Public Art: John Dunmore Lang Statue
Sculptor: © Giovanni Fontana (1821-1893)
Description: A bronze statue of Sydney’s first Presbyterian minister, John Dunmore Lang, perched high above his pedestal. His right hand by his side palm facing out, in his left hand he holds what I assume are his scriptures.
Location: In the middle of Wynyard Park, Sydney, Australia. Although the statue of John Dunmore Lang is placed in the park near the site of his beloved Scots church it has unfortunately been placed with its back to it and instead facing the location of the Bank of New South Wales (now Westpac), an institution he absolutely hated and continually criticised. Reverend Lang would have been none too happy.
History of John Dunmore Lang: John Dunmore Lang (25 August 1799 – 8 August 1878) was a Scottish Presbyterian clergyman, politician, historian and journalist born in Greenock, Scotland.
Lang decided to follow his brother to Australia in 1823, to rid the new colony of the moral degradation he believed existed in New South Wales. He was probably right, given most of them were convicts or of convict background! Lang was not scared to bring his wrath down upon anyone he believed was sinning, including Governors.
The Scottish community welcomed Lang with open arms, as he was the first Presbyterian minister in Sydney. His first task was to build a church which he hoped would be funded by private subscriptions and a grant from the government. Imagine his shock when the then governor Sir Thomas Brisbane refused his grant, especially considering the government had provided grants for the Catholics and Church of England. The stir he created following the rejection didn’t help his cause and he was left to rely on private funds.
It wasn’t long before Lang found himself offside with dissenting Presbyterians who were concerned about his teachings and continual attacks on civil authorities.Lang was successfully sued for libel by James Elder after he described him as a ‘renegade missionary’
In 1826 Lang opened a primary school with John Robertson being one of its first pupils.
In 1830 Lang returned to England to make arrangements for the funding of a Presbyterian secondary school in Sydney. He managed to persuade the Colonial Office to grant him a loan of £3500 for the establishment of a college on condition that an equal sum was subscribed privately. Noting England’s growing poverty Lang he devised a plan to use some of the advancement from the loan to fund transportation of Scottish migrants (mainly tradesmen and their families) to New South Wales. In return the migrants would repay him out of the wages they received during the building of the college.
During this time Lang snuck off to Cape Town to marry his 18-year-old cousin, Wilhelmina Mackie and to avoid the wrath of his mother.
Lang became quite a hero for injecting quality trademen into the colony but he was soon in the bad books for his attack on the Church and School Corporation.
His continual rants about fancy dress balls, Sabbath picnicking, sexual immorality and drinking, won him little friends.
In 1836 Lang returned to Britain for a recruiting drive. He wanted to inject more like minded people into the New South Wales colony to outvote ‘McGarvie and his drunken party’ so they could be ‘done now and for ever’. Lang obtained twelve Presbyterian clergymen, three Lutheran missionaries and ten German lay assistants to unleash on the deluded people in the Australian Colonies. He also persuaded some 4,000 destitute Scottish Highlanders to venture to New South Wales. Needless to say his plan backfired.
Never one to give up Lang sailed for the United States to investigate how its churches managed without government support. He later returned to England in the hope of bringing more god fearing migrants to Australia.
In 1851 Lang was convicted of malicious libel and sentenced to four months gaol and £100 fine.
His hate of banks began after his eldest son, who was the manager of the Ballarat branch of the Bank of New South Wales, was found guilty of embezzlement and sentenced to five years hard labour.Lang refuse to believe his son was guilty and his subsequent rants and letters to newspapers saw him jailed for six months. Despite this, in 1856 Lang petitioned the Victorian Legislative Assembly to investigate his son’s conviction having obtained new evidence. The blame was now placed on a gold-buyer employed by the bank who mysteriously acquired a fortune and hurriedly left Australia before his son was busted. As a result his son was released.
Lang continued to be sued for libel and at one stage was assaulted with a horsewhip by a well known sportsman after he condemned a divorced Scottish man (with three names) for marrying his mistress. The man who assaulted him was named Malcolm Melville Macdonald.
In 1865 when the four Presbyterian groups in the colony finally united, many wanted to exclude Lang but were unable to do so due to his high position. Rev. Dr Archibald Gilchrist was placed in charge of Scots Church but when he resigned in 1877 the ever persistent Lang was ready to take the reigns. The horrified congregation officials responded by locking and boarded up the church to prevent Lang from entering. Lang responded by ordering a policeman and a builder to help him gain access to the pulpit.
After Lang’s death from a stroke, on the 8th August, 1878, his widow rejected a letter of condolence from the congregation as unfitting after their recent treatment of her husband, and she also refused to accept a grant of £3000 from the government because the Legislative Assembly had voted against it while Lang was still alive.
Trivia : A sweet old lady by the name of Mrs. F. Ranken who knew Mrs. Lang, the reverend’s widow, recalled that she didn’t want to unveil her husband’s statue but after much pressure she consented. “I pulled the flag,” she said, “but I didn’t look at the statue. At night it was wet and cold, and I felt as if I wanted to go out and bring it in alongside the fire.”