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The Westgarth Silver Tea & Coffee Service, 1847

Coffee Pot - Westgarth Silver Tea & Coffee Service, 1847

Image: Coffee Pot - Westgarth Silver Tea & Coffee Service, 1847

Source: Museum Victoria

In 1847 Melbourne was only twelve years old, but already had a site for a Botanic Garden, several churches and a Mechanics Institute. A generation of mostly young men, with some young women, was self-consciously setting out to promote the developing town as a commercial centre and a 'civilised' metropolis.

A prominent resident was William Westgarth, a thirty-two year old Scottish merchant and financier who had been in Melbourne for seven years. He had written a book which publicised the colony's potential overseas, and produced six-monthly reports summarising the commercial and general statistics of Port Phillip. He was active in the Benevolent Society and the Mechanics' Institute, and was a thoughtful commentator on events around him. Westgarth was widely respected for the way he threw himself enthusiastically into making the colony a prosperous and educated place.

When, in January 1847, Westgarth left for Britain on business, a testimonial was opened for him. On the afternoon of Friday April 16, one hundred and twenty subscribers met at the Prince of Wales Hotel and decided to present Westgarth with a silver tea and coffee service. The one they chose had been made in Edinburgh in 1846, and had probably been imported for just such an occasion by a Melbourne jeweller. It is tempting to surmise that they chose Edinburgh silver, rather than a piece made in London, as a compliment to Westgarth's Scottish origins.

The silver service was engraved: "Presented to William Westgarth Esquire by one hundred and twenty of his fellow colonists in testimony of their high esteem for his character and appreciation of the benefits conferred on the Province of Port Phillip by his statistical writings and other public services, 1847". This is a rare presentation piece from that period in Melbourne's history when the leaders of the new society were mostly well known to each other.

William Westgarth returned to Victoria in 1849 and continued to play a prominent part in public life. He helped found the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce in 1851, and was a member of the first Victorian Parliament. He returned to London in 1857, but retained his interest in Victoria. In 1888 he returned again for the Centennial Exhibition, and presented Victorians with a granite drinking fountain carved in Scotland and featuring kangaroos and emus.

References:
Serle, Geoffrey (1976). 'Westgarth, William (1815 - 1889)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, Melbourne University Press, pp.379-383.

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