WAY, Sir Samuel James (1836-1916)


WAY, Sir Samuel James (1836-1916)
chief justice of South Australia
was born at Portsmouth, England, on 11 April 1836. His father, the Rev. James Way, was a clergyman in the Bible Christian Church, and in 1847 was president of the English Bible Christian conference. In 1850 he went to South Australia to open a mission in connexion with his church. His son who was educated at the Bible Christian Grammar School, Shebbear, North Devon, and at the Maidstone-road school at Chatham, remained in England until towards the end of 1852. He arrived in South Australia in March 1853 and rejoined his father at Adelaide where he obtained employment in the office of J. T. Bagot. In 1856 he was articled to A. Atkinson, an Adelaide solicitor, and five years later was called to the bar. Atkinson died not long afterwards and Way succeeded to his practice. In 1868 he went into partnership with a Mr Brook, and on his death J. H. (afterwards Sir Josiah) Symon(s) (q.v.) was made a partner. In South Australia the professions of solicitor and barrister were not separated, and the firm conducted an all-round legal business which became very successful. Way, however, was specializing as an advocate and was soon a leading counsel. In September 1871 Way, after having been only 10 years at the bar, became a Q.C. He enlarged his experience by going to London and arguing before the judicial committee of the privy council in two well-known cases, Randell versus the South Australian Insurance Company, and Mullens versus the National Bank. In 1874 he was appointed a member of the board of education and also a member of the council of the university of Adelaide, and in the following year was elected a member of the legislative assembly for Sturt. In June he joined the Boucaut (q.v.) ministry as attorney-general and at once established a reputation as an indefatigable and diplomatic parliamentarian. Had he remained in politics no position would have been beyond him, but in March 1876 following the death of Sir Richard Hanson (q.v.) he was offered and accepted the position of chief justice of the supreme court of South Australia. He was only in his fortieth year.
It has been said of Way that as a young man he never lost an opportunity of advancing himself, but, however trite this may have been he certainly made a monetary sacrifice when he accepted the position of chief justice. He had an enormous practice and estimated in later years that his acceptance of the position made a difference of £5000 a year in his income. His method as a barrister of so identifying himself with his client's position that he became almost a passionate advocate for him, might possibly have raised a doubt as to whether he would be an equally good judge. Any doubt there may have been was soon dispelled. He showed himself to be a sound lawyer, rapidly discerning the really important points in an argument, and equally quick in deciding what was material and what was not. He was more interested in principles than in technicalities, anxious to get cases settled with as little delay as possible, and not infrequently suggested that the wisest course might be that counsel from both sides should meet in his chambers and try to reach a settlement. His judgments, often delivered from brief notes, were models of clearness, and, what was more important, they were correct. It has been stated that no appeal from him to a higher court ever succeeded. In 1877 he became for the first time acting governor of South Australia. He was formally appointed lieutenant-governor of South Australia in January 1891, and administered the government on many occasions. At the time of his death it was calculated that he had acted as governor of South Australia for a total period of six years and nine months. He had also many other interests. He became vice-chancellor of the university in 1876 and from 1883 until his death was its chancellor; he was a member of the public library board and from 1893 to 1908 was its president; and he was also president of the Adelaide children's hospital, the Blind, Deaf and Dumb Institution, the South Australian Society of Artists, the Empire League, the Royal Society of St George, and the Zoological Society. He was a leading mason and never lost his interest in the Methodist church in which his father's sect had been merged. Another interest was his Kadlunga station where there was a model stud farm, and he was the first to introduce Shropshire sheep into South Australia. All these things ran parallel with his regular work as chief justice. He was the first Australian to be nominated to the judicial committee of the privy council. This occurred in January 1897 and Way then proceeded to England, was sworn in as a member of the privy council, and remained for some time to assist the judicial committee to dispose of a number of colonial appeal cases. On his return to Australia he took up his many duties again and continued to work with his usual vigour until attacked by illness in 1914. He was found to be suffering from cancer and in the hope of prolonging his life he went to Sydney and had an arm amputated by Sir A. McCormick. He continued to sit on the bench until December 1915, but he was obviously growing weaker though his mind remained unclouded. He died at North Adelaide on 8 January 1916. He married in 1898 the widow of Dr Blue, originally Katherine Gollan, who died in 1914. There were no children. He was an honorary D.C.L. of Oxford, and honorary LL.D. of Queen's university Canada, Cambridge, and Melbourne. He was created a baronet in 1899. His library of 15,000 volumes was left to the university of Adelaide
Way was a many-sided man, kind, charitable, able, a tremendous worker, successful in everything he touched. He was a lover of birds and flowers, and he spent much on the scientific development of his estate in the country. He helped many religious and charitable institutions by giving them both time and money. He had great gifts as a speaker and frequently lectured on a variety of themes. He published practically nothing though he had had some thought of writing his reminiscences. The problem was to find the time, though he was known on occasions to have worked until three in the morning. Writing a quarter of a century after his death it is difficult to suggest how much Way meant to the Adelaide of his day. Though a valued president of many organizations, an excellent chancellor of the university, an eminent judge, a distinguished lieutenan t-governor, he yet represented something more. When he died it was everywhere agreed that the state had lost its first citizen.
The Register, Adelaide, and The Advertiser, Adelaide, 10 January 1916.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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