The Usefulness of John West: Dissent and Difference in the Australian Colonies
by Patricia Fitzgerald Ratcliff.

The book of 575 pages contains full scholarly references, an extensive bibliography, a glossary of terms not in common use today, a full index. To supplement the text, there are reproduced a range of maps, illustrations and images, many of which have not been previously published, including three by John Glover not viewed by the public since 1851.

There is a chapter missing from the story of Australia.

Historical writing has recognised the contributions of convicts and governors, settlers and explorers, Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Scots Presbyterians to the making of Australia, but the influence of the Dissenting middle class has received less attention. Our early settlement as a penal colony was also an essay in Christian imperialism.

Australia has had no Reformation, no Wars of Religion, and the interactions between Church and State have traditionally been those of an influential minority within a secular society. Yet it was the Dissenters who led the opposition to the Establishment of any denomination as the Church of the State, and prevented the dominance of the Church of England in education, who led the establishment of a responsible Press, and in the fight against the continuance of transportation of convicts. It was from this group that emerged the most important Australian national figure before there was a nation, John West.

In a society where Christianity has faded from the main stream in which it was once so formative, it is well for Australians to recognise that many of our founding fathers started from somewhere else, and not merely in the geographic sense. Here the reader will encounter the hopes and aspirations, the pieties and the hypocrisies, the failures and achievements of men and women from another place and another time, as John West moves from the obscurity of a provincial home missionary in England to the leadership of Colonial opinion in Australia.

Religious dissenter, journalist, historian, man of God, John West numbered amongst his associates, John Fairfax and John Hubert Plunket and his contemporaries, J. D. Lang and Henry Parkes. His origins, and his world are of special interest to readers of Australian colonial history with an interest in Van Diemen's Land, New South Wales in the 19th Century, in Convictism, the prehistory of Federation, the rise of the Australian newspaper press (including the work of the first important newspaper cartoonist), education in the Colonies, the Christian denominations in the British Isles and the Australian Colonies, and the battle against church establishment.

The history breaks new ground in its focus on the self-reliant settlement in Northern Van Diemen's Land, and the religious dissenters who promoted the anti-Transportation movement. There are important sidelights on Ireland, South Australia, Victoria, the arts, and the public opinion in the Colony, and many other matters.

For readers with a special interest in Tasmania the book will give a new view of the importance of Launceston in the history of the Nation. We encounter the controversy surrounding the first Mayor of Launceston and the foundation of the Launceston Examiner. We meet the first important press cartoonist in Australia and his position on social and religious dissent. The illustrations include many of the treasures of the Queen Victoria Museum here reproduced for the first time.

Patricia Fitzgerald Ratcliff was born in Dandenong, Victoria in 1928. She has worked in Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Launceston, as a clerk, a legal secretary, a medical secretary, an art gallery assistant and a radio talk-back lady. She was for nine years a Public Member of the Australian Press Council.

She has been active in heritage building conservation throughout Tasmania and is a founder of the Launceston Historical Society and the prestigious Examiner-John West Memorial Lecture, given annually in Launceston under the joint auspices of the Society and the University of Tasmania.

She is the author of The Story of Wybalenna (1975), and in 2000 edited John West's Union of the Colonies: Essays on Federation, written under the pseudonym of John Adams.

see text at start of Chapter 33, and ordering information