Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Henry Langlands (1794–1863)

by R. I. Cashman

This article was published:

Henry Langlands (1794-1863), iron founder and politician, was born in London, a son of John Langlands, baker, of Dundee, and his wife Christian, née Thoms. His parents returned several years after his birth to their native town. He left school at an early age to become apprenticed to a linen-draper, a position which took him at 21 to Glasgow, where he became a traveller and eventually a partner of the business. During a thirty-year residence in this city he married three times: his first wife, Jessie Wilson, bore him one child; his second, Caroline Inches, added another five; the third marriage, to Janet Mitchell, was childless. He was also an active city politician and achieved some prominence as an opponent of slavery and protagonist of Catholic emancipation. Rivalling this interest was his active participation in the kirk, until his views changed and he became a Baptist in 1833.

Langlands, his wife and five surviving children left Scotland in 1846 to join his brother Robert, who with the help of another Scot, Thomas Fulton, had established the first foundry at Port Phillip some four years earlier. By the time he arrived in early January 1847 the partnership had dissolved and the two brothers took over its ownership. Several years later Robert retired and Henry became sole proprietor. From humble beginnings, a handful of men, one crude piece of machinery and a set of tools, the foundry prospered despite the additional hazards of high wages and the lack of raw materials. The products were of such high quality—castings for buildings, ornamental iron-work, wool presses, agricultural implements and mining machinery—that they competed successfully with any imported articles. By the time of his retirement shortly before his death Henry Langlands was one of the largest employers in the colony. His men were the first in the colony to cast a bell, and lamp-posts; they cast the boiler of the first train to run in Australia and they successfully launched the first cast-iron vessel, a river tug 109 feet (33 m) in length, an event which was cheered by some 3000 spectators.

After six years in the colony Langlands stood for the Legislative Council, was narrowly defeated, but returned on a recount, only to be ousted from office some months later when the displaced F. J. Sargood successfully challenged the returns. His main claims to political recognition were that he was one of the twelve who each contributed £100 to the successful anti-transportation campaign and that he identified himself with the variegated anti-ministerial forces who favoured the introduction of some measure of democracy. But the Argus, the champion of democracy, branded him a moderate advocating 'half measures'. When he was returned fifth city representative to the Legislative Assembly of 1856, its contention was proved correct, for Langlands soon identified himself with a group of Nonconformists who were more concerned with the abolition of state aid to religion and with education reform than with democracy. It was this group which joined forces with the right to overthrow the first O'Shanassy ministry, a left-wing coalition.

Langlands died at his home at Jolimont on 21 June 1863 and his funeral took place at the Albert Street Baptist Church where he had been a senior deacon for many years. The business was carried on by his sons one of whom, Henry, had been one of the first pupils at Scotch College and dux for three successive years.

A hard-working but unspectacular politician, his main claim to recognition lies in the foundry and his persistent interest in every phase of colonial life. He chaired public meetings on numerous issues ranging from the Melbourne protest against government action at Eureka to the site of the museum. He was a generous supporter of charitable organizations, religious societies and temperance movements. His brother George, who migrated in 1848, was a pioneer of the Horsham district.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Just, Australia (Dundee, 1859)
  • Garryowen (E. Finn), Chronicles of Early Melbourne, vols 1-2 (Melb, 1888)
  • G. Serle, The Golden Age (Melb, 1963)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 7 June 1853, 23 June 1863
  • R. I. Cashman, Nonconformists in Victoria in the 1850s (M.A. thesis, Monash University, 1962).

Citation details

R. I. Cashman, 'Langlands, Henry (1794–1863)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


London, Middlesex, England


21 June, 1863 (aged ~ 69)
Jolimont, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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