William Forster was an Indian-born, Australian poet and politician who wrote a great deal of cutting satire, mostly aimed at the colonial government. He only eased up on these attacks when he took his seat in parliament, serving there for many years. He was acting Premier during a five-month period between 1859-60.
He was born on the 16th October 1818 in Madras while his father was serving as an Australian army surgeon. Following this tour of duty his parents took him to Wales and Ireland before returning to Sydney in 1829. This, of course, meant that the young William’s education was quite fragmented but he seemed to thrive anyway, winning a prize for poetry at the age of 18 while still at The King’s School.
He learned good values such as hard work and self-sufficiency from his parents and set out on his own acquiring land during the 1840s, amassing thousands of acres by the time he turned his back on country life. Bush life was hard, expanding his empire in often inhospitable and dangerous territories, but he endured, mostly engaged on the grazing of vast herds of cattle. He even found the time to serve as a magistrate for seven years. Living in the bush made him the man he was, overcoming the difficulties of squatting with, often, undue interference from the still ruling British. In 1854 he took his wife and five children back to Sydney where they had three more daughters before his wife tragically died in 1862.
Inspired by the land and the people he came across, he wrote a great deal of poetry and prose, often with a political theme running through his work. His early work, such as the poem The Devil and the Governor, found its way into satirical papers such as the Atlas. This was very well received for its clear message of poking fun at the colonial rulers. He also wrote for the Southern Cross, a notable example, in 1859, being a witty article called The Question of Moreton Bay Separation.
On achieving high political office himself he eased up on his satirical essay writing, but continued to compose poetry. He found more time for this when he took a break from politics between 1876-79, moving to London for at least two of those years. He perhaps neglected his literary talent to some degree, but, even so, he has been described as one of Australia’s finest writers of the 19th century. Examples of his work include a long prose poem called The Wier-Wolf, a tragedy written in 1876, Political Presentments (1878) and Midas in 1882.
Perhaps some readers might be surprised that someone who spent a good deal of his time living in rough, bush environments could come up with such a romantic, dreamy piece of poetry as The Love In Her Eyes Lay Sleeping. Forster did precisely that though and here are the opening lines from that poem:
William Forster died on the 30th October 1882 at the age of 64. Many obituaries were written about him and the Freeman’s Journal perhaps encapsulated the essence of this man of letters and notable politician. Their tribute included the following line: