William Stawell (1815 – 1889) statesman, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
As an agnostic William Stawell took part in some of the more dissolute amusements of the era, but in 1848 a sermon preached by Bishop Perry converted him, and next year he became a devout Anglican. He was no longer the ‘blythe barrister’, and his transformed behaviour produced differing reactions among his friends and associates. He was a trustee of the Public Library, president of the Victorian Deaf and Dumb Institution, a president of the Melbourne Hospital and the Benevolent Asylum and was connected with many charitable objectives.
Stawell played an important part in establishing the Supreme Court as an honoured and respected tribunal, administering law with distinction and justice with impartiality. His integrity, industry and ability and his strong sense of justice coupled with patience and courtesy soon won him the goodwill of the Victorian Bar; his austerity was tempered with a sense of humour. Much of his time was occupied with important criminal trials in which his kindliness was often obscured by the stern sense of duty he felt as a judge in a community he considered somewhat primitive and lawless. Whilst Stawell was tenacious in exposing evil-doers he was equally insistent that the Crown should prove its case. His views on punishment tended to the simplistic; in murder trials when he deemed it appropriate he did not flinch from recommending that the death penalty be carried out. He often invoked solitary confinement against young offenders to avoid contamination by older criminals. Like Barry, however, he believed that when law and order were more firmly established lesser punishments would be appropriate.
Stawell also administered the general body of laws, much of which he had designed, prepared and carried into legislative effect. Most of the equitable jurisdiction was undertaken by Judge Molesworth, but Stawell’s contribution as a common lawyer was notable. He undertook an enormous volume of work and his dispatch was excellent. His decisions were invariably delivered extempore or within a matter of hours; they exhibited the sound grasp of common law principles of an instinctive lawyer with a pragmatic rather than philosophic mind. His reported judgments on many diverse topics are admirably succinct but did not exhibit deep learning. At times he erred; in April 1869 when Glass and Quarterman were imprisoned for contempt by the Legislative Assembly, he ordered their release on the basis that the assembly did not enjoy the full privileges of the House of Commons. The decision, though popular with the general public, caused grave consternation in parliament and on petition by Speaker Sir Francis Murphy, the judgment was set aside by the Privy Council. Notable civil trials over which Stawell presided included the petition for judicial separation filed in 1864 against Judge Molesworth by his wife Henrietta on the ground of cruelty, and Molesworth’s cross petition on the ground of his wife’s alleged adultery with R. D. Ireland and also with a man unknown.
In March 1873, desirous of having his sons educated in England, Stawell took the leave to which he was entitled. He was warmly received in Ireland and Trinity College conferred on him honorary M.A. and LL.D. degrees. Late in 1874 he was recalled by Sir George Bowen to become acting governor the following year. As governor he advised his ministers fully in writing on each measure and thereafter did not interfere. In August 1875 when the Kerferd-Service government was defeated he refused to dissolve the assembly, judging that it was his first duty to exhaust the parties in parliament, and Sir James McCulloch became premier.
Stawell took a deep interest in the material welfare of the colony. He was president of the Philosophical Institute of Victoria (Royal Society) in 1858-59. As chairman of the Exploration Committee of the Royal Society he superintended the arrangements for the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition. Burke bequeathed his watch and his papers to Stawell who headed the mourners at the explorers’ funeral. He was a trustee of the Public Library, president of the Victorian Deaf and Dumb Institution, a president of the Melbourne Hospital and the Benevolent Asylum and was connected with many charitable objectives. From its foundation he was a member of the Council of the University of Melbourne, and on the death of Barry in November 1880 was for a brief period its chancellor. He was a member of the royal commissions on penal and prison discipline (1870) and the Aborigines (1877). He also helped to form the constitution of the Anglican Church in Victoria; he favoured self-government of the Church by a democratic assembly and always took an active part in the deliberations of synod, over which he exercised considerable influence.
Source : http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stawell-sir-william-foster-4635
Further information : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Foster_Stawell
Stawell is a town in the Wimmera region of Victoria, Australia. The town is located in Shire of Northern Grampians Local Government Area, 237 kilometres (147 mi) west-north-west of the state capital, Melbourne. At the 2006 census, Stawell had a population of 6,035.
Stawell is famed for the Stawell Gift, a professional foot race. It is also known as the gateway to the Grampians National Park. The town site was first settled during the gold rush of 1853 and was named Pleasant Creek, but was later renamed to honour Sir William Foster Stawell (1815–89), the Chief Justice of Victoria.
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