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Lang, John Dunmore


Was born at Greenock, Scotland, on 24 or 25 August 1799, the son of William Lang and his wife, Mary Dunmore. Both sides of the family came of farming stock. He was educated at the parish school and entered Glasgow university while still in his thirteenth year. He graduated M.A. in 1820, in the same year was licensed to preach, and five years later received the degree of D.D. His younger brother had emigrated to Australia in 1821, and his report of the conditions stirred the imagination of the young clergyman who decided to start a Presbyterian church in Australia. On 14 October 1822 he sailed for Australia, paying all his own expenses, arrived at Sydney on 23 May 1823, and very soon after gathered together a congregation and obtained the use of a hall from the government. He also set to work to obtain subscriptions to build a church, and the foundation-stone of Scots Church was laid on 1 July 1824. In August Lang voyaged to England and on his arrival interviewed Earl Bathurst, the secretary of state for the colonies who directed that one-third of the estimated cost of the church should be advanced by the treasury and that Lang should be paid a salary of 300 a year. The church was opened on 16 July 1826, and Lang continued to be its minister until his death more than 50 years later. He was a born fighter, and, having been refused a licence to solemnize marriages, put an advertisement in the Sydney Gazette stating that he would solemnize marriages by banns, and challenged anyone to show that such marriages were against the law. The authorities came to their senses and Lang was given his licence.

In 1830 Lang paid his second visit to England. He had endeavoured before he left to found a Presbyterian high school, but was unable to enlist the sympathies of the governor, Sir Ralph Darling (q.v.). In England Lord Goderich, secretary of state for the colonies, not only agreed to authorize an advance of 3500 for the establishment of the college, but also agreed that 1500 of this sum might be used to convey a party of workmen and their families to Sydney. In 1831 Lang returned to Australia with 140 emigrants, chiefly Scotch mechanics and their families. The understanding was that the cost of their passages would be repaid out of their earnings. On the voyage out Lang married his cousin, Wilhelmina Mackie, at the Cape of Good Hope. The experiment of bringing out the mechanics was a great success, but Lang imprudently raised hostility by writing a letter to Lord Goderich suggesting that the land granted to the Church of England authorities was not being put to its proper use, and that it should be sold and the proceeds devoted to the encouragement of emigration. Several people as a consequence refused their assistance in building his college, and he had to make personal sacrifices including the selling of his home to meet his responsibilities. The school was opened in 1832 under the name of the Australian College. Lang was appointed principal without salary, but the school had a chequered existence until it was closed in 1854. Its scheme was too ambitious for the circumstances of the time, and its rigid sectarianism did not help it to attain complete success.

In 1833 Lang again went to England and during the voyage wrote his An Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales, which was published in London in 1834 and subsequently ran into four editions, the last of which appeared in 1875. He returned to Sydney in 1834 and in the following year started a weekly newspaper the Colonist. Lang was nothing if not outspoken and fought more than one libel action with success, acting as his own advocate. In the same year he opposed the appropriation of the land fund for police and gaol establishments, and powerfully contended that the money should be spent on encouraging immigration. In 1836 and 1839 he again visited England and did valuable work in advocating the sending of suitable colonists to Australia. In 1842 he was in conflict with the synod of the Presbyterian Church in Australia, and was deposed from the ministry, a deposition which was confirmed by the presbytery of Irvine in Scotland. Lang again went to Great Britain and had the Church court decisions rescinded, and returned to Sydney fully accredited as an ordained minister of the Church of Scotland. In 1843 he was elected as a representative for Port Phillip in the newly established legislative council. The Port Phillip district was becoming prosperous, and though it contributed much revenue to the government, the public expenditure was in no way in proportion. Lang became a most active representative and in 1844 brought forward a motion for its separation from New South Wales. In spite of his eloquent speech, his only supporters were the other representatives of Port Phillip and Robert Lowe (q.v.). It took much agitation before separation was finally achieved in 1851. He also with Lowe took a prominent part in the education controversy. He had been strongly opposed to Lord Stanley's Irish National System, but better acquaintance with its working made a convert of him, and he moved the adoption of the report of Lowe's select committee, which had recommended it. The motion was carried but the governor, Sir George Gipps, (q.v.) vetoed it. In 1846 Lang again went to Europe hoping to have emigration to Moreton Bay encouraged. He was full of the idea that there were great possibilities in cotton-growing in Queensland in addition to the production of sugar, and lectured extensively on the subject in England. Excellent cotton has since been grown in Australia, but it has never become a great industry. His work drew much attention to colonization, and he also was able to give evidence against the continuance of transportation. He spoke eloquently against it after his return, and during the agitation in 1849 and 1850 was elected to the council by a large majority over his pro-transportation opponent. When the council met, Lang moved for a select committee to inquire into charges made against him in connexion with his bringing emigrants to Australia under the land order system. He had enemies in the council who took the opportunity to pass a resolution condemning his conduct. Lang announced his intention of resigning, but a largely attended public meeting passed resolutions condemning the action of the council in passing its resolution without going into the evidence, and Lang retained his seat. He retaliated by publishing details of the careers of his opponents, and one of them prosecuted him for criminal libel. He was found guilty, sentenced to four months' imprisonment and fined 100. The amount of the fine was collected by public subscriptions of one shilling each, and at the election of 1851 Lang was elected for Sydney at the head of the poll. He resigned soon afterwards, paid his seventh visit to England, and returning to Australia was elected for a Queensland constituency in 1854 and worked for separation from New South Wales. In 1859 he was elected to the assembly at the head of the poll for West Sydney, and held the seat until 1869 when he retired. In December 1872 the jubilee of his ministry at Scots' church was celebrated, and in 1873 he was elected moderator of the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales. In the same year he made his ninth and last voyage to England, to see the fourth edition of his Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales through the press. He died on 8 August 1878 and was survived by his wife, a son and two daughters. He was given a public funeral. There is a statue of him in Wynyard Square, Sydney.

Dr Lang was over six feet in height, burly, but suggesting great energy. He feared no one and by word and deed made many enemies. He was a masterful man and difficult to work with, but underlying everything was an immense enthusiasm and a passion for action. At times he appeared to be narrow and bigoted, especially in his views on the Roman Catholic Church, but even his own church was not spared if he thought it in the wrong. In controversy his strong feelings led to his being sometimes unjust, but in his private life he was kindly and full of a practising benevolence. He was a fine orator with the fault of spending too much time in the opening up of the subject, but once fully launched his speaking was characterized by great power and earnestness, and the quaintness and humour of his illustrations were often found to be irresistible. In politics he was never in office, but his long career was characterized by a consistent struggle for the establishment of better educational facilities, and the general advancement of the people. His greatest achievement was his immigration work, for which he made voyage after voyage and worked and spoke with immense effect. It is true that in his dealings with the English authorities he was not always tactful or even prudent, but his bringing of artisans of good character to Sydney supplied a real need and had a distinct effect on the development of the colony. His fine intellect was fortified with much reading, and he did an immense amount of literary work. His one volume of verse, Aurora Australis, published in 1826 and reprinted with additions in 1873, is largely religious verse not much better or worse than most work of this kind. In his secular poems he occasionally touches the edge of poetry. His most important book was his Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales, which has valuable qualities, marred too often by personal bias. Among his other works are: View of the Origin and Migrations of the Polynesian Nation, (1834, 2nd ed. enlarged 1877), Transportation and Colonization (1837), New Zealand in 1839 (1839), Religion and Education in America (1840), Cooksland in North-Eastern Australia (1847), Phillipsland (1847), Freedom and Independence for the Golden Lands of Australia (1852), 2nd ed. 1857, Queensland Australia (1861), 2nd ed. 1864, The Coming Event: or Freedom and Independence for the Seven United Provinces of Australia (1870).


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