The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Stawell, Hon. Sir William Foster

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Stawell, Hon. Sir William Foster, K.C.M.G., LL.D., was the son of Jonas Stawell, of Old Court, in the county of Cork, and of Anna, daughter of the Right Rev. William Foster, Bishop of Clogher, in Ireland. He was born on June 27th, 1815. He entered the University of Dublin, where after a distinguished under-graduate course he took the degree of B.A. in 1837. Then he studied law in London, was called to the Irish Bar in 1839, and was admitted to the Melbourne Bar in 1842, when he combined professional with pastoral pursuits in partnership with his cousin Mr. Foster Fitzgerald. Mr. Stawell quickly attained eminence in his profession, being retained in every case of importance, and here it may be remarked that very few of his judgments, after his elevation to the bench, have been reversed on appeal to the Privy Council. Notwithstanding his constant work both before and after his accession to office, he devoted a large portion of his time and influence to the promotion of religious and charitable objects, being the author of the Act establishing the Church of England Synod, of which body he was a member till his death. No man gave a more cordial support to Bishop Perry in his arduous task of organising the newly established diocese of Melbourne, and no one gave greater attention to the promotion of education, which he always maintained should be based upon religion. He was Chancellor of the University of Melbourne and Trustee of the Public Library, in both of which institutions he felt a vivid interest. In all matters of public importance he took a prominent part, notably in the anti-transportation agitation; and when Victoria was created an independent colony in 1857, he, with general approval, was appointed Attorney-General by Mr. La Trobe. In that office he soon won the influence which his abilities merited and gained the esteem and confidence of his strongest political opponents. The difficulties of that period, enhanced by the "gold fever," can never be appreciated by those who did not witness them. The organisation of all the branches of the Government service, in a community where no official materials existed, was almost an impossibility, and this duty devolved on a number of young men who themselves had received no official training. Their success was marvellous, and in this arduous task none took a more prominent part than Mr. Stawell. After the introduction of responsible government he continued to act as Attorney-General under Mr. Haines as Premier, having been elected as one of the members for the city of Melbourne in 1856, and in March 1857 he obtained his well-won appointment as Chief Justice of Victoria. In 1873 he took two years' leave of absence, and revisited his native land, where he was admitted a Doctor of Laws by the University of Dublin. Soon after his return he administered the Government during the absence of Sir George Bowen, and subsequently was appointed Lieut.-Governor of the Colony. From 1880 to 1886 he filled the office of Judge to the Vice-Admiralty Court. About this date also he acted as President of the Commission which passed the Judicature Acts, assimilating as far as possible, English law and practice to the circumstances of the colony. On his retirement from the bench, in 1886, he was created K.C.M.G. In 1856 he married Mary Frances Elizabeth, only daughter of W. P. Green, R.N. He died at Naples, in Italy, on March 12th, 1889.