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Langlands, John (1837–1915)

After a career extending over 78 years, 66 of which were spent in Horsham, Mr. John Langlands, J.P., passed away at 3.30 yesterday morning at "Bon Accord," Queenscliff, where for several weeks past he had been residing with his wife. His death was not unexpected, but so closely had his life been connected with the history of the town and district that the news, which was made known at an early hour, was received with respectful regret by every person who heard it, and the condolences of a large number of people who had come to regard the departed citizen as a link between the old and the new, soon found their way to the members of the family who happened to be in the town. Draped windows and flags flying half-mast bore testimony to the public respect. For some time the deceased gentleman’s health had not been satisfactory, but it was not until within the past two or three weeks that signs of the final break-down became manifest. About a month ago a telegram which suggested failing conditions was received by Mr. Alf Langlands, and he hurried down to see his father, but so satfisfactorily did he rally, that all danger seemed to be past. A few days ago, however, he began to sink, and kept to his bed. His sons and some of his daughters left for Queenscliff and remained with him to the end which came peacefully, as stated. For some hours previously, the deceased had been unconscious, and was unable to recognise his relatives. The cause of death was a general break-up of the system.

The late Mr. Langlands was born at St. Andrew's, Scotland, on March 9, in 1837, and throughout his long sojourn in Australia he remained typically Scottish in his sentiments. With his father and mother, a brother and three sisters he landed in Melbourne. His father, Mr. George Langlands, had a brother in that then infant town where he conducted a foundry. The newcomers remained in Melbourne for some time, it being the intention of the head of the family to spy out a suitable place in which to start a store, he having been a storekeeper in Scotland. It was his intention at first to make for the Avon River but the advice of his brother and Mr J. M. Darlot determined his future career. He was advised to make for Horsham, to settle on the Wimmera. The family set out in a two-wheeled bullock wagon for the place which was to be their future home. They made first for Mount Macedon, then to Carlsruhe. At the latter place they had great difficulty in procuring water, having to scoop a thick, muddy fluid from the ruts and wheel tracks on the beaten roads. They had to stay a week at Carlsruhe, where, owing to the attractions which the two local hotels afforded for the drivers, the bullocks were lost. After a fresh start had been made it was discovered that the course was too much to the right. Veering to the left, and pushing on through the virgin-roads, they arrived at the site of the present town of Kyneton. Later they reached Castlemaine, then known as Campbell's creek. Further journeying brought them to the Loddon River, just then in the fullness of its flow, and the sight it presented was refreshing to the tired travellers. Here, again, the course had to be altered to a more westerly direction, the task of keeping the objective before them being rendered difficult by the absence of roads and fences. At Carisbrook great trouble was experienced in the effort to procure meat. The squatters would not sell sheep to travellers. Crossing the Pyrenees near Avoca and Crowlands, the travellers were rejoiced to find themselves on a plain beside another stream, which ran between richly carpeted banks. This was the Wimmera River. From Elmhurst the river was followed for the remainder of the journey. The trip was full, of incidents. Though few people were encountered, there were many pleasant little diversions to say nothing of trials and hardships. At Glenorchy, where the Four Posts hotel was kept by a Scotsman named Gleeson, from Dundee. A stay of four days was made. Once fairly going again there was no serious interruption. Longerenong station, then owned by Taylor and McPherson, was the next point of interest sighted. Mr. Langlands remembered that the homestead was surrounded by a lovely garden. An enjoyable rest was made, but no sooner had the "road" been retaken than rain descended and continued until Dooen hill was topped. From that point onward the ground was so sticky and thoroughly drenched that the waggon continually sank in the mud, and it took two days to complete the remaining section.

Horsham was reached on the night of Sunday, June 30, 1849 and the pilgrims met Mr. Alex. Smith, of North Brighton, and his two sons, Charles (six years), and James. The only white people in Horsham were two policemen. Their station was on the land where the old butter factory stood. The family lived in the bullock waggon until October, pending the building of a house, and as the season was a very wet one the discomforts experienced by these transplanted members of an antipodean stock were by no means triffling. The whole of the rising ground from Wilson-street to Baillie-street was at that time thick with wattle blossom, and presented a blaze of botanic glory such as had never been seen before by the new comers. The Langlands boys, particularly John, used to play and hunt with the black children, and learned to speak their language. The blacks gave them no trouble if properly treated. Mrs. Langlands used to give clothes to the black women, but before they had been away very long their menfolk would appear proudly showing the apparel around their own waists. The first house in which the Langlands family lived was a log place in Wilson-street, where Messrs Young Bros' garage now stands. This did combined service as a store, post office, and residence. The second was a large brick store, with detached dwelling house, the materials for which had to be carted from Ballarat. The third was on the corner of Wilson and Darlot streets, where it stands today. Still another move, which marked the advancing times was the separation of store and dwelling. "Wotonga " was built in Darlot-street, and the store, now shed of its semi-official character as a post office, was erected in Wilson street, where the business is carried on today. On February 1866, Mr. Langlands, junior, as he was then, married Miss Ford, a daughter of a farmer who resided about midway between Horsham and Dooen, and this lady shared with him for many years the trials of pioneering and the cares attendant upon the rearing of a large family. Sometime after her death on February 27, 1889, Mr. Langlands married her sister, Mrs. Ede, who survives him, and by whom he had one daughter. In every movement for the advancement of the town and district the deceased was to the fore, a close friend and associate with him in local affairs being Mr Dougherty, another of the sturdy pioneers of the Wimmera. With Mr Dougherty he was instrumental in having many improvements effected, together they had a great deal to do with lobbying the Government to build the present substantial post office in Firebrace street. In those times frequent journeys had to be made to Ballarat and Melbourne by road, and it fell to the lot of Mr Langlands to travel by this slow process on several occasions. It was while the late Mr J. M. Darlot, of Brighton Station, was in Melbourne having some repairs effected to his machinery at Langlands foundry in Flinders street, next to the Sir Charles Hotham Hotel, that he met Mr George Langlands, and advised him to come to Horsham. Squatters then held the whole of the country in their grip, and Mr Langlands was intimately acquainted with all of them. He could tell the names of the stations and their owners, and the order in which they lay, and could also remember the different stages of their segregation and occupation as wheat farms.

In 1861, when the Shire of Wimmera was created, Mr Langlands was made one of its first councillors. As a member of that municipality he was regarded as being of great service to the ratepayers. The Shire celebrated its jubilee last year, and the now deceased gentleman, then the only surviving member, was presented with a handsomely illuminated address bearing the photographs of the councillors then in office, with his own photograph inset. The address congratulated him on having been spared to see the wonderful advance in population and wealth of the territory embraced by the Shire. It was mentioned that the number of ratepayers at the Shire's inception was 118, whereas at the time of the jubilee it was 9012. The population had increased from 2000 to 35,846 and the valuation from £22,576 to £603,058. The inscription on the framed photograph which accompanied the address was as follows:–" Wimmera Shire Jubilee. 1861-1914. Presented by councillors to ex-Cr. John Langlands, J.P., the only surviving foundation member. Shire Hall, Horsham, March 4, 1911." During his term as a member of the Shire Council, Mr. Langlands filled the presidential chair with credit, and his retirement from the Council table was deeply regretted by his brother councillors. In many other local institutions the deceased took a keen interest but his unobstrusive nature kept his active participation, therein good deal in the background. In a quiet way, with money and personal acts, he did what he could to encourage every worthy local movement. Though a native of Scotland, he was, in earlier years, one of the foremost workers in the Church of England, having for a number of years been the conductor and mainstay of the choir.

An institution into which Mr. Langlands put most of his time and energy was the Horsham United Gas Co., since absorbed by the Colonial Gas Association. One of its founders, he was at all times its most watchful shareholder, and to the keen business mind which he brought to its management was due a large measure of the success it achieved. He was its managing director, and exercised a close supervision over its affairs until, shortly prior to the sale to the new association being elected, he resigned in favor of his son Frank. He was a man who did nothing by halves. Whether he was attending to his own personal interests, or to those of a society or corporation, he was thorough in all that he did. Though for some two or three years past the state of his health had prevented his spending long hours at his place of business, he was none the less thoroughly acquainted with all its intricate workings. From his father he had inherited the instinct for grasping a mass of detail in an instant, and thoroughly weighing its meaning. It was so with him in public life, and to it that quality and his conspicuous fairness in apprehending a public trust is ascribed his success as a member of the Wimmera Shire Council. His advise in serious undertakings was always worth the seeking, and it was cheerfully given by those who asked for it. If he had a hobby–and most men have–it was a study of meteorology. For a number of years he personally attended to the taking and checking of records of rainfall, read the barometer daily, and prognosticated the weather with a good deal of accuracy. He was also deeply interested in the river readings, from which he was generally in a position to foretell the coming and the approximate extent and duration of a flood. It was largely owing to representations made by him that the gauge readings at Glenorchy and Longerenong were made available at Horsham, during seasons when a rise in the river gave cause for anxiety. He remembered the Wimmera River when its capacity was twice that which it is at present. Before settlement for farming purposes became general, the country was not broken up as it is now, and there was not the liability which now obtains of silting the river bed. Mr. Langlands remembered dry years when the river bed was bare and when huge cavernous holes, entirely free from silt, were visible. When in its proper season, the river came down from Mount Cole, these holes took in a large volume of the water which now would run on; and the liability to flooding was not great. There were floods in those days, of course, but never one to approach in body the memorable inundation of 1909. Gardening was another of Mr. Langlands occupations, when his physical abilities permitted. But, young or old, he never ceased to take an intelligent interest in politics. He had followed the progress of Parliaments ever since the establishment of responsible government and could recite all the psychological changes and their effects upon the country. Conservative in his views to a certain degree, he had a great admiration for the man of any party whose fearlessness and consistency drove him along what he conceived to be the path of duty, and nothing but contempt for the rail-sitter or time-server. He was a man who read deeply, and was blessed with that most saving of all graces in the political student–a sense of humor.

For all his keenness in business and his abiding interest in politics–both international and domestic–the departed gentleman was less of a public man than many another with his opportunities might have been. But he never sought to put himself under the limelight. Men have come and gone in this community, have flourished for a space, and have earned a good deal of notoriety in the public sphere. But none of them has filled a part in the local drama of life with more credit to the public, with more justice to the men with whom it was his privilege to deal, or with greater satisfaction to his family. In fact it may be said that no man has left a more enduring record for probity and for his charitable outlook upon his fellow-men. As hundreds of people will attest, the late Mr. Langlands had a business career that was stainless. In the commercial world he was the soul of honor, and in this respect he set to his sons who are to succeed him in the management of his enterprise an example which they might well follow to advantage. With those whom he employed he dealt fairly and generously, and with the public who supported him in business he was always considerate. Growing from boyhood in the Wimmera, and seeing it pass from one vicissitude to another, seeing it emerge from a comprehensive waste to a sheep run, and from a sheep run to an agricultural district second in importance to none in the State, he had a wonderful belief in its capabilities. He also had a steadfast faith in the claim–not always conceded–that the majority of people are honest and wish to do what is right by their fellow men. And because of the trust he reposed in the industrious units who compose this prosperous community, he held it to be logical that wherever possible he should assist them to tide over periods of adversity. Many men who are in comfortable positions to-day can thank the late Mr Langlands for having extended a helping hand to them in times when their outlook was not as bright as it is today. In earlier years, when the surrounding towns were mere outposts of civilisation, and when the now subdued Mallee was but a drear wilderness it was to Langlands and Co. that fell the responsibility for provisioning the hardy pioneers who had gone out to seek fortune in the wilds. There were no railways in North-western Victoria in those days, and practically no roads, but the waggons of the firm found their way into the very heart of the Mallee, and bore the necessaries of life to many who otherwise would have starved. Nor was this done because of the prospect of huge profits. Often there were no profits at all. In nearly every instance the business was done on credit, and Mr. Langlands left it to the honor of his clients to decide whether or not there should be the return, which, as a man of business, he hoped someday to receive. Seldom was his confidence in the early settlers abused. Those who “made good” remembered the quality of the trust reposed in them and the name of Langlands was never forotten. In those times men laughed at distances: Edenhope and other places, even to the South Australian border, and stations as far north as Albacutya, participated in the visits of the firm's representatives, and looked forward to them as one in these days would look forward to the coming of the tri-weekly mail. When the estates in the vicinity of Horsham were being selected for wheat farms and the influx of cultivators from other parts set in to the Wimmera it was again to Mr. Langlands that they came for accommodation which was never refused. It was not the deceased’s habit to speak of anything he had done for the district or for the town which had been his home. About himself and his doings he was reticent even to a fault. Had he been more communicative in personal matters he would have unfolded many pages of a thrilling history that will never be told. He knew every inch of the Wimmera, and had stored in his mental treasury incidents of pioneering life that eventually would have proved of value but as the telling of most of those incidents involved a discussion of the personal part he had played in the development of its wonderful province he could never be induced to speak with that freedom which is necessary to the chronicling of history. Until his health began to fail–and he had been more or less in feeble health for a number of years–he was able to speak with authority and particularity with regard to all names, places and dates of moment. As a boy he remembered the stirring times when the rough and gone-out-of-date hard drinking shearer used to make his periodical visits to the then small and stagnant town; cut out his cheque; make the air reck of his lurid language and finish his career by spending the night and perhaps a few days in the log cells, adjacent to the Post Ofice of which his father had the keeping. One of the buildings used as a post office and store–it stands in Darlot-street to the present day–always served to remind him of the period when life in the capital of the Wimmera was fraught with a good deal of risk, but of this, as of numerous other links with the past, he seldom talked. When, recently, his house was being renovated false pockets were found in the walls, also evidence of the existence of holes, since covered over. These, it transpired, were some of the precautions which had been made by the original Mr. Langlands to guard against the possibility of hostile visits. The pockets were meant for the storing of valuables with a reasonable degree of safety in the not improbable event of an attack by bushrangers, of whom many roamed the sparsely settled country, and the holes were intended to be used for shooting at blacks should the dusky denizens of the bush make a raid upon the store. In the days of Mr. Langlands’ boyhood visits from bands of warlike aborigines were not infrequent, and it often fell to his lot to see their weird corroborees in progress. The Church of England and the Horsham hospital now stand upon sites which had been the scenes of sanguinary encounters between rival tribes. Every one of these spots was a part of the playground, when a boy, of the man who yesterday left this mortal habitation and took with him much of the untold history of the Wimmera.

By his first marriage the late Mr. Langlands leaves four sons and eight daughters, the issue of the second union being one daughter. The sons are William (Bank of Victoria, Kaniva), Alfred, John and Frank, the three last-named being partners in the firm of John Langlands and Sons, in the business of which they are actually engaged. The daughters are Emma (Mrs. H. B. Cathcart, Horsham), Ethel (Mrs. W. C. Bolton, Horsham), Ruby (Mrs. Ritchie, Horsham), Ada (Mrs. Studley, Wagga, N.S.W.), Lucy (Mrs. J. R. Brown, Horsham), Violet (Mrs. H. Scott, Sydney), Minnie (Mrs. E. Bolton, Horsham), Dorothy and Bessie, the last-named being issue of the second marriage. All the members of the family are well and favorably known, and all are more or less actively concerned with local institutions in which their father figured in his younger days. Particularly in the world of music have they made their influence felt. For very many years–in fact, for longer than most of the present residents of Horsham can remember–the name of Langlands has been associated with the musical interests of the town. The late Mr. Langlands was of musical temperament himself, and most of his descendants to the third generation, have figured with distinct credit on the local platform: It is worthy of remark that in St. John's Church of England, where the deceased was at one time choirmaster, his sons and daughters now form a very considerable part of the singing strength, Mr. Alf Langlands having been for many years its conductor. In the general conduct of the members of the family, the name of Langlands with all it has meant in the growth of the town and district, is like to be perpetuated and borne with dignity and honor for a long time to come. One brother–Mr. W. Langlands, of Melbourne, who at one time was an official in the Horsham Post Office–and two sisters–Mrs. E. J. Stephens, of Corowa, New South Wales, wife of Mr. Stephens, who founded the Horsham Times and Mrs. Dr. McDonald, of Sale–survive. Another sister, Mrs. Palmer, of Ballarat, died about four years ago.

The remains were brought to Horsham by the express train last night, and will be interred in the Horsham Cemetery today (Tuesday), moving from the residence, Darlot-street, at 3 o'clock .

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Citation details

'Langlands, John (1837–1915)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/langlands-john-17089/text28929, accessed 20 July 2019.

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