Page:The Dictionary of Australasian Biography.djvu/470
DICTIONARY OF AUSTRALASIAN BIOGRAPHY.
Syme, George Alexander, M. A., brother of above, was born at the town of Montrose, but his early days were passed at North Berwick, a small seaport on the south shore of the Firth of Forth, to which his parents had removed while he was yet an infant. He was born in 1821, and when 14 years of age entered the University of Aberdeen, then King's College, where, on passing through the usual curriculum, he took his degree of M.A. In 1840 be entered St. Mary's Hall, St. Andrews, for the study of theology, preparatory to admission as a minister in the National Church. Meanwhile, the Disruption having taken place, he joined the Free Church, and while still attending privately to his preparatory studies,was much occupied in preaching in different parts of the country. This was exceptional work for a student, but was undertaken by special appointment, owing to the circumstance that during the first two years of its existence the Free Church had more congregations than could be provided for ministerially, and the emergency had to be met by appointing the
things, it seemed to be decidedly easier to forego the advantages of a recognised clerical position, than to surrender his liberty to think for himself, and to speak honestly the thing he thought. He came, therefore, to the conclusion that the best thing for him, in order to be independent of the churches and their restrictive creeds and obligations, was simply to find for himself a sphere of labour in which he could do the work of an evangelist freely, without pledge and without pay. And so, for several years he laboured, an evangelist at large, making tours in various parts both of Scotland and England, and preaching as he had opportunity in the towns and villages through which he passed. In course of time, and possibly as experience of hardships and privations cooled somewhat the ardour of his first enthusiasm, he sought a more domesticated life, settling for a while at Manchester, at Glasgow, Sunderland, and other places, ministering to small congregations whose views were more or less akin to his own. He varied his clerical duties, at this time, by lecturing on popular subjects, and by taking part in public discussions on important questions of the day. He began also to write for magazines and reviews, for the Westminster amongst others. This literary work brought him into notice, and being invited by Mr. John Chapman, proprietor and editor of the Westminster, to assist him in conducting that review, he removed to London, and stepped into the place that had just been vacated by Marian Evans, afterwards better known as George Eliot. At this time he was on friendly terms with Mr. Joseph Cowen and the late Horace Greeley. A new era in his life opened before him when he heard of the gold discoveries in Australia, and of the tremendous rush of population in consequence. Perceiving what a fine field for literary work was to be found there, he resolved at once to occupy it. He sailed for Melbourne in 1N52, and immediately on his arrival joined the ranks of journalism. In conjunction with his brother David, he purchased the Age newspaper, which had been recently started. He had a hard struggle at first, and for several years afterwards, for the Age was far from being in a flourishing condition when it came into his hands; but gradually, under the new and vigorous guidance, it made its way till at length it was recognised throughout the colony as the leader of public opinion. In 1859 he offered himself to the constituency of Avoca as a candidate for a seat in Parliament, and was returned by a large majority. Entertaining advanced Liberal views he, of course, took his place in the Assembly beside Mr. J. M. Grant, Mr. M. Wilson Gray, Dr. Owens, Mr. Richard Heales, and other like-minded reformers; and his name will always be associated with theirs in the history of the Parliamentary struggles which took place during the "fifties," when questions of the most urgent importance for the welfare of the rising colony—such as those relating to the opening of the land for settlement, education, vote by ballot, and so forth—were first introduced into the Parliamentary arena, and which have since, some of them after many and most arduous conflicts, been carried into law, to the immense advantage of the community. After a lingering illness, he died on March 13th, 1860, aged 34 years. His son, Mr. Joseph Cowen Syme, was for a number of years part proprietor and manager of the Age.