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William Charles Wentworth, 1854

Thomas Woolner

cast bronze relief medallion (frame: diameter 22.9 cm)

William Wentworth (1790–1872) was a landowner, barrister and statesman. He was born on the way to Norfolk Island to a convict, Catherine Crowley, and D’Arcy Wentworth, who was travelling as the ship’s doctor. His mother died when he was ten and he was educated in England, where he was acknowledged by his father’s elevated connections. Returning to Sydney in 1810, he gained a government job and a grant of land on the Nepean. In 1813 he crossed the Blue Mountains with William Lawson and Gregory Blaxland, an expedition that not only led to the opening up of huge areas of New South Wales for grazing, but saw Wentworth personally rewarded with further acreage. In England and Europe for eight years, he studied law and wrote a tract promoting emigration to the Australian colonies. He had already written a number of anonymous pieces criticising prominent figures, and on his return to Sydney in 1824, he co-founded the colony’s first independent newspaper, the Australian, which attacked Governor Darling, campaigned for representative government and trial by jury, and championed the emancipists against the exclusives, whom Wentworth characterised as ‘the yellow snakes of the colony’. In the late 1820s he defended himself scintillatingly against libel charges. A huge landowner and popular hero by 1831, he threw a party for 4000 people at his home in Vaucluse at the end of Darling’s term. In the 1830s he prepared several drafts of an amended constitution for the colony, which had long been his dream. A member of the Legislative Council from 1843, between 1848 and 1850 Wentworth moved to set up state primary education, and also to establish the University of Sydney. He chaired the select committee that drafted a constitution for a self-governing New South Wales in 1853. Having made a fundamental contribution to the subsequent shape of Australian democracy, for his last eighteen years he lived mostly in England.

Thomas Woolner RA (1825–1892), English sculptor, studied first with the brothers Henry and William Behnes, painter and sculptor respectively, and later at the Royal Academy. He came to Australia in 1852 to try his luck on the Victorian goldfields, but was appalled by the conditions and soon resumed his sculptural work. Woolner was commended for the likeness of William Wentworth in this portrait medallion, but failed to obtain the commission for the full-length statue of Wentworth that now stands in the Great Hall of the University of Sydney.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of the Simpson family in memory of Caroline Simpson OAM 2008
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program

Accession number: 2008.78

Currently on display: Gallery Three (Robert Oatley Gallery)

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Artist and subject

Thomas Woolner (age 29 in 1854)

William Wentworth (age 64 in 1854)

Donated by

Emily Simpson (6 portraits)

Louise Dobson (6 portraits)

Alice Simpson (6 portraits)

Edward Simpson (6 portraits)

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