William Forster (Australian politician)

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William Forster
4th Premier of New South Wales
In office
27 October 1859 – 9 March 1860
Governor Sir William Denison
Preceded by Charles Cowper
Succeeded by John Robertson
Personal details
Born (1818-10-16)16 October 1818
Madras, India
Died 30 October 1882(1882-10-30) (aged 64)
Edgecliff, Sydney, New South Wales
Spouse(s) Eliza Jane Wall (m. 1846)

William Forster (16 October 1818 – 30 October 1882) was an Australian politician, Premier of New South Wales from 27 October 1859 to 9 March 1860 and poet.

Forster was described in his youth as a "sallow, thin, saturnine young gentleman". He was not a great orator but was a debater of ability, though his habit of indulging in bitter personalities detracted from the effectiveness of his speeches. James Martin once described him as "disagreeable in opposition, insufferable as a supporter, and fatal as a colleague" but, however true that may have been, it was only one side of his character. A cultured and honest man, thoroughly aware and disdainful of the tricks and shifts of party government, he tried to hold an independent course and do what was best for his country. This was appreciated by the constituencies that elected him to all but one of the parliaments of his lifetime.[1]


Forster was born in Madras, India, the son of Thomas Forster, army surgeon, and his wife Eliza Blaxland, daughter of Gregory Blaxland. His parents married in Sydney and travelled to India in 1817, Wales in 1822, Ireland in 1825 and settled down in 1829 in Brush Farm,[2] Eastwood, built by Blaxland in about 1820, and the birthplace of the Australian wine industry.[3] He continued his education in Australia at W. T. Cape's school and The King's School.

Forster became a squatter near Port Macquarie and the Clarence River, in New England, on Gin Gin on the Wide Bay and Burnett River (near Hervey Bay). In 1867 he still controlled over 30,000 hectares in Queensland. In 1846 he married Eliza Wall and he settled with her on Brush Farm in 1854. They had two sons and six daughters, including World War I surgeon Laura Forster, before Eliza died in 1862. He was appointed a magistrate in 1842, but was sacked in 1849, when an aboriginal was shot by one of his Blaxland relations.[2]

Forster was "probably the most erudite and literate of the squatters" and from 1844 onwards he contributed significantly to Robert Lowe's the Atlas, including The Devil and the Governor, a poem attacking Governor Gipps, described as one of the best Australian satirical poems written in the 19th century.[2] He also contributed to Henry Parkes' The Empire and other papers.[1]

Parliamentary career[edit]

When responsible government was granted, Forster was elected to the first Legislative Assembly in 1856 as member for United Counties of Murray and St Vincent. From 1859 to 1860 he represented Queanbeyan.[4] and, though conservative in tendencies, he opposed the nominee upper house and advocated railway construction on a large scale. He did not believe in party government and endeavoured to maintain an independent position but, when the Cowper government was defeated in 1859, he became leader of a ministry which lasted for only a little more than four months.[1]

Forster won a by-election for East Sydney in May 1861 and in October 1863 was again asked to form a ministry. He was unable to do so but became Colonial Secretary in (Sir) James Martin's ministry until February 1865. From 1864 to 1869, Forster was member for Hastings. Though he had been a bitter opponent of John Robertson he was given a seat in Robertson's first cabinet as Secretary for Lands in October 1868 but retained his portfolio for only three months after Charles Cowper became Premier in January 1870. He was member for Queanbeyan from 1869 to 1872, Illawarra from 1872 to 1874 and Murrumbidgee from 1875 to 1876.[4]

In February 1875, Forster became Colonial Treasurer in Robertson's third ministry and a year later was appointed Agent-General for New South Wales in London. After the third Parkes ministry was formed in December 1878, Forster was recalled because of his dispute with Thomas Woolner over his commission for a statue of James Cook for Hyde Park, Sydney, the offence he gave to London society by wearing bushman's clothes and speaking against the federation of Australia.[2] He returned to New South Wales, was elected for Gundagai, and was offered and declined the position of Leader of the Opposition.[1]

Forster in his younger days was a clever journalist but he did not publish anything in book form until towards the end of his life. His one work in prose, Political Presentments, which appeared in London in 1878, includes able discourses on the working of parliament, the development of democracy in Europe, and the political situation of the time. His volumes in verse were The Weirwolf: a Tragedy (1876), The Brothers: a Drama (1877), Midas (1884), works of a vigorous and poetic mind, which in spite of their length can still be read with interest.[1]

In 1873 he married Maud Julia Edwards and they had three sons and two daughters. He died in Edgecliff.[4]

The town of Forster, New South Wales was named after him.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Serle, Percival. "Forster, William (1818–1882)". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Project Gutenberg Australia. Retrieved 10 March 2007. 
  2. ^ a b c d Nairn, Bede. "Forster, William (1818–1882)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 10 March 2007. 
  3. ^ "Brush Farm House, 19 Lawson Street, Eastwood". City of Ryde. Retrieved 10 March 2007. 
  4. ^ a b c "Mr William Forster (1818–1882)". Members of Parliament. Parliament of New South Wales. Retrieved 10 March 2007. 
  5. ^ Reed, A.W. (1969) Place-Names of New South Wales: Their Origins and Meanings, p. 59. Sydney: A.H & A.W. Reed

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Charles Cowper
Premier of New South Wales
Succeeded by
John Robertson
Parliament of New South Wales
Preceded by
New seat
Member for United Counties of Murray and St Vincent
Succeeded by
Preceded by
New seat
Member for Queanbeyan
Succeeded by
William Redman
Preceded by
Henry Parkes
Member for East Sydney
Served alongside: Caldwell, Cowper, Stewart
Succeeded by
James Neale
Preceded by
Henry Flett
Member for Hastings
Succeeded by
Horace Dean
Preceded by
Leopold De Salis
Member for Queanbeyan
Succeeded by
Leopold W. De Salis
Preceded by
James Osborne
Member for Illawarra
Succeeded by
Samuel Gray
Preceded by
William Macleay
Member for Murrumbidgee
Succeeded by
Joseph Leary
Preceded by
New seat
Member for Gundagai
Succeeded by
Bruce Smith