Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Windeyer, William Charles
WINDEYER, Sir WILLIAM CHARLES (1834–1897), Australian legislator and judge, only son of Richard Windeyer [q. v.], born in Westminster on 29 Sept. 1834, and taken by his parents the following year to New South Wales. On the death of his father in 1847, which left the family in embarrassed circumstances, his mother was advised by Robert Lowe (Viscount Sherbrooke) to give him a classical and professional education, in which he undertook to assist her. In a letter of condolence to Lady Sherbrooke on her husband's death, Windeyer wrote (Sydney, 15 Aug. 1892): ‘After my father's death, when my mother was left very badly off, he proved himself a most generous friend, and to his kindness it was owing that my interrupted education was continued. … It was he who urged me to go to the bar as soon as I was old enough; the act which enables Australians to go to the bar of the colony having been passed by him’ (Life and Letters of Lord Sherbrooke, ii. 477).
Educated at King's school, Paramatta, he entered the university of Sydney on its first opening [see Wentworth, William Charles], where, after a distinguished career, he became the first Australian graduate (M.A. with honours in 1859). Admitted to the bar in 1857, he at first followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, and became law reporter on the staff of (Sir) Henry Parkes's journal, ‘The Empire.’ He entered parliament as a liberal for the Lower Hunter in August 1859, and on the dissolution in the following year was returned for West Sydney, for which he sat from 1860 to 1862 and from 1866 to 1872. In 1860 he initiated the volunteer movement in New South Wales, being gazetted major in 1868.
Having on six occasions declined office, Windeyer became solicitor-general, under Sir James Martin [q. v.], on 16 Dec. 1870. He was elected first member for the university of Sydney on 8 Sept. 1876, and occupied this seat until his retirement from politics. He was attorney-general from 1877 to 1879. He introduced the act enabling Australian barristers to become judges, the Married Women's Property Act (1879), and the Copyright Act (1879). He originated the Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society (1874), and he took a very active part in scholastic institutions and the public charities, and was chairman of the College for Women in the Sydney University, of which institution he became vice-chancellor in 1883, and chancellor in 1895.
From 1879 Windeyer was judge of the divorce and matrimonial causes court, and deputy judge of the vice-admiralty court. Great public commotion arose in New South Wales in connection with his verdicts in what are known as the ‘Mount Rennie’ and the ‘Deane’ cases, during which the judge was exposed to much adverse newspaper criticism and not a little unmerited abuse. In 1891 he was knighted. He resigned his Australian judgeship in August 1896, the New South Wales government desiring his elevation to the judicial committee of the privy council; but, in deference to the public opinion of the other colonies, Chief-justice Samuel James Way of South Australia was appointed.
At the desire of Mr. Chamberlain, secretary of state for the colonies, Windeyer consented to act as temporary judge of the supreme court of Newfoundland to try a special case of conspiracy, but he died suddenly at Bologna from paralysis of the heart on 11 Sept. 1897. Windeyer was an honorary LL.D. of Cambridge. He married, on 31 Dec. 1857, Mary Elizabeth, daughter of the Rev. R. T. Bolton, vicar of Padbury, Buckinghamshire, who survived him, and by whom he left several children.[Personal knowledge, and data supplied by Lady Windeyer and Miss Bolton. Sir Henry Parkes's Fifty Years in the Making of Australian History; Heaton's Dict. of Australian Dates; Mennell's Dict. of Australasian Biography; Burke's Colonial Gentry.]