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Smyth, Charles Alexander (1828–1908)

We have to announce with great regret the death of Mr Charles Alexander Smyth, K.C., which took place yesterday at his residence, Williams-road, Toorak. After his retirement from the public service Mr Smyth enjoyed excellent health for some years, but about three years ago he sustained a stroke, which left him in a feeble state; and for the past two years he had been in a weak condition. He was under the care of Dr. Langlands, but, at his advanced age, there was little power of recuperation, and death finally occurred from heart failure.

Mr. Smyth, who was in his 80th year, will be remembered chiefly on account of his many years' service as Crown prosecutor, and also for a time as County Court Judge. He was born on November 14, 1828, at "Smythbrook," parish of Tashinny, Co. Longford, Ireland. Mr. Smyth was educated chiefly in England, and was called to the bar at Gray's Inn on April 30, 1859. Soon afterwards he came to Victoria, under engagement as a reporter to the proprietors of "The Argus," but the prospect of a career at the bar induced him to resign and take up the practice of his profession. In April, 1861, he received his first official appointment as Crown prosecutor for the Circuit Courts of Bendigo, Castlemaine, and Maryborough. Mr. R. D. Ireland, who had a high regard for Mr Smyth, was Attorney-General at the time. A year later Mr. Smyth went to Beechworth. After some years' service as Crown prosecutor, Mr. Smyth was raised to the County Court Bench. He did not hold the position long. For a time he practised as an ordinary barrister. Then an opportunity arose for reinstating him in his old position as Crown prosecutor. It suited him best to do country work, and he was not called upon to perform metropolitan duty until 1877. He stayed in Melbourne till 1882, when he got back to circuit work, taking in turn Bendigo, Echuca, Maryborough, Castlemaine, St. Arnaud, Beech- worth, Benalla, and Shepparton. In 1895 Mr. Isaacs, then Attorney-General, devised a scheme for having the work of Crown prosecutors in the whole of the state done by two barristers, of whom Mr Smyth was invited to be one. However, in the correspondence that took place over the matter, Mr Smyth expressed himself as indisposed, in view of his age of 66 years, to work under the new conditions proposed by the Attorney-General, and the result was that he resigned. Then ensued an important proceeding at law by Mr. Smyth against the Government because of the latter's refusal to recognise his claim to a pension. The Victorian Supreme Court decided in favour of the Crown contention that Mr. Smyth was a "prosecuting barrister," and therefore not entitled to pension rights as a public servant. Mr. Smyth carried an appeal to the Privy Council, and won his case and the pension, the appeal being upheld on the ground that Mr. Smyth had held a fixed office-that of Crown prosecutor, which was not of the same character as the position of a prosecuting barrister, who received briefs from time to time.

During his long career Mr. Smyth shared the duties of Crown prosecutor with several distinguished lawyers, among whom was the present Judge Chomley. Three colleagues whom he survived were Sir Bryan O'Loghlen, Mr. Travers Adamson, and Mr. J. T. T. Smith, K.C. Mr. Smyth was keen and ardent in the performance of his duty, so much so that the saying was current among old officers of the court that he was "rather covetous of verdicts." Though not a brilliant speaker, he was an effective one, and not only as Crown prosecutor, but also as an advocate in civil cases, his pleading met with remarkable success. To legal knowledge, the soundness of which was everywhere recognised, Mr. Smyth added an industry and pertinacity which made his services very valuable, especially in many very important criminal cases. He advised the Crown in a great number of civil cases, included in which were the claims for compensation made against the Government after the disastrous railway collision at Jolimont. Among Crown prosecutors he was for many years recognised as the leading man. Mr Smyth took great interest in Church of England affairs, and frequently wrote letters to "The Argus," taking the evangelical side in debatable issues.

The deceased leaves two sons, Mr Robert Smyth, of Wodonga, and Mr. Charles N. Smyth, of Bloomfield, and four married daughters, one of whom is the wife of the Rev. D. M'Crae. Mrs Smyth died some years ago.

Original publication

Citation details

'Smyth, Charles Alexander (1828–1908)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/smyth-charles-alexander-24339/text33081, accessed 17 November 2019.

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