Home > Poets > Lang, John Dunmore

John Dunmore Lang (1799 – 1878)

John Dunmore Lang was born on 25 August 1799 in Greenock, Renfrew, Scotland, the eldest son of William Lang, a tradesman and farmer, and his wife Mary (née Dunmore). The family moved to Largs, Ayrshire, about 1807, where Lang was educated at the local parish school. He subsequently matriculated at the University of Glasgow, intending a career in the Church of Scotland. After completing an MA in 1820, however, Lang decided to emigrate to the colony of New South Wales. He arrived in Sydney in May 1823, becoming the first Presbyterian minister in the colony.

Once in Sydney, Lang set about raising money to build a church for the Scottish community. He returned to England in 1824, where he gained his Doctor of Divinity degree, and persuaded the government to allow him a stipend for his work in the colony. In 1826 Lang published his first book of poetry, a collection of hymns and other works entitled Aurora Australis: Or, Specimens of Sacred Poetry for the Colonists of Australia.

A champion of education in the colony, and an opponent of convict transportation, Lang was a prolific writer of polemical pamphlets, essays, and newspaper articles, and was frequently embroiled in political controversies. From the mid-1830s, Lang founded and edited a number of newspapers, the Colonist (1835-1840), the Colonial Observer (1841-1844) and the Press (1851), which provided an outlet for his strongly expressed views on improving the moral tone of the colony. In 1840, while on a trip to the United States, Lang published another collection of sacred poetry, an arrangement of psalms in blank verse entitled Specimens of an Improved Metrical Translation of the Psalms of David.

Lang was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Council in 1843, and served for different electorates and various terms until 1869. By 1850, Lang had become a proponent of an Australian republic, joining Henry Parkes and others in the Australian League, which aimed to promote national identity and resist attempts at further convict transportation. Although he remained a well-known and controversial figure, Lang's influence in colonial politics declined from the mid-1850s, and in the early 1870s he was replaced as the head of the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales.

Lang died in Sydney on 8 August 1878. A prolific writer and lecturer, Lang exercised a strong if controversial influence on colonial life and values over his long period in New South Wales. His poetry was chiefly of a devotional character, though his work also included translations from classical Greek, German, and Aboriginal languages. Much of Lang's poetry was written on his regular sea-voyages to England and elsewhere, and his final collection of poems, published in 1873, was entitled Poems: Sacred and Secular: Written Chiefly at Sea, within the Last Half-Century.

Selected Poetry Collections
  • Aurora Australis: Or, Specimens of Sacred Poetry for the Colonists of Australia Sydney G. Eager 1826
  • Specimens of an Improved Metrical Translation of the Psalms of David: Intended for the Use of the Presbyterian Church in Australia and New Zealand, with a preliminary dissertation, and notes, critical and explanatory Philadelphia Adam Waldie 1840
  • Poems: Sacred and Secular: Written Chiefly at Sea, within the Last Half-Century Sydney William Maddock 1873
Suggested Further Reading
  • D. W. A. Baker Days of Wrath: A Life of John Dunmore Lang Melbourne Melbourne University Press 1985
  • Gordon Powell John Dunmore Lang: Australia's Pioneer Republican: His Life and Times, Chiefly in his Own Words Melbourne New Melbourne Press 1999