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Abbott, William Edward (Wingen) (1844–1924)

by Tingaroo

William Abbott, n.d.

William Abbott, n.d.

from Pastoral Review, 16 December 1924

At Wingen, N.S.W., on the 14th ultimo there passed away a man who had been a giant in intellect as in stature, a great Australian, a great Britisher, a great citizen. Such was William Edward Abbott, widely known as "Wingen Abbott," a man who with no spoon feeding or great opportunity in his younger days, was, ere he died, able to make his powerful mental forces appreciated and respected by his fellow men.

Leaving school at about 14 years of age he, whilst a boy, took over the responsibility of running the small property which formed the whole of his mother's assets at that time, she having been left a widow by the early and untimely death of her husband, John Kingsmill Abbott. From then until her death at Wingen in 1902 he strove by mental and physical effort in her interest alone to "make good" and succeeded in building up a holding which, known as Glengarry, attained a high reputation as a sheep property.

Possessed of a highly scientific mind, he read deeply on many and various subjects, and acquired for himself an education both wide and sound. Indeed many a graduate of a University might envy W. E. Abbott his learning. This is all the more remarkable when the disadvantages under which he laboured are considered. His early history is a story of grim struggle with debt and misfortune, but his steadfast courage and determination, together with his clear financial insight, pulled him through. He was deeply philosophical, a clear logical thinker and writer on various subjects. Many of his papers, read before the Royal Society, were, and are still, regarded as of the highest value. In 1884 one of his papers was awarded the society's bronze medal. As a youth he wrote a certain amount of verse, a small volume of which he published for circulation only amongst his friends. He had at one time hoped to follow a literary career, but stern necessity found him another job closer to hand, so with that unshrinking command of self which marked his whole life he put aside his own ambitions, and set himself to conquer the difficulties which confronted him.

He was physically, as well as mentally, a big man. As a young man he was an athlete of the kind that to-day would be an acquisition to one of the great public schools. Six ft. five inches in height, he was able to jump a bar that he could just about rest his nose on, and could put the shot further than most men.

In the muster on the wild unfenced ranges of the Upper Hunter no Monaro hero of "Banjo" Patterson's could outride or wheel the wild horses better than he. On the flat he could lean and pick his penknife from the ground at a gallop. He learned in a hard school when times were hard and men were tough, and excitement and pleasure were found in daring adventure rather than in the lighter amusements of to-day.

The pastoralists of Australia owe him more than many realise. Mr. T. Heney, in an excellent sketch of the man in the columns of the Daily Telegraph, has fittingly recalled the great part he played in the anxious days of the early nineties, when he stood fast at a time when other men were inclined to compromise with the forces of lawlessness and terror. He resolutely refused to bow the knee to the Baal of expediency. The Government of that day is given credit for its firm handling of a most dangerous and ugly situation, but it is not generally known that W. E. Abbott had warned the then Attorney-General in no unmistakable manner that if the safety of property and person were not protected there were men who would uphold the law, even if to do so meant the loss of life. He made it clear to the State that it had a duty to perform, and that if it failed there were others who would not do so. Yet, such was his nature, out of these stormy years he carried always with him an affectionate respect and admiration for many of his opponents, such as William Guthrie Spence, Alfred Edden, John Estell, and other leaders of the Labour Party. He always strove to understand the other fellow's point of view, and weighed it carefully, never fearing to concede such part as he saw to be right.

As a pastoralist he had a sound knowledge of both country and stock, and his work in making Murrulla Station into a highly improved and paying proposition will long be remembered in his own district as a fine example of wisdom and forethought and practical knowledge.

He was a man of the simplest tastes and requirements, one who wanted little for himself, whose every act was guided rather by some principle of right or by a desire to benefit others. No one held wealth, pomp, and circumstance in greater contempt or shrunk from the limelight more than he.

He loved the British Empire, Australia, his State and his district. He believed in the great destiny of Australia. He was for almost a lifetime a "New Stater," because he said, after having heard Dr. Lang many years ago, that he had come to the conclusion that the north he loved could never develop properly till it stood on its own legs. He never wavered in this belief, and was an ardent supporter of the present movement.

And now "Wingen Abbott" has passed on. His body rests on the summit of a large conical hill beside the mother for whom he lived and the sister who shared much of his life's struggles. His tomb overlooks his old home, the original holding of the Abbott family, acquired about 90 years ago. He fought without compromise for the truth as he saw it, and he has graven his name deep on the tablets of Australian history.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Tingaroo, 'Abbott, William Edward (Wingen) (1844–1924)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/abbott-william-edward-wingen-6/text6, accessed 19 August 2018.

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