Page images





[ocr errors]




The Northern Circuit-Speech before the Society for the Reform of Colonial Government-Elected to the Reform Club-Residence in London-Letter to Henry Sherbrooke-the Oxford University Commission

MR. AND MRS. ROBERT LOWE, with their two little charges, arrived safely in London in April or May 1850 after a voyage of some months. At first Mr. Lowe decided to practise at the English Bar, no doubt considering, from his marked suc-cess in Sydney against legal gladiators of no mean prowess, that he would be able to hold his own fairly well in England. He accordingly took chambers at 2 Paper Buildings, Temple, and joined the Northern Circuit. I am indebted to Mr. Moberly Bell, of the Times, for the following anecdote, which was told to him by the late Judge Wallis, at one time. editor of the Tablet. It is, perhaps, only fair to the reader to add, that when Lord Sherbrooke handed me Mr. Moberly Bell's letter, he remarked: I have no recollection of this




whatever.' But it would be very possible for such an incident to have passed from the mind after forty years, especially as the victim of this would-be boycott' was always unable to see to the right or left of him ; nor would he be likely to remember that a pleasant young stranger on one or two chance occasions had engaged him in agreeable conversation. However, these are the words in which Judge Wallis recorded the circumstance of his first meeting with Lord Sherbrooke :

• Somewhere in the fifties, about 1850-52, I was one of the youngsters who went the Northern Circuit. Coming in one day late to dinner (as I often did), and looking for a place, I saw a white-haired man with a vacant chair each side of him. I sat down and got into conversation with my neighbour, whom I found pleasant.

• The next day the same thing occurred—the same man was seated alone, and I sat by him. We again talked ; I was charmed with him, but hadn't an idea who he was.

Next day X—, who was one of the seniors on circuit, sent for me and said :

«« Look here, Wallis, I wish to warn you as a friend that this won't do. You are a youngster and have got to make your way, and we can't stand you deliberately pitting yourself against the whole circuit.”

"I assured X—that I hadn't the least idea to what he alluded, and he replied:

"“Why, you not only sat next to that Bob Lowe, but you actually talked and drank wine with him. Now, you must know that the circuit won't stand this; the man comes here, and on the ground of colonial experience acts as if he were a senior, and the circuit will have nothing to do with him.”

I replied: "I didn't even know his name till now, still less all the rest you tell me, but I tell you that he is the longest-headed man at the table, and if you don't admit it now, you will some day.”'



[ocr errors]

'I never met "Bob Lowe " since,' added Judge Wallis, but he has made and unmade half the men who were then on circuit.'

Some corroboration of Lord Sherbrooke's brief activity at the English Bar is afforded by the following letter, which he received about this time from a relative of the Australian patriot,' William Charles Wentworth.

[ocr errors]

G. Wentworth to Robert Lowe.

Sydney : Jan. 31, 1851. My dear Mr. Lowe,- I have written you by this mail officiallyI now address you privately. Fisher has received a letter from his brother, a barrister, and also, I believe, a reporter, in which most flattering homage is rendered to you by a stranger; who says that you have electrified the Bench, Bar, and audience by your eloquence in a prosecution on the Northern Circuit; and that you will become a distinguished leader in the criminal line. This you know I predicted to yourself, and I hear since the creation of the County Courts that the criminal is the best paying branch, at least upon circuit. I most heartily rejoice and congratulate you.

In concluding, I will tell you a singular story.—George Kenyon Holden, whom you may remember to have been a very quiet and rather spooney fellow than otherwise, proposed at our last meeting to open a communication with the President and two Houses of Congress of the United States! Dr. Lang opposed it: the very discussion shows how the wind blows. The colonisation of Western America—the opening the Isthmus of Panama——will have an immense effect in developing these colonies. Meantime, California has nosed our grievance! America will aid us in abating it.

Believe me,
Yours faithfully,


What Mr. Wentworth meant by writing officially,' is not at all clear. Lord Sherbrooke preserved no correspondence of that kind, either with Mr. Wentworth or any other person in Sydney. But it is more than likely, as in the case of many another home-returning colonist, that before quitting the shores of Port Jackson, Robert Lowe assured some of his political and personal friends that he would consider himself as holding a waiting brief' on their behalf with

[ocr errors]

regard to impending constitutional changes in the colony. Earl Grey was at this time actively engaged in framing a new Constitution for the whole of Australia ; and the squatter party in New South Wales, in complete alliance, as we have seen, with the old Crown officials, were doing their utmost to make this new Constitution the servant of their own ends. It was the supremacy of this newly formed colonial oligarchy which, politically at least, was the determining cause of Robert Lowe's removal to London.

In quitting Australia he by no means dropped his active interest in colonial affairs. It was, indeed, his opinion that he could better withstand the impolitic measures of the Colonial Minister, and the misleading advice that was being tendered to him by the dominant party in Sydney, by taking up his residence in London, than by remaining a member of the Legislative Council at Sydney. We accordingly find that his first public appearance in London was at a meeting of the Society for the Reform of Colonial Government on June 1, 1850. On this occasion he delivered a remarkable address on Earl Grey's' Australian Colonies Bill.' This address was afterwards republished as a pamphlet, bearing on the title-page the words, ‘By Robert Lowe, Esq., Late Member of the Legislative Council of New South Wales.'

In republishing Lowe's speech, the Society for the Reform of Colonial Government-of which Sir William Molesworth was the moving spirit-gave the following explanation of its course of action: The Government declared that they had been overruled by the opinion of New South Wales in the construction of their Bill; and Mr. Lowe's speech is the latest, most explicit and authentic statement of that opinion.'

It would thus seem that it was Robert Lowe's opportune reappearance in London which caused this particular general meeting of the Society to be called. The members were invited to be present, 'at the rooms, Charing Cross, for the purpose of hearing an address from Mr. Lowe, a member of the Legisla

[ocr errors]

tive Council of New South Wales, in relation to the Australian Colonies Bill now before the House of Lords.'

This meeting was what the reporters invariably describe as a crowded and brilliant assemblage. There were present : Sir William Molesworth, M.P. (in the chair) ; Dr. Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford; Earl Talbot; Lord Monteagle ; Lord Wodehouse; Lord Lyttelton ; Lord Naas, M.P. (afterwards Earl of Mayo); Mr. Stafford, M.P.; Mr. Adderley, M.P.; Mr. Ker Seymour, M.P.; Mr. Campbell, M.P.; Mr. Simeon, M.P.; Mr. E. Denison, M.P.; Mr. Vernon Smith, M.P.; Mr. E. Dundas, M.P.; Mr. Adair, M.P.; General Briggs, The Hon. W. Wrottesley, Mr. Clifford, Mr. De Salis, Mr. F. A. McGeachy, Mr. C. Logan, Mr. W. Barnard, Mr. Bigge, Sir Claude Wade, Mr. J. Hutt, Mr. H. Denison, Mr. Parker (11th Regt.), and many others' interested,' as the phrase goes, “in colonial questions.'

It is noticeable that throughout the whole of this address Lowe spoke not merely from a colonial point of view, but as an actual colonist. He began his carefully thought out and very lucidly expressed discourse in these words :

Before I proceed to make a statement, which I understand it is the wish of this meeting I should make, with regard to the opinions of the Australian colonies themselves upon the measure now pending before the House of Lords, I cannot as an inhabitant of, and deeply interested in, those colonies refrain from returning in their name my humble but very sincere thanks to the gentlemen I see around me, for the enlightened and noble stand they have made in this country on behalf of the great principles of colonial freedom. We are so unused in those colonies to have sympathy expressed for us- we are so little accustomed to have our opinions regarded—that such demonstrations of feeling towards us as I have found are not merely surprising--they are really overpowering to minds, like ours, long disciplined in the trammels of Colonial Office subjection.

It is very difficult for anyone who has lived only in the mothercountry to understand the point from which the colonies view this question. In the mother-country any question as to changing political organisation is the question of changing the governing body. In the colonies, the governing body in its high and paramount sense

« PreviousContinue »