History of West Australia/Edward Augustine St. Aubyn Harney

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Edward Augustine St Aubyn Harney HOFWA.jpg
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IN the golden age of Greece, when intellectual development had reached its maximum, the study of law became a recognised institution in the Athenian Academies, and with all its importance to the law-abiding mind of the ancient Greek it was made subservient to, and wrapt firmly up in, the cardinal doctrines and canons of rhetoric. While as yet Demosthenes, the greatest advocate and orator of the Hellenic world, was a stripling and a novice in rhetorical declamation, he was wont to wander in solitude to the sea-shore, and rehearse his speech with his mouth full of pebbles. The apologies, or defence speeches, of these classic barristers seem to have aimed more at rhetorical effect than at legal and logical acuteness and sequence. Fallacies were covertly hid beneath the florid flow of eloquence, and surreptitious assumptions lay darkly lurking.

The advocate at the modern bar differs little from the orator-lawyers of the ancient world. To press home the real point at issue, to arouse the slumbering emotions of the bench that have been blunted by custom, to rivet the attention of the judge on the argumentative position assumed, demands a power of oratory that seems, unfortunately, to be the possession of the few. What is more dull and boresome than a halting, limpid, and straggling speech, where both merit and, concentration of attention are smothered and lost? He who can give solid, forcible, and declamatory expression to his sentiments and arguments is he who can impress, convince, and win his case.

In Western Australia the name of Mr. Harney seems a synonym for oratorical powers and forensic persuasion. Some competent judges avow that his peer nowhere exists on this island-continent. He has the spontaneity, the fiery eloquence, and the shrewd mother-wit and humour of his native land.

Mr. Harney was born in Dublin in 1865, and passed most of his youth at his father's country seat, Kildteran House, County Waterford. His education was practically begun at St. Vincent's College, Castleknock, Dublin, where he obtained several money prizes and two gold medals; one for mathematics, and one for chemistry and natural science. From Castleknock he went to the Jesuits' College at Clongowes Wade, County Kildare, where he completed his elementary education, and obtained the special money prize given by that institution for the pupil who scored best at the intermediate examinations. He then studied for his first law examination, at which he obtained first place out of a large number of candidates. He matriculated for the Royal University of Ireland. In Trinity Term of 1892, having eaten all his dinners, according to the antiquated custom, in reading for the Bar (the dinners being as important as the examinations), he was called to the Irish Bar. During his student career for the Bar, Mr. Harney obtained many distinctions, taking first places at Trinity College in feudal law, criminal law, and the law of evidence, and obtaining four gold and one silver medal, and the Victoria Studentship at the Law Students' Debating Society and the examinations for the King's Inns. Mr. Harney then joined the Leinster Circuit, of which he continued a member with great credit to himself, and good fortune to his clients. Some months after his call to the bar Mr. Harney got his brief, and from that time until he left enjoyed a good and rapidly-increasing practice. But the Irish Bar offers small inducement to the ambitious, the smallness of the fees being such as to render it impossible for the leading counsel to make over £3,000 a year. Accordingly, Mr. Harney determined to join the English Bar, which at that time it was possible to do by eating dinners for twelve months at one of the Temples in London. But the success of Irish barristers in England had recently been very jealously regarded by the Conservative benchers of the London Inns, and before Mr. Harney could effect his purpose a rule was passed that no Irish barrister could appear in an English Court until he had eaten his dinners for three years. It is generally believed that this stringent bar to the admission of Irish barristers was largely brought about by the rapid rise of Edward Carson, who a year previously, having migrated from the Irish Bar, had already won the foremost place among English advocates, taking up the mantle laid aside by Sir Charles Russell (also an Irishman) on his elevation to the Bench as Lord Russell of Kilowen. Mr. Harney, accordingly, frustrated in his original designs, resolved to seek new and more promising pastures elsewhere, and turned his eyes to the Golden West, which was just then attracting the gaze of many of his countrymen. Moreover, he had learned much from his brother, Mr. S. Francis Harney, one of the pioneer solicitors of Coolgardie, who had established a large practice in that centre. In February, 1896, he sailed for Western Australia, leaving what was considered a lucrative practice and very bright promise in Ireland for his chance in the less circumscribed sphere in this colony. This move was most unfavourably regarded by his friends, who deemed it little short of insanity to run away from the bright future rapidly opening before him at the Irish Bar. While on the Leinster Circuit his reputation as a speaker and cross-examiner was acknowledged on all sides, and he was engaged on several sensational murder trials. His coolness in the face of overwhelming diatribes was marked, his power of retort and counter-flanking admired. As a master of language his capabilities were widely noted in that land which can boast of more oratorical lawyers than any country in Europe. Prominence in such advanced surroundings is an apt credential of his worth.

Still, there was small scope for youthful enterprise. Contraction seemed to squeeze the juice of energy and hope out of the living breast. A new, expanding country best fitted a temperament and legal capacity such as Mr. Harney's. In March, 1896, he arrived in Coolgardie at a season when all was one continuous stream of prosperity. Mr. Harney thought it best to do a little speculation and gain some insight into the intricacies of the mining market. Being legally incapacitated for some time according to the Western Australian statutes, he took a lively practical interest in many mining and commercial enterprises. He was one of the promoters of the Coolgardie Swimming Baths, an institution of the greatest public benefit, and acted as one of the directors. When the fever of mining remained unabated, Mr. Harney troubled little about admission to the Western Australian Bar, and it was not till July, 1897, that he was admitted. He immediately went into partnership with his brother, Francis S. Harney, one of the pioneer lawyers of the Coolgardie Goldfields. Under these two able legal practitioners the business of the firm greatly extended, and they have now opened a branch office in Prince's Buildings, St. George's Terrace, Perth. Mr. Harney has made himself thoroughly conversant with mining law, a subject which constitutes a special study, and opens up an unlimited field of debatable matter. He took an active part in the deliberations of the Chamber of Mines, where he frequently spoke. When the general elections came on in May, 1897, he was nominated for Coolgardie. At first he responded to the pressing wishes of his supporters, and entered into the fight with his political buckler and armour strapped tightly on. But before he had reached the momentous crisis of the fight he retired in favour of Mr. A. E. Morgans, a mining representative of great and influential standing. This act of courtesy was warmly admired by the press, which spoke kindly of the extreme deference to the candidature of Mr. Morgans. He did not, however, retire from the hustings, for a fortnight before the elections he was eagerly petitioned to stand for the Dundas district. With all haste he journeyed to Norseman, Esperance, and Dundas, and laid down in the course of several vigorous and effective speeches his future policy. Many were won over by his brilliant utterances; all admitted his capability. But he came too late into the field; in fact, he only started his campaign about ten days before the election, and, moreover, he was an absolute stranger, while his opponent, Mr. Conolly, had been identified with the district since it was opened, and held larger interests in it than any other inhabitant, being besides a gentleman of great personal popularity. When Mr. Harney arrived he found most of the voters already pledged to Mr. Conolly, and the four papers being already committed, attacked him and his candidature unceasingly from the outset. The body of the people were, moreover, disenfranchised, owing to the existing electoral laws, and Mr. Harney had not therefore the opportunity of showing at the poll the effect he created from the platform. Ht frequently addressed meetings of 400 or 500, which contained only about thirty voters. Mr. Conolly gained the seat by the narrow majority of thirteen figures which prove Mr. Harney's great merits in the face of severe handicaps. The Dundas was by far the most exciting goldfields contest during the elections, and it is a remarkable fact, occurring in no other district, that every available vote was polled, some voters coming very long distances to the polling booth. The newspapers ascribe this to the enthusiasm created by Mr. Harney's speeches and sudden appearance on the scene at the last moment.

In Coolgardie Mr. Harney is a prominent citizen, and a leading lawyer. He is a warm and willing supporter of any progressive movement. Though his sojourn in the colony has been short, he has by force of rare abilities commanded praise and respect that might well be the jealous envy of his seniors. His political campaign has been fortunate in one point, in that it revealed his prowess as a politician and speaker. The day is not remote when Mr. Harney will have ample opportunities of construing his political resources for the welfare of the colony.