MARTIN, Sir James (1820-1886)


MARTIN, Sir James (1820-1886)
politician and chief justice of New South Wales
was born at Middleton, County Cork, Ireland, on 14 May 1820. His parents emigrated with him to Sydney in 1821, and he was educated under W. T. Cape (q.v.) at the Sydney Academy and Sydney College. On leaving school at 16 years of age he became a reporter, and in 1838 published The Australian Sketch Book, a remarkably well-written series of sketches for a boy who had just completed his eighteenth year. It was dedicated to G. R. Nichols, a well-known barrister of the period, to whom Martin became articled. At the end of his articles he began practising as an attorney but also did much writing for the press, and in his middle twenties was editor and manager of the Atlas for two years. In 1848 he was a candidate for the Durham electorate of the legislative council, but the press was united against him and he found it prudent to withdraw from the election. Later in the same year he was elected for Cook and Westmoreland, but the election was declared void. At the new election he was returned unopposed. He was not a favourite in the house as a young man, his temper was not under perfect control, and his speeches were considered to be flippant and intemperate. He, however, initiated the discussion which led to the establishment of a branch of the royal mint at Sydney. In 1856 he was elected to the first parliament under responsible government, and in August was made attorney-general in the first ministry of Chas. Cowper (q.v.). There was a great outcry from parliament, press and bar, the chief objection being that Martin was not then a barrister, and the government was defeated largely on account of his appointment. However, when Cowper formed his second ministry in 1857 Martin was given the same position and showed himself to be a good administrator. He had in the meantime qualified as a barrister, and it became noticeable that his manner showed more self-control. In November 1858 he resigned his seat in the cabinet finding himself too often at variance with his colleagues.
Martin was out of office for some years. In October 1863 he was asked to form a government but his first ministry did not last long. Faced with a deficit he struck off the vote for immigration, and attempted to bring in a protective tariff. He was defeated in the house, and obtaining a dissolution his party came back from the election greatly reduced in numbers. The Cowper ministry which followed lasted less than a year, and in January 1866 Martin made a coalition with (Sir) Henry Parkes (q.v.) and the ministry then formed lasted nearly three years and passed many important measures. During the visit of Prince Alfred, Martin was knighted. His government resigned in October 1868. He was premier again from December 1870 until May 1872, when he was succeeded by Parkes. In November 1873, on the retirement of Sir Alfred Stephen (q.v.), Martin was given the position of chief justice and filled it admirably, though towards the end of his life his duties were sometimes interrupted by ill health. He died on 4 November 1886. He married in 1853 Miss I. Long who survived him with a large family including six sons.
Martin was a good journalist; vigorous examples of his work will be found in G. B. Barton's Poets and Prose Writers of New South Wales. He was an excellent speaker, though possibly more a debater than an orator. His people were in comparatively humble circumstances, and were unable to do more for him than send him to a good school. Thereafter he fought his own way to practically the most distinguished position in the colony. The fighting qualities that brought him success also brought him enemies in his younger days, but with the years he learned self-control and as an advocate showed great courtesy to his opponents. As chief justice his fine memory, knowledge of principles, lucid arrangements of facts, and a power of dealing with abstruse and difficult matters of law, united with a balanced judicial mind, made him a great chief justice. His wide reading, great conversational gifts and intellectual power, suggested to J. A. Froude that had Martin been "chief justice of England, he would have passed as among the most distinguished occupants of that high position".
The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 and 8 November 1886; The Daily Telegraph, Sydney, 6 and 8 November 1886; Report of the Proceedings attending the Presentation of the Portrait of Sir James Martin, C. J. Sydney, 1885; Aubrey Halloran, Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. XII, pp. 349-52: G. W. Rusden, History of Australia; J. A. Froude, Oceana.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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