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William Wentworth - "currency lad"

Video clip synopsis – William Wentworth, the colonial born son of a convict, is destined to become a loud, charismatic press baron, publicist, barrister and patriot.
Year of production - 2009
Duration - 3min 38sec
Tags - Australian History, civics and citizenship, colonisation, Constructing Australia, historical representations, pioneers, see all tags


William Wentworth - "currency lad"

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About the Video Clip


William Wentworth – “currency lad” is an excerpt from the documentary Rites of Passage the second episode of the two-part series entitled Rogue Nation, produced in 2009.

Rogue Nation
Historian Michael Cathcart tells the epic story of how the colourful characters of early colonial Australia transformed a penal settlement into a land with rights and opportunity in a mere 40 years. This sweeping two-part dramatised documentary covers formative events in Australia’s history, including the Rum Rebellion and early court cases, which established independence and civil rights for all settlers. Rogue Nation explores how a fledgling colony on the wrong side of the globe was rapidly transformed from a place of punishment to a place of opportunity; a confident and prosperous community. It goes behind the power struggles between wealthy landowners, the educated offspring of convict settlers and the governors who ran the colony.

A Screen Australia production in association with Essential Media & Entertainment.

Images in the clip courtesy of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

Background Information


Lachlan Macquarie (governor 1810-1821) is the governor who “goes native”. He was the man in power who went a large way in inventing the idea of Australia as a country which existed for convicts to have another chance to make good in life, and the convicts’ “native born” Australian children, and subsequent generations.

Meanwhile Earl Bathurst and his Colonial Office not surprisingly decided that this was pure madness. Australia for the convicts and their children? Australia, from their point of view, is a colony of Britain, a place of salutary terror to scare would-be criminals into virtue, and a place (after the war with Napoleon finished in 1815 and a whole army was disbanded and given nothing to live on) to dump surplus population. It’s all getting a bit too lax down there, too free and easy. For goodness sake, ex-cons are being made magistrates! And invited to the Governor’s table for dinner! Had the place gone completely crazy? With Governor Darling (1825-1831) Britain again tries toughness.

Ex-con’s were no longer to be so encouraged – instead it will be new free arrivals with plenty of capital. There would be no more convicts earning money on the side, no more handing out of Tickets-of-leave to prisoners fresh off the boat. Neither would they be any longer given land to farm when their time expired. But after some wrangling, ex-convict legal rights remained – but then again, they had to, they owned over half the wealth of the colony.

Meanwhile, a young William Wentworth was in London, and outraged at being “outed” as a child of a convicted criminal – even if the crime was a rather dashing and romantic one – highwayman. A “currency lad”, part of the first generation of native-born colonials, he took up the cudgels for a lifetime of retaliation. Wentworth invented himself as a patriot for the newly imagined country, “Australia”. The ex-convicts and their children feel this country to be theirs, feel that they belong here and won’t go back in a way the free arrivals, the “Exclusive” class, simply do not. Wentworth will be one of the first to tap into this widespread feeling, and express it in his newspaper, The Australian as he fights his personal and political battles.

Darling, the close-lipped, efficient Governor, and Wentworth, the loud, blustery charismatic press baron, publicist and barrister, are both destined to fight it out in a renewed struggle for control of the future direction of the colony.

Classroom Activities


Students can work in a variety of ways – individually, in small groups, and as a class to investigate, respond to and discuss the questions and points that follow.

  1. Why is it important that the audience knows that William Wentworth is the colonial born son of a convict?
    1. William Charles Wentworth is described as an agitator, campaigning for people’s rights. What is he challenging here? What does he want to change and why?
    2. Find out more about Wentworth’s background. (His mother was a convict, and he discovers later that his father D’arcy Wentworth (1762 – 1827) was charged but not convicted of highway robbery)
    3. How does being the son of a convict impact on his life and that of others like him such as freed convicts who have served their time, and the sons and daughter of convicts. (Wentworth dreams of a colony where a convict and his descendents can aspire to greater things.)
    4. William Wentworth is also well known for another important event in the history of Australia as an explorer when he crossed the Blue Mountains for the first time with William Lawson and Gregory Blaxland in May 1813. Research this event and report your findings. What does it tell us about William Wentworth as a person?
  2. Who is Governor Lachlan Macquarie? Why is William Wentworth is such a huge supporter of Macquarie?
    1. What sort of things did Governor Macquarie achieve in his time as governor? Undertake research to find out more about some of the well known public works undertaken by Governor Macquarie. For example Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney Hospital, St James, Mrs Macquarie’s chair, Macquarie lighthouse, the conservatorium. Images of ome of these are shown on the screen as the narrator is telling the story.
  3. Watch the scene between Governor Macquarie and Commissioner Bigge again closely. What reasons does Macquarie give for encouraging convicts to work on these projects? Why does he believe his work has been worthwhile?
    1. What does Commissioner Bigge think about this? Why does he write a negative report about Macquarie’s good works? What does he want the convicts to be doing?
    2. Macquarie and Bigge argue over a particular case, where Macquarie wants a Mr William Redfern to be elected to the board of magistrates for the colony. What are his reasons for recommending this appointment?
    3. What is Bigge’s reason for denying this appointment? What does Macquarie think about this?
    4. Find out more about what happens after Bigge’s report on the colony is released and a new Governor, Ralph Darling is appointed to the position.
    5. What do you think of Governor Macquarie? Why?
  4. What sources of historical information from the time are evident in this clip? Look at the use of old drawings and paintings. Discuss how they contribute to the telling of the story and the information from the time that is provided through the detail. Freeze frame each image and look carefully at the details. What information does each image show us?

Further Resources


Australian Dictionary of Biography – Wentworth, William Charles

For a painting of Wentworth go to the State Library of New South Wales’ online resource

Australian Dictionary of Biography – Wentworth, D’Arcy

National Museum of Australia, Canberra – Black and white photograph of the tree marked by Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth, 1813

Project Gutenberg Australia – Australian Explorers, Discoverers and Pioneers

Wikipedia – William Wentworth

The State Library of New South Wales – The Macquarie Era

The State Library of New South Wales – A Colonial City