John West


John West (AOT, PH30/1/290B)

John West (180973), Independent (Congregational) minister, arrived in Hobart Town in 1838 and moved to Launceston, where in 1839 he formed a second Congregational church. In 1842 West and his associates established the Launceston Examiner to promote their values of voluntaryism and the primacy of the individual conscience. He applied his talents usefully when he helped found a Mechanics' Institute, a General Cemetery and an Immigration Society in Launceston, the London Agency Association to promote colonial interest, and the Hobart Town High School. He opposed Bishop Nixon's efforts to 'establish' the Church of England in the colony, and its dominance in public education.

Morally affronted by the continuation of transportation, West, by the power of his oratory, his editorials in the Examiner and the Hobart Colonial Times, and his definitive History of Tasmania (1852), educated colonists about their history, exposing the fate of the Aboriginal peoples, and the moral evils of a convict system which permitted the exploitation of a captive labour force. He promoted the first intercolonial political association, the Anti-Transportation League, and designed its banner. The abolition of transportation in 1853, John West's 'just cause', gave civic equality to the colony. West's major contribution to the eventual union of the colonies was his seventeen essays discussing Federation, published in 1854 and 1867. On the invitation of its proprietor, West left Launceston in 1854 to become the first official editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.

Further reading: P Ratcliff, The usefulness of John West, Launceston, 2003; ADB 2.

Patricia Ratcliff