History of West Australia/W. Horgan

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


CHARACTER, as understood by the nineteenth century, is the man; and that man abstracted from his character is an inconceivable entity. The vindication of character is essential; and if the moral constitution of a man is assailed at any one point wrongfully, the wounded one betakes himself to the lawyer's hospital and shows the moral part impaired. The lawyer has to carefully diagnose the case, which means the gleaning and sifting of a mass of information, containing an up-to-date history of the injured man's life, and last, but not least, the condemnatory apostrophes hurled at his head. The immediate inference to be drawn from this is that lawyers, to deal successfully with so disjointed an array of facts, must have keen and analytical mental faculties. From long empirical knowledge of character they have built up a complete psychology for themselves.

William Horgan HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

But law is of infinite extent. Not character alone, but civil rights must be upheld, and here again is manifested ingenuity, acuteness, and accuracy of detail. All respect the man who secures for them their rights,—those rights most cherished in a commercial age. Many are indebted to the legal skill of W. Horgan. Mr. Horgan was born on the 15th of June, 1834, at Macroom, in County Cork, Even in those early days Cork afforded good educational facilities, and Mr. Horgan was sent to the collegiate school of Doctor Moyinham in Cork. This doctor was one of the most eminent scholars of his day in Ireland, and a most successful teacher to boot. After a few terms Mr. Horgan deemed himself qualified, as far as rudimentary training went, to face the world. All know and have experienced how difficult a matter it is in the halcyon days of youth to choose a sphere of life. But with Mr. Horgan the divinity that shaped his ends was nought but natural tendency and instinct. Into the legal profession he unhesitatingly went, and he was eventually admitted as a member of King's Inn, Dublin, in Trinity Term, 1861. His success was rendered certain by the studious and persevering habits of his student life. Many a night can we fancy him sitting in a cold room until "all hours" in the morning, carefully digesting some dry and sickening portion of Roman law. A student's career consists of more tedious and unpalatable work than the public give him credit for. The most uninteresting parts of the profession have in this period to be mastered, and in passing it may be said that if a little jollity is added it is highly necessary and profitable.

Having finished his course at Dublin, Mr. Horgan returned to homeland and started practising at Cork. There he soon occupied a prominent position in the Home Rule movement under the celebrated Isaac Butt, Joe Ronayne, and Parnell. He successfully conducted election campaigns for the late Mr. Ronayne in two close contests, and his professional services were offered gratuitously. There was a limit to his career that made him yearn for lands afar off where indefinite possibilities were in store for the deserving. In 1875 he determined to leave Cork, home and friends, and seek his fortune in Australia. Time has proved that the step he took was well directed and fortunate. Arriving at Sydney he immediately set to work to gain a name for himself in this newer world. But even at this early period crowds of lawyers had flocked in from the four corners of the earth to that city, so that success, as the world goes, meant a certain time. He laboured for four years in New South Wales, whereupon he thought it advisable to break connection there and come to Western Australia. Such a decision must be commended, for practical insight told him that in a rising colony there is equal vantage-ground. He came here in January, 1881, and is still practising. He is the oldest qualified man in the legal profession of this colony.

The resources of his mind, however, were not to be bound down and restricted to the formal legal aspect of his life. As the champion of the colonists' rights, as the enthusiastic sympathiser with their needs, he appears in the next scene. He entered a political contest against Dr. Scott in 1886, but was unsuccessful. Failure is a greater stimulus than success to the daring mind, and at the next election, on the resignation of Mr. S. H. Parker, he stood a second time, and had a formidable opponent in the person of Mr. Septimus Burt, Q.C. This time he won his seat, after an exciting contest, by the narrow majority of three votes. His triumph was due largely to the bold progressive programme of Responsible Government, &c, tabulated in his line of policy, his opponent's platform being against Responsible Government. The public was indeed tired of the old mode of administration, and was loud in its clamours for Responsible Government. Mr. Burt was strenuously opposed to this democratic innovation, whereas Mr. Horgan was its strong advocate. His Parliamentary career was brief and active, and devoted to democratic progress. His bold and fiery speeches will be remembered by those who had the pleasure of hearing them at the hustings and in Parliament. The outspoken declamations that hit hard and straight caused a sensational flutter in the House. Unsparing in his invectives against colonial conservatism and autocratic exclusiveness, he rendered special service by giving Reason precedence of Authority. When the general elections were held in 1889 he again contested the seat. This time, however, four candidates entered the arena, the other three being Dr. Scott, E. Keane, and W. Traylen. The contest resulted in Mr. Horgan, who was first favourite, losing the seat by three votes, through the overconfidence of some of his supporters, who split their votes with other candidates. The fickleness of public opinion is sufficient at times to reject one who could be its greatest benefactor. Evidently, at all events, the wind of popular favour had veered for some unaccountable reason. Suspecting duplicity, however, in the election, he lodged a petition against the return, but was unsuccessful in his suit, the expenses of which he had to pay to a well-nigh ruinous extent. In connection with this election a clever sheet descriptive of Mr. Horgan was issued, setting forth that he was a man of deeds, not words. He was sued by the late Geo. Walpole Leake for slander, and after two trials, occupying eight days, he was mulcted in heavy damages and costs.

His professional duties are now extensive and arduous. Besides his own private business he is a number of the Barristers' Admission Board. Various mines obtain his directorship, the chief one being the Stockyard Creek Gold Mining Company. He is a prominent member of the Margaret River Syndicate. When Golden Valley was first discovered, with all its immediate excitement and fascination, he was one of the original claimholders.

Mr. Horgan has conducted most of the causes célèbre, in conjunction with the present Mr. Justice Hensman, while practising at the Bar. His practice is an old-established and successful one. It was he who was originator of he now famous phrase, "the six families," and he applied it in a sarcastic sense, intending to convey that that sextet dominated the whole of Western Australia. The name still lingers, but change of time and circumstances is rendering any such stigma impossible.