John Dunmore Lang (1799 – 1878) was a Presbyterian minister, politician, educationalist, immigration organiser, newspaper owner and editor, historian, writer and poet, anthropologist, journalist, founder of the first Australian university (The Australia College) and, “in his wife's words engraved on his statue in Sydney, 'Patriot and Statesman’.”[i]

Lang was born in Scotland, the eldest son of William Lang, a tradesman and farmer, and his wife Mary (née Dunmore). He studied at the University of Glasgow where he won numerous awards and prizes for his work, completing an MA in 1820 and awarded a Doctor of Divinity in 1825.

Initially intending a career in the Church of Scotland, Lang instead chose to follow his brother, George, who had emigrated to the colony of New South Wales. Arriving in Sydney in May 1823, Lang became the first Presbyterian minister in NSW.

Once in Sydney, Lang began what would remain his life’s work – service to people, church and state. He was without doubt a difficult man, given to scathing character assessments of his contemporaries (often through the newspapers he owned and edited) and not known to back down, a trait that would land him before the courts and twice in gaol.

Despite his antagonistic personality and considerable egotism, Lang was admired by a wide group of people from many different walks of life. In 1878 his funeral was “one of the largest that has taken place in the Australian Colonies.”[ii] The funeral procession was over a mile long, led by 500 Chinese and numbering over 3000 participants, “while the spectators that lined the route must have numbered over seventy thousand.[iii] In addition, the overflowing Scots Church, which he had built and ministered in for over 50 years, saw many senior politicians including the Premier and Attorney-General as well as well-known Sydney citizens, family and friends united in honouring his legacy.

Lang was a passionate advocate for education (for men and women), he wrote and lobbied for better treatment of Indigenous peoples (both Aboriginal as well as Maori in Aotearoa New Zealand), he opposed convict transportation and, he was the first public figure to advocate Australian nationalism, federation, full political democracy and republicanism.

Lang wrote widely publishing a number of books and papers on history, theology and political polemic as well as his own poetry. He founded a three newspapers, the Colonist (1835-1840), the Colonial Observer (1841-1844) and the Press (1851) and over his lifetime published in excess of 10 000 pages.

By the end of his political career in 1870, John Dunmore Lang, a man who had tirelessly advocated for the things he believed in and who had openly criticised immorality regardless of the personal consequences had achieved several significant improvements in colonial Australian society. We can look to Lang for his work in assisting the cessation of convict transportation, the separation of Victoria and of Queensland, the introduction of responsible and democratic government, radical land reform, national education and the abolition of state aid to religion.

In addition to his work in politics and the church, Lang also supported and assisted thousands of the poor and homeless through education and immigration as well as being a fierce critic of the treatment of Aboriginal people.

In naming the College in his honour, the founding committee recognised his pioneering work in education, politics and social reform, especially the establishment of his Australia College, the first attempt in Australia to offer tertiary education to both male and female students. Lang’s name can be found all over NSW and Australia including a larger than life statue in Wynyard Park, Sydney. His instrumental work in increasing immigration in Brisbane also led to the naming of Dunmore Terrace, Lang Parade, and Lang Park in the city of Brisbane.

[i] Baker, D. W. A. (1967). "Lang, John Dunmore (1799–1878)"Australian Dictionary of Biography. Melbourne University Press. Accessed 24 June 2020

[ii]  "Public Funeral of the Rev. John Dunmore Lang"Evening News. Sydney: National Library of Australia. 12 August 1878. p. 3. Accessed 24 June 2020

[iii] ibid