William Charles Wentworth was an Australian-born poet, explorer, journalist, jockey and politician who was one of those who campaigned vigorously on behalf of colonial self-government.
There are doubts about his true date of birth but some reports say that he was born on the 13th August 1790 into a family with links to an old aristocratic family of Irish descent, at least on his father’s side. The boy was actually born on a transport ship anchored off Norfolk Island which lies in the Pacific to the east of the Australian mainland. His father had been forced to emigrate to avoid prosecution for highway robbery offences while his mother was a convicted criminal, although the offence was very minor. There was actually some doubt over Williams’ parentage but his father, D’Arcy, accepted the baby as his.
Six years later the family were living prosperously in Sydney but young William was sent to England to be educated in London. That completed, he was back in Australia by the age of 20 and was appointed acting Provost Marshal and given a considerable portion of land close to the Nepean River. Shortly afterwards the first ever horse racing meeting was held in Sydney and Wentworth won a race riding a horse owned by his father.
1813 was the year which probably saw the compilation of his first serious piece of writing. In the company of two other explorers he set off on an expedition across the Blue Mountains in search of new grazing lands. The journal that he wrote was highly descriptive of the country they were crossing, picking out the glories of the mountainous region and the plains beyond. Much of his poetry was of a similar style and here are the opening lines to a piece called A Coast View which captures the essence of lands adjoining the sea perfectly:
He took another trip to England in 1816 where he studied law at Cambridge university and was admitted to the bar in 1822. By now he had a passionate interest in the voluntary emigration of people to Australia as opposed to going the opposite way to the United States of America. He had a book published in 1819 urging the government to allow the new territories to be independent and to admit people of their own free will. Still at Cambridge, having been admitted to Peterhouse college, Wentworth published his epic poem simply called Australasia. Of note are the following stirring lines:
His father died in 1827 and he became a very wealthy and influential man in Sydney. Despite this he was never really accepted amongst the gentry due to his family origins. He sought to rectify such prejudices by becoming a campaigning politician, heading the so-called Emancipist party which championed the rights of all enforced immigrants and their descendants. His speeches and papers over the coming years were legend and his editorship of a newspaper called The Australian gave him an ideal outlet for his views.
William Charles Wentworth returned once more to England in the mid-1850s and died there on the 20th March 1872 at the age of 81. His body, though, was repatriated to Australia.