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Harding, George Rogers (1838–1895)

from Brisbane Courier

George Harding, 1895

George Harding, 1895

State Library of Qld, 82106

A serious public loss has fallen on the country in the death of his Honour Mr. Justice [George Rogers] Harding. The manner of his death was in keeping with his life. A sensible hush lay on the city last week when it became known that the senior Puisne Judge lay in his chambers hovering between life and death. Stricken down while in the conduct of a case on Wednesday, calling in jurors and counsel on Thursday that he might do his last summing up, unable to be removed from the court-house, he died within three days of perfect vigour and judicial activity. Perhaps had a choice been given him he would not have asked to die otherwise. He might have wished a few years more of life, but he would have thought it better to die in the strength of his intellect than with impaired faculties, and in the midst of valuable work than after prolonged idleness. Idleness was a condition which Mr. Justice Harding could not tolerate and if any lesson stands out more prominently than another from his life it is that of work. His industry and power of application were marvellous. How many of our young men in any profession are capable of writing a text-book, and a book which lives and finds edition after edition called for, before they are of age? Something of this activity no doubt was due to early circumstances. Mr. Justice Harding, like so many eminent men in all professions, was a son of the parsonage. Example and necessity combined to form his character. Love of knowledge and love of work were the gifts he carried from his home into the world, and they are of the greatest. Readers of the interesting reminiscences which we have had the pleasure of publishing will remember that the Judge ascribed his early success partly to the fact that when other barristers were absent from their chambers he could be relied on by solicitors and clients as "always there." The phrase comes to us now with a pathetic ring when we know that up to the last moment he was there. And this industry was gore than professional. It was that in the first place of course. He could not have attained his large practice at the Bar without it. And though as a Judge he never went out of his way to display his learning, and was not a little intolerant of such display in others, few men could be more confidently relied on for a knowledge of all relevant cases. His professional industry finds its monument both in numerous compilations and in the Supreme Court Library, which is almost entirely his station. But his mental activity went beyond the legal sphere, and so escaped the narrowness too often characteristic of professional men. Every book of interest in any department of literature or learning found its way to his private library. We have no admiration for the book-gathering mania which may be only a covering for mental vacuity. But in Judge Harding's case it meant an enrichment which enlarged the whole man, and not infrequently scintillated on the Bench.

Of his merits as a Judge his legal brethren will no doubt speak at length. We print this morning an eloquent, manly, and discriminating tribute to his worth from his old colleague at the Bar and on the Bench, Sir Charles Lilley. But one or two points may be noted by the laity. He was conscientious to the backbone. Not that he insisted unduly on technicalities; he was even willing to let these go if the public convenience was thereby to be served and still less would he permit them to be abused as instruments of oppression. His conscientiousness showed itself not only in thorough work, but in that exclusive regard to the requirements of law, approved or unapproved, which makes the strength of the English Bench. It was inevitable that, with such a conception of his duty, he should make some enemies. Amid the public excitement and confused clamour which filled the air during the great shearers'  strike of 1891, and which in America might have demoralised the very Judges, he went straight forward to the fulfilment of the task laid on him by his country's law. We are much mistaken if the some things which " have happened since then" have not favourably changed the opinions of the party who thought themselves seriously aggrieved. The truth is that few Judges have been more considerate than Mr. Justice Harding of the true interests of the public. For one thing, he has persistently set his face against the piling up of costs. He has taken occasion, both in his "reminiscences" and on the Bench, to condemn that careless tinkering with the statutes in which Parliament so often indulges as most burdensome to the people and to the administration of justice; and he has kept a tight rein on such proceedings of counsel as might needlessly add to the expense of litigation.  The very case before him when he broke down, and which he made so heroic an effort to finish, he had taken with reluctance, and had striven to have settled out of court as undeserving of the expense involved. It may be added in this connection, and as a corrective of ideas prevalent in some quarters on the subject, that when Mr. Harding accepted the position he has held so efficiently and honourably for sixteen years he was reported to be making an income twice as much as the amount of salary attached to the judgeship. It is safe to say that by his industry, by his independence, by the lucidity and justness of his decisions, by his maintenance of the high prestige of a Supreme Court of Justice, the late Judge has conferred advantages upon the country which could not have been and never can be purchased with money. The very large attendance at the funeral ceremony of yesterday was significant both of the impression made by the tragic event of the week and the esteem in which the deceased Judge was held.

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Citation details

'Harding, George Rogers (1838–1895)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/harding-george-rogers-3712/text39978, accessed 6 December 2022.

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