William Charles Wentworth (13? August 1790 – 20 March 1872) was an Australian poet, explorer, journalist and politician, and one of the leading figures of early colonial New South Wales. He was the first native-born Australian to achieve a reputation overseas, and a leading advocate for self-government for the Australian colonies.


William Charles Wentworth was born August 1790 sea to D'Arcy Wentworth (1762-1827) and Catherine Crowley (c1772-1800) and died 20 March 1872 Merley House Wimborne Minster, Dorset, England, United Kingdom of unspecified causes. He married Sarah Morton Cox (1805-1880) 26 October 1829 St Philips in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.


Wentworth was born at sea, at least five weeks premature, shortly before arriving at Norfolk Island, a penal settlement in the Tasman Sea, where his parents D'Arcy Wentworth and Catherine Crowley (who were not married) were being transported from Australasia . Strictly speaking D'Arcy Wentworth, a surgeon, was not a convict, since although he was accused of highway robbery he accepted transportation in order to avoid conviction. He was a descendant of the Anglo-Irish Earl of Roscommon.[1] Catherine Crowley was a convict, an Irish teenager who was transported for stealing clothing.

In 1796 young Wentworth arrived in Sydney, then a squalid prison settlement, with his parents. The family lived at Parramatta, where his father became a prosperous landowner. In 1803 he was sent to England, where he was educated at a school in London. He returned to Sydney in 1810, where he was appointed acting Provost-Marshall by Governor Lachlan Macquarie, and given a land grant of 1,750 acres (7 km2)[2] on the Nepean River.

In 1813 Wentworth, along with Gregory Blaxland and William Lawson, led the expedition which found a route across the Blue Mountains west of Sydney and opened up the grazing lands of inland New South Wales. The town of Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains commemorates his role in the expedition. As a reward he was granted another 1,000 acres (4.0 km2)[2]. He then combined farming with sandalwood trading in the South Pacific, where the captain of the ship died at Rarotonga and Wentworth safely brought the ship back to Sydney[2]. He returned to England in 1816. There he was admitted to the bar, travelled in Europe, and studied at Cambridge University.

In 1819 Wentworth published the first book written by an Australian: A Statistical, Historical, and Political Description of the Colony of New South Wales and Its Dependent Settlements in Van Diemen's Land, With a Particular Enumeration of the Advantages Which These Colonies Offer for Emigration and Their Superiority in Many Respects Over Those Possessed by the United States of America[2], in which he advocated an elected assembly for New South Wales, trial by jury and settlement of Australia by free emigrants rather than convicts.

Wentworth successfully completed his legal studies by 1822 and was called to the bar. In 1823 he was admitted to Peterhouse, Cambridge.[3] That year he also published an epic poem Australasia, which contains lines now famous in Australia:[4]

And, O Britannia!... may this — thy last-born infant — then arise,
To glad thy heart, and greet thy parent eyes;
And Australasia float, with flag unfurl’d,
A new Britannia in another world!

Wentworth returned to Sydney in 1824, accompanied by Robert Wardell[5]. D'Arcy Wentworth died in 1827 and William inherited his property, becoming one of the wealthiest men in the colony. He bought land in eastern Sydney and built a mansion, Vaucluse House, from which the modern suburb takes its name. But because his parents had never married, and his mother had been a convict, he could not become a member of Sydney's "respectable" class, known as "the exclusives." Embittered by this rejection, he placed himself at the head of the "emancipist" party, which sought equal rights and status for ex-convicts and their descendants.

A wild but gifted orator and a vitriolic journalist, Wentworth became the colony's leading political figure of the 1820s and '30s, calling for representative government, the abolition of transportation, freedom of the press and trial by jury. He became a bitter enemy of Governor Ralph Darling and the exclusives, led by the wealthy grazier John Macarthur and his friends. Macarthur's opposition to Wentworth was personal as well as political. Macarthur had broken up the relationship between his daughter Elizabeth and Wentworth, as he would not allow his daughter to marry someone with convict parents[6].

Wentworth became Vice-President of the Australian Patriotic Association and founded a newspaper, The Australian, the colony's first privately owned paper, to champion his causes. (This paper has no connection with the current Australian, which was established by Rupert Murdoch in 1964.)

By 1840, however, the political climate in New South Wales had changed. With the abolition of transportation and the establishment of an elected Legislative Council, the dominant issue became the campaign to break the grip of the squatter (pastoral) class over the colony's lands, and on this issue Wentworth sided with his fellow landowners against the democratic party, who wanted to break up the squatters' runs for small farmers. He was elected to the Council in 1843 and soon became the leader of the conservative party, opposed to the liberals led by Charles Cowper. This led to a reconciliation with MacArthur and the exclusives.

In 1853 Wentworth chaired the committee to draft a new constitution for New South Wales, which was to receive full responsible self-government from Britain. His draft provided for a powerful unelected Legislative Council and an elected Legislative Assembly with high property qualifications for voting and membership. He also suggested the establishment of a colonial peerage drawn from the landowning class. This draft aroused the bitter opposition of the democrats and radicals such as Daniel Deniehy, who ridiculed Wentworth's plans for what he called a "bunyip aristocracy."

The draft constitution was substantially changed to make it more democratic, although the Legislative Council remained unelected. With the establishment of responsible government in 1856 Wentworth retired from the Council and settled in England. He refused several offers of honours, and was a member of the Conservative Party in the 1860s. He died in England, but at his request his body was returned to Sydney for burial. His family has remained prominent in Sydney society, and his great-grandson William Wentworth IV was a Liberal member of Parliament 1949-77. He was one of the first people to cross the blue mountains.


In 1829 Wentworth married Sarah Cox (1805 - 1880), with whom he had seven daughters and three sons including:

  • Thomasine Wentworth (1825 - 1913)
  • William Charles Wentworth (1827 - 1859) died without issue
  • Fanny Wentworth (1829 - 1893)
  • FitzWilliam Wentworth (1833 - 1915) father of:
  • Sarah Eleanor Wentworth (1835 - 1857)
  • Eliza Sophia Wentworth (1838 - 1898)
  • Isabella Christina Wentworth (1840 - 1856)
  • Laura Wentworth (1842 - 1887)
  • Edith Wentworth (1845 - 1891) married Rev. Sir Charles Gordon-Cumming Dunbar of Northfield, 9th Bt. in 1872
  • D'Arcy Bland Wentworth (1848 - 1922)

He fathered at least one other child out of wedlock with Jamima Eagar, the estranged wife of Edward Eagar[1].


Offspring of William Charles Wentworth and Sarah Morton Cox (1805-1880)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Thomasine Wentworth (1825-1913)
William Charles Wentworth (1827-1859)
Fanny Catherine Wentworth (1829-1893)
Fitzwilliam Wentworth (1833-1915) 31 July 1833 Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 8 August 1915 Sydney, New South Wales, Australia Mary Jane Hill (1840-1924)
Sarah Eleanor Wentworth (1835-1857)
Eliza Sophia Wentworth (1838-1898)
Isabella Chistiana Wentworth (1840-1856)
Laura Wentworth (1842-1887)
Edith Wentworth (1845-1891)
D'Arcy Bland Wentworth (1848-1922)


The towns of Wentworth and Wentworth Falls, the federal Division of Wentworth, an electorate in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs, the Wentworth Falls waterfall, and Wentworth Avenue which runs through the suburb of Kingston in Canberra, were named after him.

In 1963 he was honoured, together with Blaxland and Lawson, on a postage stamp issued by Australia Post depicting the Blue Mountains crossing, [2] and again in 1974 on the anniversary of the first newspaper publication.[3]


  • A Statistical Account of the British Settlements in Australasia (1819)
  • Journal of an expedition, across the Blue Mountains, 11 May-6 June 1813, 1813
  • Australasia: a poem written for the Chancellor's Medal at the Cambridge commencement, July 1823, London: G. and W.B. Whittaker, 1823


  • Barton, The Poets and Prose Writers of New South Wales (Sydney, 1866)
  • Rusden, History of Australia (London, 1883)


  1. ^ Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 230: Australian Literature, 1788-1914. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by Selina Samuels, University of New South Wales. The Gale Group, 2000. pp. 420-424.
  2. ^ a b c d Michael Persse (1967). "Wentworth, William Charles (1790 - 1872)". Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2. MUP. pp. 582–589. Retrieved 2007-08-14. 
  3. ^ Wentworth, William Charles in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  4. ^ Frank Welsh, Great Southern Land: A New History of Australia, Penguin Books, 2005, p.27 (ISBN 0-140-29132-6)
  5. ^ Percival Serle, ed (1949). "Wentworth, William Charles". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Angus & Robertson. Retrieved 2007-08-14. 
  6. ^ Australian Dictionary of Biography Online, accessed 22 Aug 2009.
  • Carol Liston: Sarah Wentworth - Mistress of Vaucluse: Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales: ISBN 0949753 34 3.
  • Ritchie, John (1997). The Wentworths: Father and Son. The Miegunyah Press at Melbourne University Press. ISBN 0 522 84751 X.
  • Tink, Andrew(2009), William Charles Wentworth: Australia's greatest native son. Allen & Unwin. ISBN 978 1 94175 192 5.

External links

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