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FORSTER, WILLIAM 

Witness, 1857 Native Police SC Report

FORSTER, WILLIAM (1818-1882), man of letters and politician, was born on 16 October 1818 at Madras, India, son of Thomas Forster, army surgeon, and his wife Eliza, daughter of Gregory Blaxland [q.v.]. His parents married in Sydney in 1816.

They went to India that year, to Wales in 1822 and Ireland in 1825. In 1829 the family returned to Sydney and settled at Brush Farm, Field of Mars, near Ryde. Forster was educated in India at the regimental school of the 14th Light Dragoons, in Ireland at Rev. J. Crawford's school at Donnybrook, and in New South Wales at W. Cape's [q.v.] school and The King's School where in 1836 he won a prize for poetry.

From his parents' families Forster both absorbed the tradition of pioneering harsh but promising lands and acquired the financial resources to reduce the risks of squatting. He went on one of the first overland expeditions to Port Phillip and from 1839 took up depasturing licences and leases and bought land. By 1840 he had a station near Port Macquarie and other property in the Clarence River district. In 1848 he moved into the New England district and in 1849-54 pioneered the Burnett and Wide Bay regions in the Moreton Bay District where he amassed runs of about 64,000 acres. In 1867, when he had retired from active control of his properties, he still leased about 80,000 acres in Queensland. On 8 April 1846 at Parramatta he had married Eliza Jane, daughter of Colonel Charles William Wall and his wife Ann, nee Atkinson. When Forster quit his active country life in 1854 and returned to Sydney they had two sons and three daughters; three more daughters were born before his wife died at 35 at Brush Farm in 1862.

Appointed a magistrate in 1842, Forster was removed from the lists in 1849 after a shooting incident in which an Aboriginal was wounded by Gregory Blaxland junior. Forster became one of the most successful squatters of the great pastoral expansion in eastern Australia. With his wife's help and some competent associates he overcame great problems of exploration and settlement in inhospitable and, at times, dangerous regions. He adapted himself to the bush. ... He argued that squatters had rights to security of tenure because of their financial and physical risks and intellectual deprivation; that colonial society gained economically by allowing squatters access to land on reasonable terms. But he also acknowledged that they were using land that did not belong to them (Note: i.e., ironically of course, he meant it belonged to the Crown) and that vast tracts were falling into few hands, with the result that increasing population, which strengthened liberal opinion, would condition radical land reform. He also perceived the political disadvantages of the connexions of squatting with rule from Britain ...

Politics was Forster's chief love. By 1855 his squatting had given him the means and his writing the incentive to enter parliament. In 1856 he won the seat of Murray and St Vincent at the first elections under responsible government. He differed from John Robertson [q.v.] in land reform, especially on the detail of extended period of repayment for land selected before survey, and he was sceptical that any land legislation could do more than reduce the disorder associated with great changes in a new phase of colonial development ...

[Source: Bede Nairn, in: Vol. 4  (1851-1890) in  (Pike, Douglas; General Editor) Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press (1974), Pages 199-201]