Patricia Fitzgerald Ratcliff, The Usefulness of John West: Dissent and Difference in the Australian Colonies (Launceston: Albernian Press, 2003), First Edition, signed by the author, octavo 25 x 18 cm, xiv + 575 pages, 33 chapters in four Parts; 36 colour Plates (some full page) in text and many scores of b/w photographs, maps and illustrations. Hard cover, black cloth over boards, gilt decoration on front cover and gilt titling to spine; full colour front and back endpapers reproducing General View of Launceston from the Cataract Hill, c. 1850 by Frederick Strange; dust jacket portrait in its original frame by William Wilson, of Launceston, and unframed as Frontispiece of the Rev. John West by Robert Dowling, c. 1851, one of a pair commissioned to record delegates to the inaugural meeting of the Australasian League in Melbourne in February 1851 (Collection Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery, Hobart). Preface, Prologue, 33 Chapters, Epilogue, Select Bibliography, Notes and References, Notes on Illustrations, Glossary, Biographical Directory with 3 Appendixes, Acknowledgements, Index.
Condition: As new, without defects.
Why “usefulness”? This cryptic description of John West (1808-1873) in the book’s title reflects a central idea in England’s Victorian era and the man’s responses to it in colonial Tasmania and New South Wales. “Usefulness”, writes the author Patricia Ratcliff, was “the cardinal virtue of the Christian of the nineteenth century”. She quotes John Ruskin (1819-1900), a leading art critic and art patron of his time and a prominent social thinker, as saying that being useful (i.e. doing and bringing about good in society) is the most important of all attainable liberties. Churchmen like John West conveyed their practical usefulness through vigorous dissent and arguing for social and political reforms. West’s paramount contribution was his effective leadership of the movement for abolishing the transportation of convicts to Van Diemen’s Land, which he regarded as socially and morally wrong.
The place of John West’s birth in England is not known, but his father, the Rev. William West, gave his son the advantages of a good home and a literary education. John West was admitted to the Independent Ministry in Norfolk in 1829, became a home missionary in Essex, followed by the charge of several chapels in Warwickshire. In 1838 the Colonial Missionary Society sent the Rev. John West to Van Diemen’s Land, accompanied by his wife Narcissa and young family. West soon moved from Hobart Town to Launceston, serving there firstly as a missionary and from 1842 as pastor of the new St John’s Square Chapel. In Launceston John West—urbane, friendly, sincere, affable, honest, fervently eloquent, charitable to the unfortunate, but no cold zealot—quickly became popular. With two others he established in 1842 the Launceston Examiner newspaper (which survives to the present day), and helped to found the town’s public hospital, cemetery, City Mission, Mechanics’ Institute, and the Cornwall Insurance Company. In 1847 West founded the non-denominational Hobart High School to educate boys for the professions, commerce and farming.
Despite attracting large audiences to his speeches which sought abolition of convict transportation, West became convinced that local efforts could not influence the British government. In 1850 his success in arguing for Australia-wide efforts to have transportation abolished led to the formation in 1850 of the Australasian Anti-Transportation League. West was joined by newspaper proprietors including John Fairfax in Sydney and in February 1851 an Abolitionist conference was held in Melbourne. Many Abolitionists argued that convictism was not only a source of crime but also provided unfair competition again free labourers. The Rev. John West toured and lectured widely as a leading Abolitionist, emphasising his view that “Australians are one” and should act together. West’s eminence grew to the point where the League proposed to send him to England to publically argue the case for Abolition. In August 1853 Jubilee festivals in Hobart and Launceston marked a half-century of European settlement with the official end of transportation.
West is sometimes spoken of as a founding father of Australian historical writing. His two-volume The History of Tasmania, published in 1852, was described by the urban and social historian Graeme Davison AO, noted for his interest in the uses of history for public policy, as “the most thrillingly eloquent of early Australian histories”. (Davison is Emeritus Sir John Monash Distinguished Professor in the School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies at Monash University.) The renowned historian Charles Manning Clark AC wrote that the Rev. John West “opened the eyes of his readers to the world of the possible”.
John West’s concerns with the development of representative government in the Australian colonies led to his strong advocacy of constitutional union. In 1854 he contributed influential articles to the Sydney Morning Herald urging Federation of the Australian colonies; these were reprinted in 1867. CD Allin, author of The Early Federation Movement of Australia, 1907, wrote that West’s articles were “the first scientific treatment of the question of Federation from the pen of an Australian”. John Fairfax, West’s fellow Abolitionist, friend and proprietor of the Sydney Morning Herald, invited West to become the newspaper’s Editor. West, an indefatigable contributor to many journals, took up Editorship of the Sydney Morning Herald in November 1854. John West’s lucid newspaper writings and Editorials covered many topics, and he was prescient in anticipating many problems in the Australian colonies. He was almost alone in foreseeing the growth of foreign interests in New Guinea and the Pacific Islands; this foresight may have been assisted by the marriage of his son to the daughter of a South Sea Islands missionary. West found time to continue preaching in Sydney and helped to found Camden College. Throughout his life he had unusual patience with the misinformed and misguided. He died at home in Woollahra, Sydney, in 1873.
Patricia Ratcliff OAM (1928-2010), the present book’s author, was born in Victoria and matriculated to the University of Melbourne. After marriage to Dr Eric Ratcliff in Brisbane in 1964, they settled in Tasmania, where she was a founding member of the Launceston Historical Society and its inaugural Secretary. Patricia Ratcliff became a widely published historian, member of the National Trust and a passionate protector of heritage buildings. After moving to Flinders Island she was prominent in saving and restoring Wybalenna Chapel, now an historic site.
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