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Lang, Gideon Scott (1819–1880)

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Gideon Scott Lang (1819-1880), pastoralist, was born on 25 January 1819 at Selkirk, Scotland, a son of Andrew Lang, a factory owner and writer to the signet. He left school at 16 and for the next five years worked in turn on a farm, in a counting house and in a bank. In 1839 his brothers, Thomas, a doctor, and William (1823-1877), trained as a farmer, migrated to Melbourne and took up land on the Saltwater River near Melbourne; in 1841 Gideon Scott Lang joined them. Finding shepherding monotonous he offered to build a toll-bridge over the Yarra, but a similar offer by other investors was accepted. Next he established a fishing venture but soon abandoned it for lack of reliable managers and because, he said, rivals encouraged unrest among his men and burned his nets and boats. He then rejoined his brothers and with them squatted on Heatherlea and later Narmbool in virgin country near Buninyong. Lang discussed the squatting problem in a treatise Land and Labour in Australia … (Melbourne, 1845) in which he proposed that a squatter should be allowed eight years of free occupation of as much land as his stock needed; at the end of that term his run should be surveyed and he should be allowed to buy enough land to carry his stock, including all land within three miles (4.8 km) of permanent water, the price to be proportionate to the stock the land would carry and paid in fifteen annual instalments. Money paid by settlers was to be used to assist migration, chiefly of potential station hands.

At Narmbool the Langs succeeded in finding a peaceful solution to the problem presented by a large group of Aboriginals congregated on their run by making an agreement to feed some of them if no attacks were made on their stock. As a result of this and later experiences he wrote The Aborigines of Australia (Melbourne, 1865) advising stern but consistent treatment of the natives, who should be given food by those who settled on their land. Lang's knowledge of their ways had been deepened by long overland journeys, always accompanied by Aboriginals, in search of good country: in 1845, for example, across the desert south-east of Lake Alexandrina; in 1846 from Bathurst, New South Wales, to Portland, Victoria.

In 1848 the Langs bought Mungadal in the Riverina and soon afterwards Pevensey. They bought other runs in this area, including Wanganella North, and eventually held a 30-mile (48 km) frontage on the Murrumbidgee. For some years the later town of Hay was known as Lang's Crossing Place. In 1849 Lang edited The Australian Merino by Thomas Shaw. He was exploring in southern Queensland in 1850 but when the gold rushes made it difficult to retain enough stockmen the Langs overlanded their cattle from Queensland to their Riverina runs and G. S. Lang went to the diggings as a correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald. Early in 1851 on the Darling Downs Lang had obtained information from Aboriginals about the death of Ludwig Leichhardt and his party. Lang was eager to make a search and the Legislative Council voted £2000 for it, but because of drought the expedition was not sent. In 1856 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Liverpool Plains and Gwydir; when parliament was dissolved in December 1857 Lang did not seek re-election but took his family to Europe where he remained until 1862. While touring in 1859 he went to Como, where he had a conversation with Garibaldi, about whom he wrote admiringly in letters to The Times, 20 June 1859 and 1 June 1860. According to the Sydney Mail, July 1880, these letters 'attracted considerable attention, and his representations to the English Government led to its insisting on the Austrian Government treating Garibaldians as belligerents'.

In April 1863 the Riverine Association was formed, with Lang as president and George Peppin as vice-president, to protect the interests of Riverina landholders; the association advocated separation from New South Wales. In this period Lang bought land on the Darling River and a station near Wangaratta, Victoria. In 1866 he became first chairman of directors of the Commercial Bank in Melbourne and stood for the Victorian parliament without success. In 1879 he managed the agriculture and stock department of the International Exhibition in Sydney; he died on 13 July 1880. In July 1854 he had married Elizabeth Jane, eldest daughter of William Cape. She died in April 1871, aged 39; they had three sons and a daughter.

Lang was an adventurous and enterprising pioneer always alert to the possibility of fresh avenues of profit in a new and expanding community. Versatile, assertive and cultivated, he was of a type not uncommon among men of means who settled on the Australian pastoral frontiers in the middle part of the century.

Select Bibliography

  • R. B. Ronald, The Riverina, People and Properties (Melb, 1960)
  • M. L. Kiddle, Men of Yesterday (Melb, 1961)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Jan 1857
  • Select Committee on the Riverine Districts, Report, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1862-63 (42)
  • D. E. Wilkie and F. Mueller, ‘Report on White Men's Graves in the Interior’, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia: South Australian Branch, vol 16, 1914-15, pp 131-42
  • N. F. Sizer, ‘Gideon Scott Lang’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 47, part 3, 1961, pp 174-87.

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Citation details

'Lang, Gideon Scott (1819–1880)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lang-gideon-scott-2325/text3025, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 31 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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