David Blair was born on 4 June 1820 in County Monaghan in the north of Ireland to a Scots Presbyterian family. In his early twenties he was active in the nascent Chartist movement in Ireland: member of the Charter Association of Belfast (given the task in June 1841 of collecting spare copies of the Northern Star for distribution) and one of five original Directors (September 1841) of the Belfast Universal Suffrage Association. In 1840 he joined the Ordnance Survey of Ireland as a collector, relocating to Southampton in November 1841 on the transfer of the survey in Ireland to the English survey. He worked as one of 60 ‘computers' for almost nine years both on the triangulation of England and the survey of London.
Two Southampton addresses are known for Blair: Onslow Road, Newtown (1845) and 3 Clifford Street, St Mary's (1849). He became a Chartist lecturer in the town.
He was also a poet, with at least two poems published in the provincial press: “Sir Leoline: a second charade for the ladies”, on a religious theme (Hampshire Advertiser, 21 March 1846) and Sonnets to Henry Vincent - vindicating Thomas Cromwell, Pym, Hampden et al (York Herald, 10 February 1849, but dated Southampton January 1849).
He was an active member of the committee of the Southampton Polytechnic Institution, and a gratuitous lecturer. His common themes were the native poetry of Ireland and the mission of the poet. For his farewell lecture on 24 October 1849, he was given the free use of the lecture room and the advertised lecturer, Timothy Falvey, stood down to allow him a platform. The Hampshire Advertiser thought the lecture, like all his poetical discourses, “exceedingly interesting and instructive, always truthful and occasionally eloquent.” The previous year he had lectured to the Athenaeum and Mechanics' Institution at Newport (Isle of Wight) on 'Irish oratory'.
Blair left Southampton in late October or early November 1849 to embark on a new vocation in Australia. He arrived in New South Wales on 19 March 1850. Here he joined a seminary for Presbyterian ministers established by his mentor, the evangelical Reverend John Dunmore Lang. So began a long and illustrious career, initially in Sydney but after 1851 in Melbourne, as a political activist, member of the Australian parliament, encyclopedist, journalist and newspaper editor. In 1854 he became involved in the Ballaret Reform League (originally the Diggers' Reform League), whose programme was based on the British Chartist movement of which Blair had been a part.
Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, p179-180. (920.094)
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