WINDEYER, Sir William Charles (1834-1897)

WINDEYER, Sir William Charles (1834-1897)
politician and judge
only child of the above [Sir Richard Windeyer] and his wife, Maria Camfield, was born at London on 29 September 1834 and came to Sydney with his parents about a year later. He was 13 years of age when his father died. His mother, a woman of much character, was left practically without means, but with some help from friends managed to buy part of her husband's estate on the Hunter River, worked it, and made a success of wine growing. The boy was educated at first at W. T. Cape's (q.v.) school, and then at The King's School, Parramatta. He was one of the first group to matriculate at the university of Sydney at the end of 1852, and during his course won a classical scholarship, and the prize for the English essay in each year. He graduated B.A. in 1856, M.A. in 1859, and was called to the bar in March 1857. He was law reporter for the Empire and then for a short time crown prosecutor in country districts. In 1859 he stood for the New South Wales legislative assembly at Paddington and was defeated by 47 votes. He was, however, returned for the Lower Hunter at the same election. In 1860 he was returned for West Sydney, but afterwards resigned his seat on account of ill-health. In 1866 he was again elected for West Sydney, defeating (Sir) John Robertson (q.v.). On 16 December 1870 he became solicitor-general in the third Martin (q.v.) ministry and held this position until 13 May 1872, but was defeated at the election held in this year. In 1876 he was returned for the university of Sydney, and from 22 March to 16 August 1877 was attorney-general in the second Parkes (q.v.) ministry. In 1878 he obtained the assent of the house to the establishment of grammar schools at Bathurst, Goulburn and Maitland with exhibitions to enable students to proceed to the university. He was attorney-general in the third Parkes ministry from 21 December 1878 to 10 August 1879 and was then appointed as acting judge of the supreme court. In August 1881 he became a puisne judge of the supreme court, and held this position for almost 15 years; he resigned on 31 August 1896. Proceeding to Europe he accepted a temporary judicial appointment in Newfoundland, but died suddenly while at Bologna, Italy, on 11 September 1897. He was given the honorary degree of LL.D. by the university of Cambridge, and was knighted in 1891. He married in 1857 Mary Elizabeth, daughter of the Rev. R. T. Bolton, who survived him with sons and daughters. Lady Windeyer took much interest in educational and social questions, particularly in regard to women, and was a prominent figure in the women's suffrage movement. Of Windeyer's sons, John Cadell Windeyer, who was born in 1875 had a distinguished career as a physician and became professor of obstetrics at the university of Sydney in 1925; Richard Windeyer, born in 1868, followed his father's profession, became a K.C. and for a time was an acting-judge of the supreme court of New South Wales; William Archibald Windeyer, born in 1871, was also well known in Sydney as a solicitor and public man.
Windeyer took much interest in education, was a trustee of the Sydney Grammar School, president of the Sydney mechanics' school of arts, and a trustee of the public library. He was vice-chancellor of the university from 1883 to 1887 and chancellor in 1895. He resigned in 1896 when he went to Europe. He was also first chairman of the council of the women's college at the university. As a politician he was responsible for the preservation of Belmore Park, Church Hill, and Flagstaff Hill, Clarke, Rodd, and Schnapper Islands, and the land at the head of Long Bay. He was also the author of the copyright act and the married women's property act. As a judge he was able, conscientious and hard-working, and had much knowledge of law. He had the misfortune to preside over two notorious cases, the Mount Rennie outrage and the Dean trials, which caused much popular feeling, and gave him the reputation in some quarters of being a "hanging" judge. His friends agreed that this estimate was far from his character, and that though he had a brusque exterior he was really a man of noble qualities. This estimate is in conformity with the fact that he was appointed president of the charities commission in 1873, and that he was responsible for the founding of the Discharged Prisoners Aid Society in 1874. An example of his courage and common sense is his judgment on the case dealing with the proceedings arising out of Mrs Besant's pamphlet, The Law of Population, which was published separately in 1889 under the title, Ex Parte Collins.
Burke's Colonial Gentry; The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 September 1897; J. H. Heaton, Australian Dictionary of Dates; Aubrey Halloran, Journal and Proceedings, Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. X, pp. 309-14; H. E. Barff, A Short Historical Account of the University of Sydney; The Peaceful Army; Who's Who in Australia, 1941.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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