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PUBLICATIONS REVIEWED A GREAT AUSTRALIAN CONSTITUTIONALIST Wenorth's Life And Character
"William Charles Wentworth" By A. C. V. Melbourne. M.A., Ph.D.. Asso- <*> ciate Professor of History. University of Queensland. The John Murtagh
Macrossan Lectures, 1932. Brisbane: Biggs & Co. In eleven ably-written and well arranged chapters Dr. Melbourne sur veys criticaly, but with much, sym pathy, the personal character and p'jb- He achievements of a distinguished Australian constitutionalist in the early days. His genius and important ser vices to the State entitle Wentworth to be described at least as "a great man"; prdbaibly (the author adds) the greatest this country has produced. Dr. Melbourne shows his career to have been influenced in an extraordinary degree by his personal experiences as a citizen of New South Wales. Accord ing to modern liberal ideas, Went worth's political outlook was narrow. He was not a believer in democracy; he hated the very word. His fight was for a Constitution whose franchises were based on property. He did more than any other Australian to initiate in these new lands representative and responsible government; but the prin ciples of this system he interpreted in the half-light of the Whig aristocratic philosophy. A Conservative Reformer Despite charges of inconsistency brought against V""i when lie opposed democratic extensions of the suffrage. Dr. Melbourne maime it clear that, fundamentally, Wentworth's attitude never changed What Parliament should represent, he held, were the great material interests of the coun try. He desired the creation of a rul ing class; he believed in government by an enlightened aristocracy founded not so much on money as on land. Unde terred by Pliny's statement "Latalundia perdidtere Italiam"—if. indeed, he knew ol it—is -wished to encourage the for mation of large estates and the con ferment of dominant political power upon their owners. Responsible govern ment was, for him, complete self government in domestic affairs. The oversea British authority should have no power of vetoing or at least delay ing legislation by the reservation of Bills, or of disallowance after they had come into operation, provided that tie measures did not directly affect im perial interests. Wentwcrth claimed for Australians the same rights as were enjoyed by Englishmen in their own country—trial by jury, judges' independence of the Executive, taxa tion by representation and self-gov ernment within the limits recognised by the British Constitution. But, as O. W. Rustien wrote, "he had no sympathy with those who sought in unlimited suffrage the means of over bearing by tihe faeces civitaiis the cemmonsense and prudence of the industrious orders who maintained it." While Wentworth was a stout and uncompromising reformer of institu tions which kept Australia in leading strings, he was never, as he himseL declared, a Radical. Running parallel with his political ideas, his personal ambition—to a large extent gratified —was to become a great landowner and a leading legislator. Whatever his sbXTC-ccsiings as a, political t&inker, they do not, in Dr. Melbourne's view, vitiate his claim to be regarded as a sincere and honest patriot, nor do. they negative, though they may limit.' Hie value of fi actual contributions to the science of government. Disreputable Ancestry Wentworth's personal record was spotless. He was, however, handi capped by an ancestral record fry no means so satisfactory. Until he wa 27 years of age he was unaware of the reason wihy his father had been rigorously excluded from the inner circles of Sydney society. Dare.. Wentworth was not a convict, but per haps he ought to have been. He nac come to Sydney in 17S0 as Assistant Surgeon on the convict ship Neptun- Three yeare previously lie had had to face two charges of highway robbery. He was acquitted, but two years as. hardly elapsed when he was accused of a similar offence in circumstances *"wnicb. left a very strong presumption of guilt." Influential friends inter vened on his behalf successfully. ,and hurried him out of the country. *' Darcy pTnaggvi a fortune in New South Wales and held important official posts, but socially was boycotted. It was while Darcy was acting as Assistant Surgeon on Norfolk Island that William Charles was born in 1792. His mo:her is believed to have been a Catherine Williams, who had been a convict on the Neptune, where Darcy first became acquainted with her. It was not until circumstances made the political aims of the "exclusives" and his own practi cally identical that William Charles ?worked with them in Sydney. In 1853, when he endeavored to establish, in the colony an order of nobility on the basis of landed wealth and public service, Wentworth was taunted by opponents with the dubious circumstances of his origin: To his "dirty revilers" he gave the reply—"lf it be true that there is any blot on my escutcheon (if I had one) which has not been of my handi work, what blame on that account can attach to me?" His last nine years he spent in England. He had been re commended by the Governor and Ministers of New South Wales for a baronetcy as "the colonist most dis-^n guished by genius and services." That honor did not come to him, but after; his death in 1872 his body was sent back to Australia; his remains were accorded a public funeral; and by public sub scription a statue to his memory was erected at the University of Sydney.