William Bland [The Illustrated Australian Encyclopaedia, 1925]

[Editor: This is an entry from The Illustrated Australian Encyclopaedia (1925).]

Bland, WILLIAM (1789-1868), born in London on 5 November 1789 and educated at Merchant Taylors’ school (his name, however, does not appear in the school register), was trained for the medical profession by his father — himself a specialist in obstetrics — and in January 1809 became a surgeon (5th rate) in the navy. In 1813, while serving in H. M. sloop Hesper on the East Indies stations, he became involved in a quarrel with the purser; on 7 April a duel was fought at Bombay, which resulted in the purser’s death and Bland’s trial at Calcutta for murder. The verdict of ‘guilty’ was accompanied by a strong recommendation to mercy, so that Bland was sentenced only to seven years’ transportation. Reaching Sydney early in 1814, he almost immediately received a free pardon, and began to practise his profession, which brought him into contact with the Wentworths and Redfern; from that time he was a close friend and supporter of W. C. Wentworth both in his personal and in his public campaigns. Among the pleasures of this ‘younger set’ was that of lampooning dignitaries, and occasionally the lampoon had a wider circulation. In 1816 W. C. Wentworth lampooned Colonel Molle (q.v.), and escaped the consequences by going to England; in 1818 Bland, suffering at the time from the unfaithfulness of his wife, lampooned Macquarie and was less lucky — a fine of £50 and 12 months’ imprisonment were his punishment. On emergence from prison in 1819 he steadied down, and devoted himself to philanthropic and public affairs. He took special interest in the benevolent asylum, which had been established by Samuel Leigh (q.v.) and others in 1818; he joined the committee that in 1825 founded the Sydney free grammar school; in 1828 he tried to resuscitate the school, and was its treasurer from 1835 onwards; he was active in resisting Darling’s attempt to revive the censorship of the press; and when in 1835 Wentworth founded the Australian Patriotic Association Bland was its secretary, and helped Wentworth to draft two bills for a ‘representative’ constitution which were submitted to the British government. When the representative constitution of 1842 came into force, Bland was returned along with Wentworth to represent the city of Sydney; he held the seat until 1848, in the ensuing election was defeated by Robert Lowe, but when Lowe resigned in November 1849 regained the seat and held it for another seven months, pressure of professional business then compelling him to leave politics. Under the constitution of 1856 he entered the council as a nominee on 23 March 1858, but vacated his seat on 21 March 1861. He died on 21 July 1868.

It is probable that in the early twenties he visited England, as in 1823 he was passed by the royal college of surgeons as naval assistant surgeon, and in 1826 obtained the rank of naval surgeon; but we have no other evidence for this visit. His work for the Patriotic Association was of great public value. In 1849, while out of the legislature, he republished a series of letters to Charles Buller — written in the name of the association, and signed by Jamison and Wentworth as well as himself — full of valuable information about the constitutional struggle of 1839-41, as well as about the relative values of transportation and free immigration as sources of labour supply. In the same volume (Letters to Charles Buller . . . . by William Bland, Sydney, 1849) are contained an attack on the Wakefield theories and the two draft bills mentioned above. In the same year Wentworth introduced into the legislature a bill to create the university of Sydney, and named Bland — who was at the moment chairman of trustees of the Sydney College — as one of the first senators; Lowe (who had not long before ousted him from the council) raked up against him the conviction of 1813, said that no ex-convict ought to be appointed to the senate, and on that issue secured the failure of the bill. Bland at once told him he was a liar and a scoundrel, and in effect challenged him to a duel (see DUELLING); but Lowe evaded the issue, and when the bill was re-introduced Bland’s name — tactfully but regretfully — was omitted from it. For Bland’s researches into the instruction of dirigible balloons see AVIATION.

Arthur Wilberforce Jose and Herbert James Carter (editors), The Illustrated Australian Encyclopaedia, vol. 1, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1925, pages 170-171

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