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William Charles Wentworth
early 1790 – 20 March 1872



There is great controversy as to the date of William's birth and the name of his mother.

His father was D'Arcy Wentworth, the distant offspring of the aristocratic Wentworth family


He was born in Ireland in 1762, but had left to train as a surgeon in London.

To maintain his lifestyle he apparently became a highwayman but soon found himself in trouble with the law.

After being acquitted four times of highway robbery and to avoid a further prosecution D'Arcy took the position of assistant surgeon to the new colony of New South Wales.

He boarded the Neptune sometime in December 1789.

On board the ship was a seventeen year old girl from Ireland, who was being transported to Sydney following a conviction for stealing some clothing - they became lovers.

The Neptune arrived in Sydney as part of the Second Fleet on 29 June 1790.

D'Arcy and Catherine, now heavily pregnant, departed for Norfolk Island on the Surprize.

While anchored off Norfolk Island Catherine gave birth to a son whom she named William

Early Years

In 1796 young Wentworth arrived in Sydney, then a squalid prison settlement, with D'Arcy and Catherine.

The family lived at Parramatta, where his father became a prosperous landowner.

In 1802 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) on the Nepean River.

On 15 October 1810, at Hyde Park, now in the centre of Sydney, Wentworth rode his father's horse Gig to victory in the first official horse races on Australian soil.

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).

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.


Wentworth went 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,] 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.


Wentworth returned to Sydney in 1824, accompanied by Robert Wardell.

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.

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.

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.

NSW Constitution

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.

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 1949-7


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