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William Westgarth

(1815—1889) merchant and politician in Australia


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(1815–89), born Edinburgh, Scotland, migrated to Melbourne in 1840. In Melbourne his career as an import merchant prospered and he soon began his prolific publications. In the 1840s he founded the Benevolent Society and was prominent in the Melbourne Mechanics' Institute and the Port Phillip separation movement. By 1849 he had become one of the most respected public men in Victoria, a spokesman for those of broadly liberal sympathies who opposed the conservative Anglican establishment. In 1850 Westgarth represented Melbourne in the NSW Legislative Council and headed the poll for Melbourne in the 1851 election for the new Legislative Council of Victoria. Absent in Britain in 1853–54, he was appointed on his return chairman of the commission of inquiry into the Eureka rebellion. In 1857 he returned to London, where he established a share-broking firm and subsequently played a prominent part in the granting of colonial loans and the general promotion of the Australian colonies. Active in 1862–64 in the campaign against the continuation of transportation to WA, he also helped to found the Colonial Institute in 1869 and was one of the preliminary committee of six which founded the Imperial Federation League. In 1888 he paid a last visit to Australia and on the voyage out wrote his Personal Recollections of Early Melbourne & Victoria (1888), among the most outstanding pioneer reminiscences. Westgarth's other major works on Australia include Australia Felix (1848), Victoria, Late Australia Felix (1853), Australia: Its Rise, Progress and Present Condition (1861), The Colony of Victoria (1864), and Half a Century of Australasian Progress (1889). Described by historians of Victoria as the outstanding sociological thinker of the colony, Westgarth was both an effective, practical man and a perceptive intellectual. His major works on Victoria are primarily informative and unpretentious, but in their questioning of circumstances and events and their discussion of social and political assumptions, they reveal his powers as an original thinker.

From The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literature.


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