William Wentworth

From ArticleWorld

William Wentworth was born to convicts either at sea on the way to Australia or at a penal settlement in the Tasman Sea in 1790. From these humble beginnings, he rose to become the first native-born Australian to become an internationally known figure.

An educated man

After serving their time, Wentworth’s parents became prosperous landowners in Sydney and William was sent to school in London. Upon his return to Sydney in 1810, he was given the position of acting Provost-Marshall and given a land grant. Three years later, he was part of an expedition which found a route across the Blue Mountains, which opened up the rich farmlands of inland New South Wales. In return for his part in the venture, he was granted more land. In 1816, he went back to England where he was admitted to the bar, studied at Cambridge University and traveled through Europe.

Wealth and politics

William returned to Sydney in 1824 and when his father died three years later, inherited quite a lot of property and in the process becoming one of the richest men in the colony. His wealth did not buy him a place amongst the elite, however, because of his parents’ background. In reaction to this, he led the ‘emancipist’ party which advocated equality for ex-convicts and their descendants.

Throughout the 1820’s and 30’s, Wentworth became a leading political figure and supported representative government, freedom of the press, trial by jury and the abolition of the transportation of convicts. He founded ‘The Australian’, the first privately-owned newspaper, so that he could have a platform for his causes.

A change of climate

Wentworth’s attitudes changed somewhat in the 1840’s when he found himself siding with those he had once opposed so vehemently. By this time, transportation had been abolished and a Legislative Council established, and the issue dominating the decade was that of the squatter classes’ domination over the colony’s lands and break them up instead for small farmers. Wentworth found himself on the side of the conservatives who wished to maintain the status quo.

His drafting of a new constitution for New South Wales in 1853 included such concepts as the establishment of a colonial peerage and the rights to elect a Legislative Assembly based on property ownership and an unelected Legislative Council.

In 1856, Wentworth retired and settled in England. Although he died in 1872 in England, his body was returned to Sydney for burial at his request.