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Brisbane Lawyers – Splendid Men of the Old School

R Little D F Roberts E I C Browne G L Hart J H Flower A W Chambers W H Wilson C S Mein T Daly G V Hellicar T Bunton J Keane J G Appel J G Foxton T Macdonald-Paterson

When I came to Brisbane Mr. Peter MacPherson was a very prominent solicitor, and in 1881, he went to the Upper House. Mr. Macpherson drafted a good deal of the legislation of the day, and was quite in the confidence of Ministers. Like many other men in the profession, he was chiefly concerned in keeping people from going to the law, and he generally had his way.

He was tall of the Australian type, and well bearded, as was the fashion in those days. The men of Queensland were virile, bearded, enterprising. It was said, with special reference to the Poles and their lances, that a nation which lengthens its weapons shortens its boundaries. Also it has been said that a nation begins to decay when its men cut off their beards.

Did not the clean faced Roman lose his grip on power, and see arise the bearded men of Northern Europe and Britain? Certainly the British Army, until recent years, men on active service were encouraged to wear beards, as a bearded host in a charge looked more formidable than a beardless enemy.

Of course, dear reader, you will tell us how the smooth faced Japanese smashed the hirsute Russians in Manchuria. Well, let it go at that, but one of our scientists has claimed that in the days when men wore beards the families were bigger.

However, Peter MacPherson wore a beard, but there was no measure of ferocity in his nature. He was a good speaker, a keen critic, and a capable and trusted lawyer. Once he said to a client, who wished to go to law, and seemed to have the chances on his side: “You can’t do it. You probably would win, but it would be an injustice. No, you will have to settle with So-and-So. Pay him like a man.” The client was obdurate, went to another lawyer – and lost the case.

Peter Macpherson lived out on the river bank with an entrance to his place from Montague Road, where there were big gates and clumps of bamboo. The home was wide, verandahed, cool, and well shaded. On the adjoining lot upstream was a China man’s garden, and in later years we practised our ponies at polo on the spot.

Mrs. Macpherson was a sister of Sir Pope Cooper; tall, dark, handsome, and distinguished. The Macpherson family, or part of it, abides in Brisbane, and a son, with partners, carried on the profession of his very worthy father.

It was about February, in 1881, that Mr. Robert Little (Bio) was Crown Solicitor. His home and office in earlier days had been at the cottage at the corner of George and Adelaide Streets, where the Hotel Daniel now stands. In 1881 the cottage was part of Lennon’s Hotel, a newer two storied brick building. The Lennon’s moved down George Street into the new building , and the corner place was entirely rebuilt.

Robert Little was a very fine type of the English lawyer, but also rather suggestive of the country gentleman. physically he was tall, straight, and distinguished looking, and he had a very keen eye for a good horse. He later entered into partnership with Eyles Irwin Caulfield Browne under the style of Little and Browne, and later Mr. H. L. E. Ruthning joined the firm, which became Little, Browne and Ruthning.

Mr. Little built a beautiful home on the Albion Heights and called it Whytecliffe. The house stands today as good as the day it was built; a tribute to the bricks, mortar, and workmanship of those times. With a considerable family of young folk Whytecliffe was a bright and happy place. In later years, when Mr. Robert Little had passed to his rest and the family was scattered, Whytecliffe was too big for the ordinary family residence.

Gardeners and house domestics were more difficult, private entertaining, even by those who could afford it, became even less the vogue, and the beautiful place was converted into a great private hotel. It still looks spick and span, and of afternoons, the tennis courts are well filled, and the dwellers there have the wonderful view of the river, city, forest, and mountains.

Mr. Little's sons I knew well. Frank was a banker, a good citizen,who gave a son, a fine young fellow, to the Empire in the great struggle, 1914-18, when so many Australian boys laid down their lives for a cause.

Vincent followed the law, and was in my time Associate to Mr. Justice Pring, and later one of the firm of Bunton and Little, solicitors. Vincent Little rode a beautiful little bay horse, about 15 hands high, and just an ideal type of light hack.

Willie Little entered the Government service on the Works side, and, as is Frank, is still with us. Willie was a splendid horseman, a prominent member of the Ben Hunt Club when Gawn Echlin and then Adolph Feez hunted the pack, and I saw him on an occasion win a steeplechase at Eagle Farm (Ascot) on his staunch little grey Blue Peter. Mrs. J. P. de Winton was a daughter of Robert Little, and also Mrs. Gilson Foxton, of Indooroopilly.

Mr. Robert Little did not seem to have any political aspirations. I fancy that he was not quite built for the rough and tumble of that sphere. Parliamentary amenities, even in those days of better educated and more cultured men, had their peculiarities.

A very conspicuous figure in the Parliamentary, social, and legal, life of the early 1880s was Mr. Daniel Foley Roberts. He was a member of the Legislative Council and Chairman of Committees. I knew him very well indeed. In New South Wales as a young man he was an accomplished amateur rider, and shortly after we met, and on learning whence I originated, he said: “I sometimes rode for your father at Homebush.”

Mr. Roberts was a very keen lawyer, and held in vast respect both in and out of the profession. The late Chief Justice of Queensland, Sir Pope Cooper, was, I think, a nephew of Mr. Roberts – at any rate, he was a relative.

As Chairman of Committees Mr. Roberts was very successful. He had the Standing Orders at his finger tips, and was a very acceptable presiding genius in a House which had in it a great deal of ability and quiet dignity.

Mr. Roberts left a large family, one of whom I knew intimately, the late Daniel Foley Pring Roberts, who was very prominent in football and cricket, and also a very clever boxer. A daughter is Mrs. Graham Hart, of Indooroopilly, whose bright and charming qualities and many good works are still cherished by a very wide circle.

Daniel Foley Roberts, in addition to being a clever horseman, had been a good cricketer, and played in many a match in Brisbane in the days when the wickets were pretty rough, but the spirit of the game was in close adherence to the injunction of Horace: “Play the game and be a King!”

Mr. Roberts made a beautiful home on Bowen Terrace – Ravenswood – which, like Whytecliffe, has been converted into a house for many people. I hate the well-known term, “boarding-house.”

It is difficult to say very much of Mr. Eyles Irwin Caulfield Browne, (Bio) for he was very reserved, and though a member of the Legislative Council for some years he was not an active politician. He was of very pronounced views, but not a keen party man. He was a great reader and thinker, and would have made a fine journalist had he not devoted himself to the law.

His health was in later years by no means robust. On days when the Legislative Council was sitting, Mr. Browne was to be found in his place there; otherwise his time was spent mainly at his office, or at his home, a delightful place called “Kingsholme,” just below New Farm. He watched public events very closely, and he had a very high opinion of the political views of Sir Thomas McIlwraith.

Mr. Browne was generally regarded as a close Conservative, but his views were markedly progressive. Yet I used to somewhat shock him with “Observer” headlines though, looking back into the old files, they see m now to be extraordinarily mild, tending to placidity rather than to sensationalism.

Mrs. E. I. C. Browne was a sister of Mrs. (Justice ) Harding, and both were sunny-natured women of the finest type. The initials “E. I. C.” suggests a family association with the old East India Company., and in the beautiful little church at Frampton, in Dorset, there are the burial places of or memorials to a good many Brownes who were admirals or judges or soldiers of the honourable Company.

However, E. I. C. Browne was a very retiring man in his life, and reference to him may be left at the point that he was a capable and trusted lawyer of the good old school.

The members of a very well remembered firm of solicitors were Graham Lloyd Hart and John Henry Flower. In 1881 their office was over the A.M.P. Chambers. The firm did not take ordinary cases. With Messrs. Hart and Flower it was not a case of business first. The class of business was the main thing. That is to say, no dubious case would be taken, no matter how great the monetary incentive.

Mr. Graham Hart was one of the school of high-minded men, who regarded his profession as a sacred trust. He was intensely practical, had the confidence of everyone associated with him, and was a very wise and generous counselor and friend.

How pleasant it is to write of the leading solicitors in those days. They were nearly all temperamentally opposed to lawsuits, and would tolerate no quibbling. Usually it was put to the clients as stated in the case of Mr. Peter Macpherson, that perhaps a settlement might be reached.

It is fair to reckon that at least 50 per cent of cases going to the men of whom I write were settled equitable and honourably. Mr. Graham Hart is survived in the practice by his son, William Hamilton Hart – and it “like father like son”- while another son is Mr. Percy Hart, a well-known barrister and a good “Digger.” Mrs. Graham Hart has been referred to in the notes on Mr. Daniel Foley Roberts.

John Henry Flower, like his partner, was a clever lawyer, a man who knew his job, and did it as a faithful officer of the Supreme Court. He was warm hearted, generous, and well beloved by all who were associated with him.

He, too, had great strength of character, and once having entered upon a case he disclosed the attributes reminiscent of Shakespeare’s advice to the man concerned in a quarrel. Mr. Graham Hart made his home out at Indooroopilly on a high ridge which runs east and west, parallel to the river, and called it “Greylands,” and Mr. Flower pitched his tabernacle at “Kirkston,” on the heights just south-west of Lutwyche.

Mr. A. W. Chambers, who practised in 1881 or 1882 up in Queen Street, nearly opposite the Town Hall, was better known to me as a musician than as a lawyer. He was a prominent member of the Brisbane Musical Union for many years, and sang with the basses. He came to Queensland when 10 years old, and was thus almost a son of the soil.

His father was an architect and engineer, well known in Brisbane; and Arthur Williams Chambers began his working life as a junior master at the Brisbane Grammar School, and he was a brilliant Latinist, and a great disciple of Henry Linacre. He sometimes regretted that he had not stuck to scholastic work, of which he was very fond, but he went into the office of Messrs.

Garrick and Lyons with his articles (considerably before my time), and emerged a full blown lawyer. He joined Mr. Lyons as a partner, then practiced with Mr. Baxter Bruce as a partner, and ultimately there was evolved the firm of Chambers, Bruce and McNab, on the inclusion of young Alec. McNab, whom I remember as a sturdy and athletic stripling.

My friendship with Walter Horatio Wilson (Bio) was a thing that I very much prized, and the memory of it is full of fragrance. He was a good man, kind, temperate, just, and with a wonderful sympathy for those who needed help. Like the Rev. Thomas Jones, better known as Canon Jones –of whom more anon – W. H. Wilson never considered whether a man was the cause of his own trouble.

It was enough for him that there was a chance to help. That always seems to me a beautiful evidence that Christian charity, even if rare, is not unknown “under the sun.” My acquaintance with him began over a legal matter, and it ripened during his service in the Griffith Government, when he was Postmaster-General and Leader of the Legislative Council. Mr. Wilson was very acceptable to the Upper House, being extremely courteous, firm when necessary, and always ready to give even his critics credit for the best intentions.

Very often it was his ("the Act") and consideration which secured for him his way in a House where his party was not always in the majority. As a lawyer he was of that good old school, which did not promote law suits. He was very prominent in the musical life of Brisbane, and was extremely helpful to the Musical Union in the days when a few enthusiasts were building up a love for good work. In his house he had a pipe organ, very largely of his own building, and there he would spend hours with the great masters of the wordless messages.

Mr. Wilson was twice married, the children of his first marriage being Mr. F. W. Wilson, who had a distinguished career at Oxford and practiced at the Bar in Brisbane, but who died just in his prime, and Mrs. H. F. S. Moran, of Brisbane, who was, like her father, a brilliant musician.

Secondly, Mr. W. H. Wilson married a daughter of Mr. Justice Harding, and is survived by a son, another brave “Digger” having made the supreme sacrifice in the Great War. In his practice, Mr. Wilson was joined by Mr. Newman Wilson, a member of a well-known Ipswich family, and later the firm became Wilson, Newman Wilson, and Hemming, the last named being the surviving partner.

Later Mr. C. S. Mein (Bio) became Mr. Justice Mein, of the Supreme Court, the first case of a solicitor being raised to that position in Queensland. Mr. Mein had, however, been a member of the Legislative Council, and held Cabinet rank on several occasions from 1876 on. I am not quite sure, but think that the offices included that of Solicitor-General. Prior to being raised to the Bench he had joined the firm of Hart and Flower.

He was not a robust man, but he did very fine service in the old volunteer days of the Defence Force, and held rank as Lieutenant-Colonel, commanding the old Moreton Regiment. As a judge he proved an excellent selection, and on one occasion during a controversy on appointments to the Bench he was given as an instance of the wisdom of drawing judges from the lower branch of the profession.

It was contended that the solicitor in a big general practice was likely to be much better able to weigh evidence than a man who had always had a brief to take into court. “Charley” Mein had been a good cricketer, was fond of a good horse, and was credited with having a quiet interest in one or two which were fairly successful at Eagle Farm as we knew the Ascot of today.

The members of the firm of Daly and Hellicar were very well known men. “Tom” Daly I used to meet up in Cooktown, when he was a Crown Prosecutor with Judge Hely in the District Court. He was either a native of Brisbane or came here very young, and his home was up near Parliament house, by Alice Street and Margaret Street – a little old cottage vine covered and shaded by generous trees. He was a man of quiet nature, but very sound as a lawyer. Personally, I did not know him very well.

His partner, George Valentine Hellicar, was a personality – tall, strong, active, and energetic. He was a major in the Moreton Regiment, and, like Thynne, Mein, Cardew, and other lawyers, did much to train up Queenslanders to their duty in the matter of defence.

Hellicar married a Miss Halloran, one of the strikingly handsome daughters of the Sheriff of Queensland, and his son, Val. Hellicar, of the Bank of Australia, lately left Brisbane for Sydney.

Another of the old school of lawyers was “Tom” Bunton, whose firm later was Bunton and Little. Bunton was a close friend of Sir S.

Yet another was John Keane, a jaunty figure in the early 1880s with Dundreary whiskers, a white top hat, and almost invariably with a very gay necktie and a not less gay “buttonhole” of flowers. Keane was a Sydney native, and was a great authority on all sorts of sport.

He was in my time Secretary to the Crown Law Office, and held that position in 1883, when Mr. Justice Chubb (or should it be now plain Mr. Chubb?) was Attorney General in the McIlwraith Ministry. Then there was the younger generation – H. L. E. Ruthning, J. F. G. Foxton, George Markwell, C. E. and H. E. Smith, L. F. Bernays, Pollet Cardew, and perhaps some others of note.

Of course there was also J. G. Appel, (Bio) a very handsome and warm hearted young Queenslander of French extraction on the paternal side, his father’s folk having been driven out of their country into Germany in the Huguenot days. Like Foxton, he took up the political career, and served the State as a Cabinet Minister. I like best to remember him as a musician. He had a beautiful and wonderfully well trained baritone voice, and one song of his rings in my ears today, with the refrain (given from memory):

Still thy form, so fair, so dear

Like guardian angel hovers near.

Those dwellers of the Logan electorate, when next their member seeks their suffrages, should promise to continue their support only on condition that he sings to them at each meeting “The Wanderer.” Alas, our paths now are so wide apart that we do not even meet even once in three years; but George Appel, with the soul of an artist, the heart of a child, and the strength of a Greek wrestler, is vividly in my mind. And we were friends in those old days of eighteen hundred and ever so many.

J. G. Foxton, (Bio) Colonel Foxton, C.M.G., V.D., deserves more than a line, for he was as conspicuous in the government of Queensland as in defence. He was an untiring worker; practically he worked himself to death, and as a citizen soldier he gave service which should make his name well remembered in our Commonwealth.

Almost I had forgotten Thomas Macdonald-Paterson, who, as a member of the Legislative Council and Postmaster-General in several Ministries, did great service to the State. He was one of the pair that defeated Thomas Joseph Byrnes and his political partner in the famous run for North Brisbane, after which one of the most brilliant of Queensland sons (Mr. Byrnes) had to find a refuge at Warwick, whose people very gladly accepted him and sent him back to his place in the Government.

Macdonald-Paterson’s mate on that occasion was “Bob” Fraser, a Mayor of Brisbane, a Captain in the Queensland Scottish Volunteers, and, quite as a secondary consideration – if even that-a soft-goods merchant and importer. In the old days at Rockhampton, Mac-Pat., as he was often called, was in business, and bad times somewhat crippled him; but he studied then for the law, and was admitted as a solicitor, and soon established a big and profitable practice.

One day a number of business men, bankers, and others received invitations from the now rising lawyer to dinner. Each guest’s place was marked by an envelope, and in each envelope was a cheque representing the balance of debt, with interest, standing over in the old Macdonald-Paterson estate. And when it came to toasting “Our Host,” it is doubtful if ever the assertion that “He’s a jolly good fellow” was given with greater sincerity,

Another point of interest in the man, was his friendship with James Tyson. The millionaire pastoralist thought there was not such another in Queensland, or anywhere else for that matter. When any person or corporation put up a proposal to Tyson, the old man would say: “Well, I’ll see Paterson.”

And sure enough he would discuss the matter, with his lawyer and confidant. Now Macdonald-Paterson, with all his cheery way and goodness of heart, had a wonderfully fine vision. He was a remarkably keen business man, and it is said that Tyson took no step of importance in the matter of investments unless upon Macdonald-Paterson’s advice

. Even when Tyson was plagued nigh to death by Morehead to make a speech in the Legislative Council, he only weakened to the extent of saying: “I’ll talk to Pat-.” But Morehead got in a rasping: “D… Macdonald-Paterson.”

- Reginald Spencer Browne (Portrait) (Bio)