Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Forster, Anthony (1813–1897)

by N. S. Lynravn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Anthony Forster (1813-1897), by unknown photographer

Anthony Forster (1813-1897), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B53194

Anthony Forster (1813-1897), politician, financier and newspaperman, was born on 15 May 1813 at Monkwearmouth, Durham, England, son of Anthony Forster, shipwright, and his wife Catherine. He started a business at Newcastle upon Tyne but about 1840 became insolvent. George Fife Angas, with whom Forster had been associated in the Northumberland Sunday Schools Society, employed him as his agent and attorney in South Australia to replace Charles Flaxman. Forster arrived at Glenelg in the Siam on 25 April 1841. His main task was to take possession of the Barossa estate for Angas. Forster helped to lay out the town of Angaston and was an efficient manager but was disliked for his pomposity and self-importance. In December 1844 he returned to England in the Symmetry and resigned as Angas's agent.

As agent for the banker Robert Bevan, Forster returned to the colony with his wife Margaret Gibson, née Sims, on 14 May 1846 in the Isabella Watson. He took up sheep farming near Greenock and on Bevan's land laid out the township. A shrewd agent he soon prospered enough to enter business on his own account. In 1850 he became a director of the South Kapunda copper mine. In 1852 Forster went to the Victorian goldfields but returned next year and in May with Edward Andrews, Joseph Fisher, and others bought the South Australian Register. Forster edited the Register and the Adelaide Observer until November 1864. In 1855 he won the West Adelaide seat in the Legislative Council; a serious riot and voting irregularities brought his victory into dispute and he was not admitted as a member until January 1856. In 1858 he was prominent in guiding through the council (Sir) Robert Torrens's Real Property Act. More preacher than debater, Forster held his seat until 1864 when he retired to England for family reasons. At Grasmere, Westmorland, he wrote South Australia: Its Progress and Prosperity (London, 1866); the Register described it as perhaps 'too practical and realistic to rank high in general literature', though particularly able in its chapters on government and the Real Property Act.

Forster, who liked to think of South Australia as a 'land of peace, of plenty, and of good order … of chapels, bibles, and religious enjoyment', was active in the religious affairs of the colony. In 1843-44 he was a member of the Methodist Newborn Chapel in Hobson Place, Adelaide, and in 1848 presided at the opening of the Independent Chapel at Kensington. He was a successful lay preacher and at 80 published privately a book of hymns. In 1844 he conducted a Sunday school for Aboriginal children at Walkerville. He served on committees of the South Australian Missionary Society, the League for the Maintenance of Religious Freedom and the Auxiliary Bible Society. He was also a committee member of the Literary and Scientific Association and the Mechanics' Institute, first treasurer of the South Australian Institute, a founding member of the Adelaide Club, a fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute and of the Royal Geographical Society and a justice of the peace.

After his wife died in England, Forster visited Adelaide and on 1 December 1869 married Eliza, widow of Francis Faulding. His last years were spent at St Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex, where he died on 13 January 1897. Predeceased by his wife and all his children, he left most of his property, sworn at £26,550 to his 'reputed niece'. His name is commemorated by a town on the River Murray and a range north of Alice Springs.

Select Bibliography

  • A. E. Ridley, A Backward Glance (Lond, 1904)
  • Register (Adelaide), 7 Oct 1848, 15 Aug 1866
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 15 Jan 1897, p 6
  • Observer (Adelaide), 23 Jan 1897
  • W. J. Sowden, Our Pioneer Press (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

N. S. Lynravn, 'Forster, Anthony (1813–1897)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/forster-anthony-3552/text5487, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 30 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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