In this biography of George William Rusden, Paul Nicholls explores the paradoxes inherent in the life of an extraordinary man. One who gained renown and is remembered today for his scholarship, though his formal schooling ended when he was fifteen. One who favoured laissez-faire economics yet advocated strong government. One who as a civil servant upheld the prerogatives of parliament yet opposed manhood suffrage and was boundlessly contemptuous of politicians who pandered to the masses. One who criticised fellow Anglicans who were addicted to a bigoted ‘denominationalism’. And one who tirelessly and copiously blamed his fellow settlers for the depraved condition of ‘the Australians’, whose tribal lands had been usurped and who were frequently oppressed and ill-treated — thus sullying England’s good name by depriving the Aborigines of their sacred right, as British subjects, to be treated equally before the law.
When Rusden died in 1903, he was described as ‘a delicious bundle of prejudices’. A consummate Englishman, his love of his adopted country was unquestionable. It is unlikely, however, that he perceived Australia as ‘a new Britannia in another world’, and tempting to conclude that an old Britannia in the existing world suited him well enough.