John Dunmore Lang – the son of William Lang and his wife Mary Dunmore – was born in Greenock on 25 August 1799, and brought up in Largs, where he attended the parish school. At 13 years of age, he was sent to the University of Glasgow to study Arts and Theology, and to train for the Ministry of the Church of Scotland.
In 1822 he Graduated Master of Arts at the age 22. His brother, George, had found employment in New South Wales and Lang decided to join him to minister to the small groups of Scottish Presbyterians in the colony.
Lang sailed from Leith in October 1822. On arrival, his first task was to build a church and he set about raising the necessary funds, but failed to gain a grant from Governor Brisbane, despite the fact that he his not only a fellow Scot, but indeed fellow townsman from Largs.
The foundation stone for the Scots Church was laid in 1824. Lang then set sail for London, where he successfully persuaded the Secretary for the Colonies – the Earl of Bathurst – to reverse Brisbane’s decision.
The government was to supply one third of the cost of the building and also grant Lang an annual salary of £300.
Lang supervised the building of his Scots Church on Church Hill, near Wynyard Square, which opened on in 1826 with seating for 1,000 people. He preached his first sermon from the pulpit that he was to occupy for the next 52 years.
Early in his ministry he was refused a licence to solemnize marriages, where upon he inserted an advertisement in the Sydney Gazette stating that he would solemnize marriages by banns, and challenging anyone to show that such marriages were against the law. The authorities then gave Lang his licence.
In 1830 Lang made another trip home. He had endeavoured before he left to found a Presbyterian high school, but was unable to enlist the sympathies of the Governor, Sir Ralph Darling. Once back home he persuaded Lord Goderich, Secretary of State for the Colonies, not only agreed to authorize an advance of £3,500 for the establishment of the college, but also agreed that £1,500 of this sum might be used to convey a party of workmen and their families to Sydney.
In 1831 Lang returned to Australia with 140 emigrants, chiefly Scottish mechanics and their families. The understanding was that the cost of their passages would be repaid out of their earnings. On the voyage out, in 1831, Lang married his cousin Wilhelmina Mackie.
He died in Sydney on 8th, August 1878 and was survived by his wife, a son and two daughters – seven other children had died earlier. He was given a public funeral.
There is a statue of him in Wynyard Square in Sydney.
Dr Lang was a tall, heavily-built man, with an appearance suggesting great energy. He feared no one and by word and deed made many enemies.
He was a masterful man and difficult to work with, but underlying everything was an immense enthusiasm and a passion for action. At times he appeared to me narrow and bigoted, especially in his views on the Roman Catholic Church, but even his own Church was not spared if he thought it in the wrong.
His greatest achievement was his immigration work, for which he made voyage after voyage and worked and spoke with immense effect. It is true that in his dealings with the English authorities he was not always tactful or even prudent, but his bringing of artisans of good character to Sydney supplied a real need and had a distinct effect on the development of the colony.