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Weston, William Pritchard (1804–1888)

by J. N. D. Harrison

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

William Pritchard Weston (1804-1888), pastoralist, was born in Shoreditch, London, the son of John Weston, surgeon. He was educated at Brighton, spent three years in a merchant's counting house and later entered the wool trade. In 1823 he decided to emigrate and sailed for Australia in the Adrian; the new lieutenant-governor of Van Diemen's Land, Colonel (Sir) George Arthur, was also a passenger. Weston had a letter of recommendation from a friend at the Colonial Office, and his capital was more than £3000. The Adrian reached Hobart Town in May 1824, and although Weston was bound for New South Wales, he decided to remain in Van Diemen's Land, for on the voyage he had met Ann Elphinstone, daughter of Peninsular war veteran, Captain William Clark, whose family had embarked at the Cape. They were married in June 1826 at Cluny, a home Clark built at Bothwell, and the lieutenant-governor lent his carriage to take the clergyman from Hobart for the occasion.

Weston was granted 2000 acres (809 ha) of land which he first considered taking at Great Swan Port and later applied for at Bothwell. There for some time he assisted the settlers, Charles and Horace Rowcroft, and is said to have been the hero of a number of incidents described by Charles Rowcroft in Tales of the Colonies (London, 1845). Disappointed in his application for land at Bothwell, he took his grant instead at Longford, where by 1826 he had also bought 300 acres (121 ha). On 8 May 1828 he was appointed catechist and lecturer to the district, but inadequate facilities and lack of co-operation caused misunderstandings between Weston and the local police magistrate; although Weston was cleared of charges of neglect of duty, he preferred to resign. When accepting his resignation, Arthur affirmed his high regard for Weston's character and in 1835 appointed him to the Commission of the Peace. At Longford in 1831 he built Hythe, a fine Regency-style residence, and began the improvement of his flocks and the preparation of wattle bark for export. Eight children were born at Hythe, the eldest dying in infancy.

Weston was a deeply religious man and did much missionary work among the country people of the midlands. He contributed largely to the building of Christ's Church at Longford where he was a churchwarden. In 1840 he visited England with his family. Soon after his return in 1842, he severed his connexion with the Longford church, disapproving Rev. Robert Davies's introduction of the surplice in the pulpit and the extension of the offertory, which to him were Romish practices. For some years he attended Anglican services at Perth but later left the Church of England and assisted in founding the Congregational Church in Launceston where his friend Rev. John West was minister.

An advocate of individual liberty, he devoted time and money to the establishment of the Anti-Transportation League in Tasmania. He and West were the delegates chosen to represent the colony at the meeting in Melbourne in February 1851 at which the League of Solemn Engagement of the Australian Colonies was adopted, binding the subscribers to reject convict labour arriving after that time and to use their official and legislative power to end transportation. The efforts of the two men contributed largely to the final cessation of transportation.

When responsible government was granted to Tasmania Weston was elected unopposed to the House of Assembly in September 1856 as member for Ringwood. In April 1857, when Thomas Gregson had to resign as premier, Weston was asked to form a ministry. However, rowdy opposition led by Gregson completely demoralized Weston and in May he resigned the premiership in favour of Francis Smith, his attorney-general. Nevertheless the ministry he had chosen remained in office for four years and gave the colony its first stable government since the granting of self-government. In 1857 he became a member of the Legislative Council, and from November 1860 to August 1861 was premier again, after Francis Smith had been raised to the bench. Soon afterwards ill health forced him to retire from politics. His ministry was not marked by any serious issues: the rural municipalities bill and Waste Lands Acts were both aimed at meeting a colonial deficit aggravated by falling population. Much-needed legislation to impose a tax on wool and land and introduce protective tariffs was unthinkable for a House packed with pastoralists and merchants. During the 1860s he moved to Victoria where he had invested in land at Geelong. There his wife died in 1868 and Weston died on 21 February 1888. His eldest son Edward, also a member of the Legislative Council, succeeded to his northern properties, and his second son Maurice inherited Cluny and Mauriceton from his Clark grandfather.

Lieutenant-Governor Sir William Denison , strongly in favour of continuing transportation, referred to Weston as an inveterate agitator; Gregson, radical supporter of the working class, regarded him as a renegade. He was, however, a quiet, determined leader who raised the tone of the new parliament above that of a debating society, and with steady perseverance achieved success in advancing the cause of individual freedom and social reform. A portrait in oils by Robert Dowling was presented to him by the Anti-Transportation League and now hangs in the Launceston gallery.

Select Bibliography

  • P. L. Brown (ed), Clyde Company Papers, vol 1 (Lond, 1941)
  • F. C. Green (ed), A Century of Responsible Government 1856-1956 (Hob, 1956)
  • Examiner (Launceston), 11 Mar 1858, 23 Feb 1888
  • L. L. Robson, ‘Press and politics’ (M.A. thesis, University of Tasmania, 1954)
  • GO 33/78/179, CSO 1, and LSD 1 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

J. N. D. Harrison, 'Weston, William Pritchard (1804–1888)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/weston-william-pritchard-2786/text3969, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 22 September 2017.

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

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