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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

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Sir James Martin (1820–1886)

Sir James Martin, C.J., was born in 1820, in the town of Middleton, County Cork, Ireland, and arrived in the colony, with his parents, during the following year. His early life was spent at Parramatta, and his education was entrusted to the best teachers available at that time in the colony. On leaving school he was articled to Mr. G. R. Nichols, one of the ablest of Australian lawyers and legislators, and he was no sooner out of his articles than he was admitted as an attorney, and commenced to practise for himself with considerable success. He appears, however, to have divided his attention between law and politics, for in the early days of his practice in the courts he became connected with the Atlas newspaper, and for two years he was the editor or manager of that journal, his writings being principally on political topics, which were handled by him with fluency and force. At this time he was only 20 years old, and two years afterwards, in 1848, he appeared before the public as a candidate for the Legislature. The death of Mr. Richard Windeyer made the seat in the Legislative Council for the representation of the electorate of Durham vacant, and it was this seat which Sir James Martin (then Mr. Martin) sought when he first put himself before the electors. But he had no sooner published to the world his political ambition than he was made the subject of severe attack, and the newspaper comments upon what was considered his presumption were in some instances of an extremely bitter character. In his printed address to the Durham electors he indicated his political principles, and first declaring that he would yield to no man in zeal and independence, and that he wished to obtain the suffrages of independent men on honourable grounds, he announced himself as a devoted friend to the cause of education, "desiring to see its ennobling influence extended to every class in the community." "I consider the National system," he wrote, "the very best that can be devised to promote that extension, and I shall accordingly give it on all occasions my warmest support. Intolerance in religious matters is universally odious and detestable, and, in every part of the world, I consider it to be at variance with the mild spirit of Christianity." On other public questions of the day he was equally explicit, and he concluded his address by asserting that "in all respects we ought to be as free here as if we were in England, and that our claim to that freedom should on all occasions be boldly put forth."

In the opposition which was raised against his candidature a newspaper article ascribed at the time to Mr. Archibald Michie appeared in the press, and so scathingly did it criticise the pretensions of Mr. Martin, that he deemed it advisable to publish a letter to the electors of Durham in reply. The opposing candidate at the time was Mr. (afterwards Sir) Stuart A. Donaldson. Replying to a charge of not having been instructed in the the science of legislation, Mr. Martin wrote:

"If this test were to be applied to every candidate that has addressed a constituency in this colony, I am not prepared to say how many of them would have been able to sustain it. But I am content to submit myself to it, and I now ask who is likely to become the best legislator–a man who has arrived at the age of 40, and has never taken any prominent part in the politics of his country, or one who at the age of 27 has for nine years at least been actively engaged in public life, and for two years of that period had the sole management of a newspaper, the reputation of which, both for talent and independence, is universally admitted to have exceeded every other paper in this colony."

The letter concluded in the following terms:

"I call upon you not to be led away by the idea that a man at the age of 27, who has had as much experience in public matters as anyone of equal years, who has received a tolerable education, and who may honestly lay claim to some small share of ability, cannot be sufficiently matured to undertake the duties of a legislator. The man who wishes to raise himself to any sort of distinction must always look for opposition from the less able, the less fortunate, or the less industrious, and the aryumentum ad jucentutem is that which everyone is ready to use against every other person who may be younger than himself. The unsoundness of this argument has been frequently demonstrated; and I feel assured that it will have little weight with you, when recommended by a barrister whose want of practice is indicated by his newspaper avocations, whose malice is more active than his impartiality, whose invention is too poor to enable him to be original, whose plagiarisms are too gross to be called ingenious; whose ignorance of the grammar of his native tongue is equal to his impertinence, and whose style of composition is too contemptible to challenge critical condemnation."

This egotistical and vituperative epistle is worth reproducing at this time only to show the worst side of Sir James Martin's character, and the chief source of his early troubles. He had the reputation of being too much impressed with exalted notions of his own importance, possessed of a hot temper, and flippant and intemperate in language. The press of the day was unanimously against him, and the Atlas, of his previous connection with which he so much boasted, was especially bitter in its comments upon the letter to the Durham electors. The consequence was that two days before the nomination Mr. Martin retired, and Mr. Donaldson was elected.

The political exigencies of the period soon afforded another chance for a seat in the Legislature, and in the same year, 1848, shortly after the Legislative Council had been dissolved, Mr. Martin issued an address to the electors of Cook and Westmoreland, submitting himself as a candidate for that constituency in opposition to Mr. Cheeke, barrister-at-law (afterwards his. Honor Mr. Justice Cheeke). That address, in which Mr. Martin contrasted himself with his opponent, without stating his political views, as he believed that those views were sufficiently known to enable him to dispense with any necessity for publishing them at that time brought the critics about him with more than their former determination, the strictures and opinions passed upon his candidature being notable instances of the low estimate at which in the earlier periods of their lives, men who afterwards achieve high positions in the community, are sometimes regarded, and which estimate, when considered years afterwards with the success in life that has been won makes that success all the more distinct and prominent. For instance, at this period of Mr. Martin's career, it was said of him: "As an attorney he may attain a respectable position–he has on one or two occasions made a lucky hit in the police court, but his position has not been that of a public man; neither is he trained for a senator. A man who may cut a tolerable figure in argument before a police magistrate may make a sorry exhibition in debating before the Speaker of the Legislative Council." The published report of his speech at the nomination indicates that he addressed the electors at great length, but contains nothing worth noticing now beyond a statement that he came before the constituency recommended by Mr. Wentworth. He gained the show of hands, and the result of the polling was his return by a majority of 58, Mr. Martin polling 108 votes, and Mr. Cheeke 54.

In the Legislative Council of that day there were more men of higher mental calibre than we find in the Legislature of to-day, the names including those of Wentworth, Lowe, Cowper, Donaldson, Murray, Nichols, and Darvall; and much greater evidence of political ability was at that time looked for in a candidate for legislative honours than appears to be looked for now. Mr. Martin took his seat in the Council as the representative of Cook and Westmoreland immediately after his election; but he soon found himself confronted by a petition from eight electors praying for an investigation into his property qualification. The reception of the petition was resisted by Mr. Martin, on the ground that the proper tribunal to decide upon the question raised was the Court for the trial of disputed elections, and the matter excited a rather bitter discussion. The petition was received, however, and a select committee was appointed to inquire into the allegation contained therein, but before the motion for the appointment of the committee was passed a scene occurred in the House, which scene, though as nothing compared to the Parliamentary scenes of the present day, did not improve Mr. Martin's position. In the debate Mr. Martin made a speech, and took a course of procedure which caused strangers to be excluded, and the press comments upon the matter were very severe, his protest against the appointment of the committee, and the attacks of his opponents, were argumentative and rigorous, and he concluded his speech by saying that:

"He felt that in point of character he was equal to any member of that House, and in education was at least equal to many. He knew well when he entered that House, short and obscure as his political career had been, that he should have many obstacles to contend with, much opposition to combat. He knew that if he were to persevere independence he must submit to be attacked, must be prepared for opposition as malicious and vindictive as this petition. But he trusted he had the courage to meet, and the ability, ultimately, to defeat, this opposition–an opposition which, he would again repeat, he would resist in every stage, because he believed in his conscience that he had been guilty of no crime."

The Select Committee reported against him, and the question whether the election was not void was referred for consideration by the Governor to the Legislative Council. The Crown law officers advised that a fresh writ should issue, and Mr. Martin, in an elaborate document to the Governor, protested that neither the Legislative Council nor his Excellency had power to take any steps whatever upon the address of the Council transmitting a copy of the Select Committee's report, and he went on to say that, should the address be referred back to the Council for its consideration, he should feel bound to leave the Council to resort to actual expulsion–that was, allow himself to be expelled–in order that he might try the question in the Supreme Court, and that whenever a proper occasion would arise he would be prepared to show that the conclusions embodied in the report accompanying the address to the Governor were "not only unwarranted in facts, but directly and palpably at variance with the evidence on which the said report professes to be founded." But his protests were fruitless, and at the next sitting of the Legislative Council a resolution declaring that the seat was void was passed. On the following day Mr. Martin took his seat in the House as usual, and the Speaker, regarding him as a stranger, directed the Sergeant-at-Arms to remove him. Thereupon the Sergeant-at-Arms, approaching Mr. Martin, laid his hand on Mr. Martin's shoulder, and they retired together from the Chamber. In this manner Mr. Martin's first acquaintance with the Legislature terminated, but he was not destined to remain out of the House for any length of time, and when the new election for Cook and Westmoreland took place, he was returned without having to go to the poll. Three years afterwards he was again elected by the same constituency, and about this time he became a contributor to the Empire newspaper. His Parliamentary career had been characterised by ability in debate, and by a good general knowledge of political subjects, but had been marred by indiscretions of temper which made him anything but a favourite to the House, and which subsequently recoiled upon himself with such force, that but for his indomitable energy he would have succumbed under the opposition which, when he first entered into official life, sought to crush him. He took a very active part in the business of the Legislature, and initiated the discussion which led to the establishment in Sydney of a branch of the Royal Mint.

In 1856, when the first Parliament under responsible Government was elected, Mr. Martin was returned for his old constituency, and soon after joined the party led by Mr (afterwards Sir Charles) Cowper. Some years subsequently, when a breach of friendship occurred between him and Mr. Cowper, the former made an explanation in the Legislative Assembly which disclosed the real reasons why he joined a man who had been one of the most virulent of his opponents; but at the time the member for Cook and Westmoreland gave his support and assistance to Mr. Cowper, a different explanation of the step was made. Colonial politics as well as constitutional government were, however, young in those days, and though, in looking back at the proceedings of our public men at the period when the great privileges secured from the British Government were struggling to obtain a firm footing in the country, there appear some things to condemn, there are many that deserve all the approbation and the praise we can give them. The first Ministry under responsible Government, headed by Mr. Donaldson, aroused a determined hostility on the part of several of the more important members among those who could not be counted upon as the supporters of the Government, and the Donaldson Ministry, being defeated in a manner which led them to resign, Mr. Cowper was entrusted by his Excellency Sir William Denison to form a new Administration. In performing this task he experienced great difficulty in finding Crown law officers, and was ultimately compelled to fall back upon Mr. Martin, whom he appointed Attorney-General. No sooner did this appointment become known, than a great outcry against it was made by the Parliament, the Press, and the Bar. Mr. Martin's proceedings during the time he had been in the House had made him many bitter enemies, and as at this date he was still only an attorney, his appointment was regarded by barristers as an insult to the Bar. At a meeting of friends of the new Ministry in the Royal Hotel, Mr. Cowper explained that Mr. Plunkett, Mr. Broadhurst, and Mr. Isaacs having declined the position of Attorney-General, he had taken a bold stop and appointed Mr. Martin, being encouraged in doing so by the fact that Mr. Martin was about to go up for examination with a view to his admission to the bar, and by a conviction that those who were brought up in the colony should as far as possible enjoy the benefits to be derived from the public offices of the colony. "He admitted," says the report of Mr. Cowper's speech on this occasion, "that Mr. Martin was prone to speak in an unguarded manner, and frequently gave offence by his remarks, but they would find that if Mr. Martin had faults, other men holding high positions were not without their infirmities. He had the advantage of many years' experience in the Legislature, where he had devoted himself attentively to public business, and had proved himself one of the best debaters in the Council, as well as one of the best lawyers." Earnest and persevering, however, as Mr. Cowper was in the defence of his Attorney-General, Mr. Martin found no favour, and the opposition to the Government in consequence of his appointment was increased by a conviction in the minds of many that Mr, Cowper and his friends had come into power by unscrupulous proceedings in the Legislature, intended to gratify no higher motive than personal ambition. At the nomination and election for Cook and Westmoreland necessary because of Mr. Martin's appointment, and when Mr. Martin was returned for the fifth time by this constituency, he pointed out the probability of the new Ministry being opposed before they had an opportunity of submitting their measures; and on the meeting of Parliament Mr. Hay (now Sir John Hay) moved a resolution declaring "that in the opinion of this House the formation of the present Ministry, under circumstances which precluded the prospect of its obtaining the confidence of the representatives of the people, was calculated to obstruct the public business, and is most reprehensible." The debate upon this motion was an exhaustive and able one, and Mr. Martin rising immediately after the resolution had been seconded, made a vigorous and forcible speech, manly in some respects, intemperate in others, but concluding in the following language, which everyone must admire:

"I am surrounded by those who have raised themselves to high positions by their own honourable exertions. True sons of the soil, not in the narrow sense in which the term is generally understood, but in the sense of the old Roman satirist, who applied the expression to those who owed their success in life to neither wealth, nor pedigree, nor fortune. With them and me there are many things in common, I ask them, and I ask them confidently, not ungenerously and unjustly to desert me on this occasion, from my outset in life until now I have had to achieve everything for myself, and from the humblest beginnings I have fought my way almost to the highest point which in this colony it is possible to attain to. At every step, I have met with opposition, and been compelled to make good my ground; and whatever I have achieved I owe not to the favour nor the affection of any man. I have never cringed, nor fawned, nor played the sycophant, and if my conduct is open to condemnation it is certainly in a contrary direction. The lesson of self-reliance, of which I trust I may be pardoned in regarding my career as an example, will not, I hope, be shorn of its value by an unmerited reverse at the moment of final triumph. As I have borne up against and overcome many obstacles of greater magnitude than the present, I trust that I shall successfully bear up against this one also, and that in the stand which I now take the generous and spontaneous sympathies of the House will go along with me, and that the only effect of the present storm will be, like those in the physical universe, to leave the atmosphere of public life purer than it was before."

The hostile resolution was carried by 20 votes to 23, and the Ministry resigned. In 1857 the Parker Donaldson Government was defeated, and Mr. Cowper returned to power, with Mr. Martin again as Attorney-General. The new Administration was severely criticised as a patchwork of political opinions and personal antagonisms; but Mr. Martin was received as a Minister with much more favour than formerly, for his position as a barrister was such as had won him considerable reputation, and his conduct in Parliament had greatly improved in self-control and in his bearing towards his opponents. An extract from the speech he delivered in the electors of Cook and Westmoreland when he went before them at this time for re-election is worth reading because it contrasts in a remarkable degree with a speech delivered in the House on a later occasion, of which some notice will be taken further on, and, considered with the later speech, shows how much he was willing to sacrifice to his ambition. Alluding to the comments that had been made upon the disagreement in political opinions that existed among the members of the Ministry, he said:

''It has been industriously circulated that it was a suspicious and astonishing fact that men who on many questions in former years were opposed to each other should now combine to form the Government of the country, I can see nothing surprising; these questions and the opinions which were expressed in relation to them have undergone many phases of modification. It is quite possible that in a very short time opinions upon questions of public importance may soften down, and that conflicting parties may fix the line on which both as a general rule may safely agree. But this is quite certain that no great measure, either of constitutional principles or municipal usefulness, could be passed without a combination of parties varying more or less in their political sentiments. Without these combinations, however talented an individual might be, even though his opinion could be proved arithmetically to be right, he would be but an isolated unit, without power to carry out the objects he contemplated to perfect the measures which he had conceived as most desirable for the public good. Seeing that this is the case in all older countries, seeing that this is the case here, so far as our experience has at present instructed us, I think I am justified in saying that combination of parties that to some extent compromises political opinion, when demanded by the urgent necessities of the State, are desirable. I freely admit that there are measures and principles on which I have differed from my hon. colleagues, and on which to some extent I differ from some of them still. But, after deep consultation with each other, we found there was no such difference as that which could prevent us concurring in the great principles upon which the general policy of the country should be based. We found that, inasmuch as there was no distrust, no division among us as to the principles of our Government, we could abandon minor differences of detail, which might be adjusted by the legislature. It is with these views, with these convictions, that the present Ministry took office."

On November 8, 1858, he resigned his seat in the Government, and his resignation was immediately followed by comments upon the course he had taken in joining a Ministry with the members of which he had so few political opinions in common. Various reasons for his resignation were rumoured, but it was not until a week after the event, when he made an extraordinary explanation in the Assembly, that the real causes of the step he had taken were known. His statement disclosed so much of the prime motive–ambition–which influenced him in his career, and was such a striking comparison with the statement he made before the electors of his constituency, that some extracts from it are indispensable. After making a short general reference to bygone transactions, because of the opinions that had been expressed at the "the singular position," as he described it, "in which for a long time have permitted myself to be placed, that is to say, allowing myself to be associated with colleagues with whom it was generally understood I entertained few opinions in common," and having recounted the circumstances which led to his accepting the office of Attorney-General after the defeat of the Donaldson Ministry, he said:-

"Now, from the circumstances to which I have called attention, it will be manifest to everybody that the hon. member (Mr. Cowper) and I did not meet together in that way because our past conduct showed that we had any strong political sympathies, or because our past conduct showed that we had any personal regard for each other, but it was because—and I do not see any reason why I should not state the exact truth—we felt ourselves indispensable to each other, because he could not form his Government without me, and because I could not succeed in putting that Government out of office which I thought ought not to be there, except by co-operation with him. That was the reason. It was from no communion of principle; it was from no feelings of personal regard, but because of the necessities of our opposition—because he could not carry out the views he desired without my aid, nor I mine without his. That was the origin of our co-operation. We went into office and we remained in office I think for six weeks. . . . We were put out of office. We remained out of office for a considerable time, and during our period of opposition we acted together. Why did we act together? I felt, sir, that I was placed under very deep obligations. From the manner in which I had been attacked I felt that I was placed under deep obligations to the hon. member, and to those who co-operated with him—an obligation which it was difficult for me to get rid of, and I felt myself to a very great extent coerced, perhaps, into supporting matters which my own convictions did not entire—believing that personally a dead set had been made against me—feeling that my friends were on this side of the House, those who had shown themselves my personal friends—I felt that it was extremely difficult for me to separate myself from them in almost any of their proceedings in these walls. And although our union in government was not based upon principle or personal regard, I felt that from other circumstances we were so tied up together that it would be difficult indeed to separate us. The hon. member knew well when I went into office with him that on the Electoral Bill and other matters I did not go the entire length with him—that I did not approve of vote by ballot or universal suffrage. He know that we were not at one either upon many other measures, and that if we were to carry on Government together, it would be by a reasonable and mutual compromise."

He then went on to explain the circumstances which led to his resignation, and which were rather comical. It was no part of his notion of responsible Government that it was necessary for every Minister to attend Cabinet meetings; he considered that each Minister should dispose of the affairs of his own department on his own individual responsibility, and that united action should only be required when some great principles were at stake. In accordance with these opinions he seldom attended meetings of the Cabinet, and being so much at variance with his colleagues upon their measures, or different in regard to them, he was frequently absent from the House, and when there assisted the Government with nothing but his vote. Having absented himself from a Cabinet meeting at a critical time, Mr. Cowper wrote to him a letter, too long to quote, but intensely amusing even now, requesting him to relieve the Government from an embarrassing position, by putting his resignation into Mr. Cowper's hands. Mr. Martin, indignant at the course pursued by his colleagues, took no notice of Mr. Cowper's letter, but immediately forwarded his resignation to his Excellency Sir William Denison, who accepted it with much regret.

A little more than six months afterwards, when the Electoral Reform Act was brought into operation, Mr. Martin was a candidate for East Sydney, and a determined opponent of Mr. Cowper. He was returned with Mr. Cowper, Mr. John Black, and Sir Henry Watson Parkes, who referred to Mr. Martin at the time as "a gentleman of great name, of great ability, and who had grown up and built his reputation with the growth of the city, where he had always lived". In October, 1868, the Cowper Government was defeated by a vote which was equivalent to the rejection of the financial policy of the Government, and after an unsuccessful attempt by the late Mr. W. Forster to form a new Ministry, Mr. Martin was sent for, a new Government was formed, and he became Premier, his colleagues being Mr. Forster, Mr. Eagar (now the Hon. G. Eagar, Under-Secretary for Finance and Trade), Mr. Wilson (afterwards the Hon. J. B. Wilson), Mr. Holroyd (until recently the Master in Equity, and Mr. Faucett (now his Honor Mr. Justice Faucett). It was in this year, 1863, that the celebrated trial of the escort robbers took place, and during a crisis in public feeling Mr. Martin addressed the Governor on the subject, in the interest of one of the prisoners, Manns, strongly protesting against what was considered by many to be a grave Executive blunder, but without effect, for Manns was executed.

Before the downfall of the Cowper Administration it had been repeatedly declared that a deficiency would be disclosed in the revenue, and that a method of keeping the accounts had been adopted which disguised the true financial condition of the country; and when Mr. Smart, the Colonial Treasurer of the day, presented his financial statement, it was found that the demands for the ensuing year would leave a deficiency at the end of 1864 of £680,000. Thus the new Ministry had the deficit to face, and found it necessary to attempt some new scheme of taxation. To meet the emergency the Treasurer proposed in 1864 a financial scheme of a protective character, and the Ministry decided to reduce the expenses of Government by withdrawing some of the amounts on the estimates, and by cutting down the salaries of the Civil servants. In this scheme the Government proposed to strike off the vote for immigration, reduce considerably the vote for the volunteers and that for the pilot service, diminish the number of gold-commissioners, discharge some road officers, and strike off from the Estimates many miscellaneous items of expenditure, the total amount exported to be saved reaching £217,856. The financial scheme did not find favour, and a cry of "Free Trade versus Protection" was raised. An adverse vote in Parliament soon after it met in 1864, censuring the Government for postponing for so long a period the assembling of Parliament, and for adopting measures affecting the revenue and the commercial interests of the colony without previously obtaining the sanction of Parliament, led the Government to advise a dissolution, and Parliament was dissolved. The elections were hotly contested, and proved very disastrous to the Ministry. Some of the Ministers found it very difficult to obtain seats in the new Parliament, and Mr. Martin, beaten at the Tumut, where he sought re-election, was nominated for East Sydney, Wellington, Monaro, and the Lachlan, He was returned for the last two constituencies, and in January, 1865, just before the new Parliament met, he published an ably written and eloquently worded address to the electorate of the five constituencies where he had been a candidate, in vindication of his public acts. In this address he stated that the measures which had raised the greatest number of opponents were the tariff, and the now commission of the peace—a revision of the lists of magistrates which was unpopular, and gave great offence to many. His reference to the tariff and the subject of protection is worth reading. He wrote:–

"Our tariff brought down upon us the enmity of the agricultural community, almost without exception. We proposed to levy a very small tax upon certain commodities which might be manufactured in the colony. The tax was a revenue tax only–altogether too small for protection, but at once the commercial classes took the alarm and raised a cry that we were about to introduce protection. No cry could be more unfounded. It is well known that I have for years past been a protectionist. More than 14 years ago I moved the second reading of a bill the object of which was to promote our own agriculture by the imposition of protective duties. I took that course not because it was popular, for no views could at that time have been more unpopular, but because my reason satisfied me that it was right. I thought then, and I think now, that this most magnificent territory, teeming with the elements of every kind of wealth, mineral, pastoral, and agricultural, was intended for other purposes than a sheep-walk like a vast Asiatic steppe, or a mere commercial emporium like some small city of the Middle Ages. With a territory larger than the greatest European kingdom, and a population no greater than that of a sixth-rate European town, I thought there was an ample field to which the starving thousands of the mother country might be removed, to the great relief of that country, to the great advantage of this, I knew that the skilled artisan of Britain could not be honestly asked to come to a country where the necessaries of life were dear, and the articles in the manufacture of which he was an adept were imported at a price with which he could not compete, and I felt that his position was not mended by the opportunity afforded of taking his wife and children to some remote gunyah on the Namoi or the Darling, or settling down on some alluvial patch the fruits of which might at any time be reduced in price below the cost of their production by imports from foreign countries. There is a limit to the number of shepherds and bullock-drivers, dock-labourers, warehousemen, and mercantile clerks that are required, and there are many other occupations equally desirable and equally ennobling. I know that the greatness of England arose not from commerce, not from manufactures, not from agriculture alone, but from all combined, By the opportunities which a wise legislation afforded for every kind of industry and enterprise, those small islands became the habitation of the greatest and wealthiest people on the globe. The coal, the iron, the copper, the lead, the wool, the fertile soil, which constitute the foundation of England's greatness, are here as well as there, and in a larger measure; but while the British islands support their thirty millions this colony is unable to maintain in comfort four hundred thousand. I know that such a state of things was most unnatural. I knew that however lucrative it might be to supply cotton silks to the nobility of the Sandwich Islands, and shoddy cloth and Brummagan rubbish of all kinds to the simple savage of Oceania, but a very small number could participate in these advantages. We might by trade of that kind constitute a rude, barbaric, bastard sort of Antipodean Venice, with nothing of the greatness or grandeur of its prototype; but we could never by these means reproduce here a manly, vigorous, numerous British population. I wish to see this country largely peopled with such a population, and with that object I strove rather that everyone should be comfortable than that a few should be rich, that there should be fair scope for every man to follow himself, or to bring up his children to that pursuit to which his judgment or his fancy inclined him, and that no man should be found starving in a land of plenty, or begging, and begging in vain,

'A brother of the earth
To give him leave to toll.'"

Having made this statement of his protectionist principles, he admitted that his views had not taken hold upon the public mind in such a way as to warrant him in believing that the time was at hand for their general adoption. "Knowing that Government must be carried on in accordance with the views of the majority, it was no part of my policy," he said, "to urge on protection." The address concluded in the following teams:

"I wish to see our legislators turn their attention to real reforms which have a direct influence upon the condition of the people, I wish to see the people better housed, better clothed, better taught, and better fed. I wish to see crime checked in the bud, and where it cannot be so checked I wish to see it promptly punished when fully developed. I wish to see all enjoy equal rights and equal security. I wish to see a gradual elevation of the poor, and not a rapid degradation of the wealthy. I wish to remove all causes of enmity and misunderstanding between those who are prosperous and those who are not. And above all I wish to see the affairs of legislation and government in the hands of men who, by character, intellect, temperament, and culture, are not unworthy of such a trust; who will neither truckle nor domineer, who will do what they conceive to be right regardless of consequences, and to whom office can hold out no attractions, nor give any gratification one moment longer than it affords the means of conferring benefits upon the country."

Immediately after the meeting of Parliament Mr Cowper moved a motion of want of confidence in the Government, and the motion was passed without debate by 42 to 14. Less than twelve months afterwards Mr. Martin was again called upon to form an Administration, the Cowper Government having been defeated on a resolution moved by Mr. Parkes. This was the period of the Martin and Parkes coalition, when, though previously opposed to each other, they agreed to associate in the formation of a Ministry, Mr. Martin bringing in Messrs. Eagar and Wilson, and Mr. Parkes bringing in Mr. Byrnes. Mr. Isaacs and Mr. Docker were added. This Ministry, considered one of the strongest ever formed under responsible Government in this country, came into office on January 22, 1866, and for two years was successful in maintaining a good working majority in Parliament, and in carrying measures of the greatest importance, the principal of these being the Public Schools Act, the Amended Municipalities Act, and the measures for the establishment of industrial schools and reformatories. It was during the time this Government was in office that H.R.H. Prince Alfred visited the colony, in commemoration of which notable event Mr. Martin received the honour of knighthood. In 1888 the Government resigned, but in 1870 Sir James Martin was again Premier, and this time with Mr. (now Sir John) Robertson as Colonial Secretary. The coalition between those two prominent public men, who had for years been strongly opposed to each other, raised considerable outcry and much comment; but Sir James Martin, in his address to the electors of East Sydney, explained that it would have been easy for him to have formed, from the ranks of those with whom he had acted exclusively in opposition, a Government able to command a majority in the Assembly, and for this reason, and because of the necessity for a speedy adjustment of the finances, he thought an attempt should be made to secure the aid of Mr. Robertson. They had long been opposed to each other, he said, and much acrimonious discussion between them had increased their antagonism; but looking to the nature of the crisis he thought it was his duty to endeavour to come to an understanding with a gentleman who could rely on so large a support as Mr. Robertson could; and on the points which demanded immediate settlement by the Legislature all the Ministers were agreed.

Three years after this Sir Alfred Stephen retired from the position of Chief Justice, and the office being offered to Sir James Martin by Sir Henty Parkes, who was at the head of the Government at that time, he accepted it and retired from Parliament. He was sworn in on November 10, 1878; and Sir George Innes, then Solicitor-General, when expressing the congratulations of the Bar upon his Honor's appointment, paid a graceful tribute to the ability of Sir James Martin and the position he occupied in the community at the time of his elevation to the Bench, said:-

"The Bar of New South Wales has long been proud to acknowledge you as a leader and, while making no invidious comparison, I feel I am authorised to say that without a single dissentient the members of the Bar gladly admit that by none could the high honour to which you have now attained have been more fairly won, and that by none could that honour be more worthily borne. . . . We have reason to believe that the satisfaction with which your filling the great office of Chief Magistrate of this colony is felt by the Bar is shared in no diminished degree by the people at large."

The duties appertaining to the office of Chief Justice his Honor performed with assiduity and care, and it was only when the work became so excessive as to induce serious ill-health that he was compelled to seek rest by obtaining several months' leave of absence. An unfortunate disagreement between him and his Excellency Sir Hercules Robinson, respecting the appointment of an Administrator of the Government during the period of his Excelleney's mission to Fiji, made Sir James Martin for a long time a stranger at Government House, but, with the arrival of his Excellency Lord Augustus Loftus he once more appeared in public, and at the swearing in of the new Governor administered the customary oaths.

Among other conspicuous things during his career, Sir James Martin was the prominent figure at the unveiling of the Wentworth statue in the Sydney University, on which occasion he delivered an address, and again at the grave at Vaucluse on the occasion of the public funeral to the remains of Mr. Wentworth, where he pronounced an impressive oration. He took an active part in the negotiations with the sister colony of Victoria respecting the Border duties, and did much towards putting New South Wales in her present effective state of defence against foreign naval, or military attack. He was president of the Royal Commission on the Defences of the Colony, which sat a few years ago, and produced a very valuable report, and at the time of his death he was president of the New South Wales Colonial and Indian Exhibition Commission.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Martin, Sir James (1820–1886)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Hirundo
  • Junius

14 May, 1820
Midleton, Cork, Ireland


4 November, 1886 (aged 66)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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