitation which followed on the arrival of a despatch from the Colonial Office two years later declaring the prevention act an invasion of the Queen's prerogative, and instructing the Governor to release any criminals who had been imprisoned under the Act. In 1854, when the trouble arose over the diggers' licences, Mr. Westgarth was nominated at a public meeting to be one of a commission to mediate between the Government and the diggers. He was subsequently chairman of the commission appointed by the Governor to inquire into the goldfields grievances. In the meantime Mr. Westgarth paid several visits to England, and finally left Victoria to settle in London in Feb. 1857. His subsequent career as head of the eminent financial firm of William Westgarth & Co., of Finch Lane, is well known to those interested in the issue and success of the various Australasian loans. Mr. Westgarth revisited Australia in 1888, and died in London on Oct. 28th, 1889. Mr. Westgarth, whilst mainly interested in financial topics affecting the progress of the Australian colonies, was the author of a scheme for promoting the better housing and the improvement of the condition generally of the poorer classes of London. He did not, however, live to see it initiated. Mr. Westgarth was the author of the following works: "A Report on the Position, Capabilities, and Prospects of the Australian Aborigines" (1846); "Victoria, late Australia Felix, or Port Phillip District of New South Wales" (Edinburgh, 1853); "Victoria and the Australian Gold Mines in 1857" (London, 1857); "Personal Recollections of Early Melbourne and Victoria" (Melbourne, 1888); "Half a Century of Australasian Progress: a Personal Retrospect" (London, 1889). He also edited in 1886 a volume of essays on the sanitation of London and the dwellings of the poorer classes.