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Downer, Henry Edward (1836–1905)

We announce with regret the death of Mr. H. E. [Henry Edward] Downer, which occurred on Friday morning at the residence of his son-in-law, Mr. Otto Schomburgk. Mr. Downer was a brother of Sir John Downer, M.L.C.. and Mr. A. G. Downer, and he was one of the best-known men in Adelaide. For many years he sat in the House of Assembly as a member for Encounter Bay, and he was Attorney-General in the Cockburn Government in 1890. Like his brothers, he was a member of the legal profession, and a quarter of a century ago he resigned the office of Commissioner of Insolvency in order to enter political life. Mr. Downer was a prominent member of the Masonic craft and held the office of Deputy-Grand Master under the South Australian Constitution. He took a great interest in hunting, and was for some time master of the hounds.

Mr. Downer was born in Portsmouth, England, on March 22, 1836, and arrived in South Australia with his parents in June, 1838. He was educated in Adelaide under the tuition of the late Mr. F. Haire, M.A., and was articled to Mr. W. R. Wigley, of the firm of Messrs. Wigley & Richman, for whom he was managing law clerk for a time. He was admitted to the bar in 1859, and practised for 5½ years, when he was appointed Commissioner of Insolvency, a position which he occupied until 1881. In that year he was elected to the Assembly for Encounter Bay and retained his seat until the year 1896. In conjunction with Mr. Simpson Newland, who was his colleague in two Parliaments, Mr. Downer succeeded, after much opposition, in getting the horse tramway from Strathalbyn to Victor Harbor converted into a locomotive line. Mr. Downer also devoted considerable attention to the amendment of the laws relating to Insolvency and Local Courts. It was mainly through his efforts that the Distress for Rent Bill was passed in 1883. The Bill made most important alterations in the law. It prevented the landlord from taking goods other than the goods of his tenant for rent. On May 2, 1890, Mr. Downer succeeded Mr. F. F. Turner as Attorney — General in the Cockburn — Government, and held office until the following August, when the Ministry was defeated by Mr. Playford. For many years Mr. Downer took an active interest in Freemasonry. He was deputy district grandmaster under the English constitution for about thirteen or fourteen years prior to the establishment of the Grand Lodge of South Australia, and upon the establishment of the Grand Lodge in April, 1884, he was unanimously elected Deputy-Grand Master. For a considerable period he was a prominent office-bearer in the Anglican Church, being a member of Synod, and holding parochial offices. At one time he was chairman of the trustees of the Athelstone Institute, and he was twice appointed master of the Adelaide Hunt Club, the members of which presented him with a valuable silver epergne when he retired, as a mark of their appreciation of his services.

Eighteen months ago Mr. Downer left for a health trip to England and Japan, but on his return it was apparent that his strength had not improved. On the contrary, he was laid up for 13 weeks. On becoming somewhat better he paid a visit to Victor Harbor, but the sea air was evidently too strong for him and he speedily became worse, finally being obliged to take to his bed, where he remained for 13 weeks, until death ended his sufferings. The deceased gentleman was attended by Drs. A. Hamilton and Corbin, and the cause of death was cardiac asthma.

Mr. Downer left a widow and two daughters (Mrs. Otto Schomburgk and Mrs. C. H. Warren), and two sons (Mr. H. C. Downer, a station manager, and Mr. Frank H. Downer).

Reference in the Local Court.
Late in the afternoon, while the Local Court was sitting, Mr. J. M. Solomon Senior intimated that news had been received of the death of Mr. Downer. That gentleman, he said, had presided for many years in the Court of Insolvency, and he thought that out of respect to his memory the court might adjourn. He had no doubt that he was voicing the sentiments of both bench and bar.

His Honor Mr. J. G. Russell, S.M., said that in Mr. Downer the profession had lost a good and kind friend. Mr. Downer was a man who had held distinguished positions, particularly in connection with the courts of Insolvency and Debt, over which he had presided with great credit to himself and benefit to the community.

Mr. Paris Nesbit, K.C., said that he had special reason for an affectionate remembrance of the deceased gentleman. Encouragement to a young barrister had been said to be as necessary as the air he breathed, and that had been given him by Mr. Downer, whom he in common with all members of the bar would hold in affectionate memory.

Original publication

Citation details

'Downer, Henry Edward (1836–1905)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/downer-henry-edward-16983/text28852, accessed 20 September 2017.

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