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Wild, William Vandermuelen (1834–1861)

The obituary of the month includes the name of Mr William Vandermeulen Wild, who, after a short but severe illness, died at the early age of 27 years. In the present transition state of society in this colony–when all men are more or less engaged in the pursuit of wealth–it seldom falls to the lot of the journalist, to make mention of those who pass away to

That undiscovered country from whose bourne
No traveller returns,

Because, however laudable may be the acquirement of riches, without the possessor have other and higher claims upon the consideration of posterity, few care to know his history.

The subject of our brief memoir was a native of the colony, and a young man of great promise. There was a suavity about his disposition–a manliness and sincerity about his character, that endeared him even to strangers. For, without any personal acquaintance, and although opposed to him in politics, we had early conceived an affectionate esteem for him. We well remember his first appearance in the Legislature some three years ago. There he generally acted with the Donaldson party. His first efforts at forensic oratory were such as to impress us very favourably; an impression that gained strength with time. When he rose to address the House–which then consisted of the intellect of the country–he was listened to with attention. His unobtrusive modesty prevented him from speaking frequently; but when he rose it was impossible not to be impressed with his truthfulness and sincerity. His gentlemanly demeanour, considerateness, and accuracy of expression, accompanied in the heat of debate by a certain felicity of repartee, made him a favourite even with his opponents. There are some public speakers for whom it is difficult to avoid conceiving disgust. If they speak the truth, they present it in a repulsive aspect, or their demeanour is defiant and their language coarse. The finer feelings of one's nature cannot sympathise with men of this kind. But nothing seemed more natural than that the hearer should be attracted towards Mr. Wild, his countenance was so kindly and genial. To his gentlemanly bearing and promising talents may be attributed the circumstance they he was a general favourite of the Press. When his illness was known to be serious and likely to prove fatal, a feeling of sadness pervaded a large section of the community. Those who knew his worth and promise, grieved to contemplate their loss. Endeared to him by no sacred family ties, with only a remote and external knowledge of his character, we felt sad to think that he should be snatched away from us in the very pride of manliness and vigour. We looked upon him, as it were, yesterday, in the full bloom of manhood: to-day, in the words of a gifted one, who also died early:

His tired head presses on its last long rest,
Still tenant of the tomb; and on the cheek,
Once warm with animation's lambent flush,
Sits the pale image of unmarked decay
Yet mourn not–he has chosen the better part;
And these sad garments mortality put off.

To die young, when the freshness of youth casts a bright halo over the future–when the heart yearns to do some honourable work which shall benefit society and render one's name dear, is a hard thing; but who shall tell the grief at leaving behind dear relatives and loving friends, the glorious sunshine and the beautiful world, of which we seem only to form a proper estimate, at the moment when the mind becomes sublimated by the approach of immortality. To the cultivated mind those things are realised more vividly than to the man who has lived a mere human animal.

In a young country like this, where intellect is little valued, and wealth much, it is not meet that a young man of so much premise as Mr. Wild should pass away without a tribute to his memory. It is therefore with a mournful satisfaction we furnish the following sketch of his life:–

William Vandermeulen Wild was the second son of John Wild, of Vanderville, near Camden. He was born at the family seat, on the 4th of October, 1814. At the early age of 7 years he was sent to Sydney College, and remained there about three years, when he was removed from that establishment and placed under the instruction of the Rev. Frederick Wilkinson, a teacher of repute in the earlier days of the colony. At this academy he finished his education.

At the age of eighteen, he obtained employment in the public service, in the capacity of a clerk in the Surveyor-General's office, where he remained two years, performing the duties allotted to him with credit to himself, and satisfaction to the head of the department.

On the 26th of January, 1855, he married the eldest daughter of Mr. James Greer, a respected colonist, and on the 10th of February following, took his departure for the mother-country, in the Waterloo. After travelling in England, Ireland, and France, he returned to his native country in January, 1856. During this tour, he enjoyed opportunities which travel alone can bestow, of improving his mind and enlarging his views. And accordingly, on his return to the colony, he commenced the study of the law–almost the only field then open; to a young man of superior parts. He applied himself to the drudgery of his profession with his whole mind, and had so far mastered it, as on the 6th of June, 1858, to be able to pass his classical and legal examination as a barrister-at-law. Having thus achieved one of the grand objects of his life, he immediately entered upon the duties of his profession.

At this time, from various causes not necessary here to explain, the bar, being the principal outlet for native talent, also furnished a large number of representative men. Mr. Wild's father had represented Camden in the councils of his country, having defeated Dr. Alick Osborne in a contest for that constituency under the old system of representation; and, fired by an honourable ambition, the younger Mr. Wild contested the same electorate with Mr. John Oxley, and was triumphantly returned on the 21st of January, 1858, in company with his eminent countryman, Mr. James Macarthur. How honourably and well he discharged his duty as a representative, we have already stated. He retained his seat until the dissolution of the House in 1859, when he offered himself a second time to the constituents of Camden, and was, after another contested election, returned at the head of the poll by a majority of 19 votes–a circumstance, the more noticeable that it was the largest majority polled by any country member during that memorable contest. He occupied his seat until the general election before last, when he retired from political life, in order to attend more closely to his profession.

In the Northern Circuit, to which he had chiefly devoted himself, he had, by his excellent business habits, and entire devotion to the interests of his clients, acquired an extensive and increasing practice. Mr. Wild's talents were not showy or ephemeral; very time he presented himself before the Court, he seemed to have acquired more enlarged views, and a more comprehensive grasp of the multitudinous details of the law; his courtesy and affability made him a favourite with the bench and the bar. In addressing the Court, his delivery was not rapid; but the absence of verbosity was more than compensated by dearness of expression; his language was always appropriate and well chosen. At times, when he warmed up to his subject, his face, which was intellectual and handsome, was lit up with intelligence.

The early history of rising men is the history of transition. Before the matured intellect is fitted to undertake the higher duties of public life, years of preparation, always careful–oftentimes painful–have to be gone through. Ordinary men take no account of the labour and intense study requisite to acquire anything like an extensive knowledge of the classical languages the patient, laborious, application necessary to acquire a knowledge of the principles of jurisprudence–to enable the barrister to protect the property, it may be to defend the life, of an innocent client. A man dies young and has performed no very memorable actions. The world passes by and heeds not his grave. Those who follow the Press know something of the struggles and difficulties of rising men.

Here is a melancholy instance of the uncertainty of human life. This gifted young man had spent years of laborious toil in preparing himself to fill the high and honourable position for which his talents fitted him, and to which, as a native of the country, he had a right to aspire, but just before the harvest was ripe, the cold hand of death was laid upon him.

And his spirit sunk to case,
Lull'd by distant symphonies.

In the early part of the present month he went as usual on the Northern Circuit, and whilst performing his duty caught cold. He at once returned to his family at Sydney, and notwithstanding all that medical skill, the vigour of youth, and loving relatives could do, succumbed in a few days to enteric fever. Besides the partner of his youth, and three little boys, he leaves a large family connection–we might go farther, and say a large portion of the community–to mourn his early death. And as for us, we can only say, with Byron–

Ev'n as the tenderness that hour inst is,
When summer's day declines along the hills,
So feels the fulness of our heart and eyes,
When all of genius, which can perish, dies.

Original publication

Citation details

'Wild, William Vandermuelen (1834–1861)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/wild-william-vandermuelen-16524/text28452, accessed 16 June 2019.

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