Member of the Legislative Council, 01/071848 - 29/02/1856
Member of the Legislative Assembly, 04/04/1856 - 10/11/1860; 28/06/1862 - 11/11/1873
Attorney General, 26/08/1856 - 02/10/1856; 07/09/1857 - 08/11/1858
Premier and Attorney General, 16/10/1863 - 02/02/1865; 22/01/1866 - 26/10/1868; 16/12/1870 - 13/05/1872
Member, Council of Education, 01/01/1867 - 26/12/1872
Member, Law Reform Commission, 15/06/1870 - 31/12/1872
Member, Commission to advise the Government in matters connected with the Defence of the Colony from Foreign Aggression, 15/07/1872 - 04/11/1886
Chief Justice, Supreme Court of New South Wales, 19/11/1873 - 04/11/1886
Judge Commissary, Vice Admiralty Court, 19/11/1873 - 04/11/1886
Official Trustee, Australian Museum, 19/11/1873 - 04/11/1886
Fellow of the Senate, University of Sydney, 1858 - 1878, 05/09/1885- 14/11/1886
Examiner in Law, University of Sydney, 1865-1878
President, New South Wales Commission for the Philadelphia International of 1876 and Melbourne Inter-Colonial Exhibition of 1875, 27/04/1875 - 25/07/1877
President, New South Wales Commission for the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1878, 06/11/1877 - 18/03/1880
Vice-president, New South Wales Commission for the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879, 31/12/1878 - 20/04/1880
President, New South Wales Commission for the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880-81, 20/01/1880 - 02/08/1881
President, New South Wales Commission for the Amsterdam International Colonial and Export Trade Exhibition of 1883, 02/08/1882 - 13/11/1882
President, New South Wales Commission for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, London, 1886, 16/01/1885 - 04/11/1886
Sir James Martin was born on 14 May 1820 at Midleton, County Cork, Ireland, the son of John Martin and his wife Mary nee Hennessey. His father, a steward and groom, was invited to Sydney by Sir Thomas Brisbane to care for his horses. The family arrived on the ship 'John Barry' on 7 November 1821 and lived in a cottage close to the stables at Government House, Parramatta. James Martin was educated at various schools in Parramatta, including that of Daniel Thurston, and from 1833 at William Timothy Cape's Sydney Academy. With Cape, he transferred to the Sydney College when it opened on 19 January 1835. (1)
After leaving school in 1836, Martin was employed as a reporter and sub-editor at the 'Australian' newspaper, owned and edited by the first Australian born solicitor George Robert Nichols. Nichols, a supporter of democratic self government, was on the executive of the Australian Patriotic Association and was a strong influence on Martin. In 1838 Martin published his 'Australian Sketch Book', a collection of fifteen essays. By 1839 Martin was editor of the 'Australian', while Nichols concentrated on his legal practice. In 1840 Nichols resigned from the 'Australian' and Martin became his articled law clerk. Martin continued to contribute articles to newspapers, including the 'Sydney Free Press', the 'Atlas' and the 'Empire'. (2)
Martin was admitted as a attorney, solicitor and proctor on 10 May 1845. Candidates who sought admission as a solicitor in New South Wales at that time and lacked overseas qualifications were required to serve five years as a law clerk. Martin had offices in Pitt Street and at Parramatta. From May 1845 to August 1847, he was also editor and manager of the 'Atlas' newspaper. Throughout his later political career, even while Attorney General and Premier, he continued to practise law. (3)
Martin's interest in politics grew alongside the movement for representative government in New South Wales. In 1843, during the Colony's first elections, he was a member of the committee to elect William Charles Wentworth and Dr William Bland. Martin stood for election in his own right at the 19 February 1848 by-election for the seat of Durham but withdrew when a local candidate was nominated. At the general election of July 1848 for the Legislative Council he was returned as the Member for Cook and Westmoreland. The result was challenged on the grounds that he did not meet the property qualification for Members of the Council and the seat was declared empty in June 1849. Candidates were required to own property either worth two thousand pounds or earning one hundred pounds a year in rent. In July 1849 Martin was again re-elected and served in the Legislative Council until 29 February 1856. He sought self government, along with reforms in local government and public health, the protection of children and animals, and the building of roads, railways and the Sydney Mint. (4)
With the start of responsible government in 1856, Martin was elected a Member of the Legislative Assembly, a role he held from 4 April 1856 till 10 November 1860 and from 28 June 1862 to 11 November 1873. He represented a number of different seats: Cook and Westmoreland, East Sydney, Orange, Tumut, Monaro, Lachlan and East Macquarie. He was Attorney General twice (26 August 1856 to 2 October 1856, 7 September 1857 to 8 November 1858). He was Premier and Attorney General three times (16 October 1863 to 2 February 1865, 22 January 1866 to 26 October 1868, and 16 December 1870 to 13 May 1872). His first appointment as Attorney General was challenged by the New South Wales Bar because a solicitor was not qualified to be Attorney General. Solicitors could not appear before the Supreme Court of New South Wales, a necessity for the Attorney General. But he had decided in 1855 to qualify for the Bar under the Barristers Admission Act 1848 (11 Vic. No.57). Having passed the Bar examinations in Greek, Latin, Mathematics and the Law, he was called to the Colonial Bar on 11 September 1856. He was created a Queen's Counsel on 12 November 1857 by virtue of his second period as Attorney General. A Protectionist, he also had a keen interest in the development of secular education, law and order, local government, railways, public health and sanitation, and the defence and development of the State. He was created a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1869, on the recommendation of Sir John Young who retired as Governor in 1867. (5)
Sir James Martin's appointment as Chief Justice was announced on 10 November 1873 and he was sworn in on 19 November. He thus became 'the only man in the State's history to attain the most senior political and judicial offices'. (6) As Chief Justice he was automatically Judge Commissary of the Vice-Admiralty Court. In addition, as Chief Justice he was also automatically an official trustee of the Australian Museum, under Section IV of the 1853 Australian Museum Act (Act 27 Vic. No.2). (7)
Unlike later Chief Justices, Martin was not the Administrator of the Colony of New South Wales during the absence of the Governor. In April 1872 the Secretary of State, Earl Granville, forwarded a dormant commission allowing the Chief Justice, rather than a senior military officer, to be the Administrator of the Colony of New South Wales during the absence of the Governor. The commission was used to appoint Sir Alfred Stephen as Administrator from February to June 1872. Sir Hercules Robinson failed to appoint Martin as Administrator in September 1874 when Robinson visited Fiji on official business, raising both Martin's ire and a legal question. Robinson, with the agreement of the Secretary of State, decided an Administrator should be sworn in only if an emergency occurred. Martin argued that the Chief Justice was automatically Administrator whenever the Governor was absent, by virtue of the dormant commission. It was not a matter of what the Governor of the time wanted. Although Martin demanded to be appointed, he was not. After Robinson's return a new dormant commission was sent from England, authorising the previous Chief Justice, Sir Alfred Stephen, to be Administrator when the Governor was next absent. (8)
Martin took leave from the Supreme Court on 13 March 1879 because of ill health due to a heart condition. Although he wrote to the Premier, Sir Henry Parkes, in June 1880 seeking an extension of his leave, it was not granted and he resumed his duties in August. (9)
His biographer, J M Bennett, describes Martin as 'conservative as a lawyer and Conservative as a politician. His legal conservatism was found in his disapproval of judicial innovation'. (10) Believing that the Supreme Court's role was to interpret and refine the law but not to change it, his time as Chief Justice was a period of legal consolidation rather than innovation. Change was the right of the Parliament. Issues that he did raise during his term included the need for more judges and an increase in judges' salaries, and whether officers of the Court who were public servants were answerable to the Judges or to the Parliament. (11)
Martin occupied other government offices. He was a member of the Council of Education from 1 January 1867 till 26 December 1872. He was a member of the Law Reform Commission from 15 June 1870 till at least 31 December 1872. He was a member of the Commission to advise the Government in matters connected with the Defence of the Colony from Foreign Aggression from 15 July 1872 to 4 November 1886. As Chief Justice, he also held office in a number of commissions promoting New South Wales resources and industries at national and international trade exhibitions. These included the Melbourne Inter-Colonial Exhibition of 1875 and the Philadelphia International Exhibition of 1876, the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1878, the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879, the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880-81, the Amsterdam International Colonial and Export Trade Exhibition of 1883, and the London Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886. (12)
Martin was active in the community. He was a Fellow of the Senate of the University of Sydney from 1858 to 1878 and again from 5 September 1885 to 4 November 1886. He resigned from the Senate in 1878 when he was not elected Chancellor. He was also an Examiner for the Faculty of Law by 1865 and until 1878. His membership of the committee of the Hyde Park Improvement Society in the 1860s reflected his interest in tree planting. He was vice-president of the Civil Service Club and a committee member of the Victoria Club. His commercial activities included helping to start the Mutual Life Association of Australia from 1867 to 1869. (13)
Martin died on 4 November 1886 at Potts Point, Sydney, survived by his estranged wife, Isabella nee Long, whom he married on 20 January 1853 at Sydney, and 12 of their 16 children (six sons and six daughters). (14)
1. JM Bennett, Sir James Martin, Sydney, Federation Press, 2005, pp.1-6; Elena Grainger, Martin of Martin Place, Sydney, Alpha Books, 1970, pp.1-5, 10-11; JM Bennett, 'James (later Sir James) Martin', in David Clune and Ken Turner (eds), The Premiers of New South Wales 1856-2005, Sydney, Federation Press, 2006, Vol.1, pp.103-119.
2. JM Bennett, Sir James Martin , op.cit., pp.8-14; Elena Grainger, op.cit., pp.18, 23, 26-7, 31.
3. JM Bennett, Sir James Martin , op.cit., pp.11, 13-15, 26, 219, see also Chapter 10 'Practice at the Bar' re his legal career whilst Attorney General and Premier; Elena Grainger, op.cit., pp.34, 37-8, 40-41, 43.
4. JM Bennett, 'James (later Sir James) Martin', in David Clune and Ken Turner (eds), The Premiers of New South Wales 1856-2005, op.cit., pp.106-7; JM Bennett, Sir James Martin, op.cit., pp.28-47; Elena Grainger, op.cit., pp.32-3, 48, 51-2.
5. 'Sir James (1) Martin [Former Member]', New South Wales Parliament website http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/members.nsf/V3ListFormerMembers (cited 6 March 2009); JM Bennett, 'James (later Sir James) Martin', in David Clune and Ken Turner (eds), The Premiers of New South Wales 1856-2005, op.cit., pp.109-10, 113-4; JM Bennett, Sir James Martin, op.cit., pp.88-100, 182.
6. JM Bennett, 'James (later Sir James) Martin', in David Clune and Ken Turner (eds), The Premiers of New South Wales 1856-2005, op.cit., p.103.
7. Elena Grainger, op.cit., pp.122-3; Colonial Secretary; NRS 1286, Returns of the Colony (Blue Books), 1875, p.55.
8. JM Bennett, Sir James Martin, op.cit., pp. 287-291, 296; Elena Grainger, op.cit., pp.126-8, 138.
9. JM Bennett, Sir James Martin, op.cit., pp.309-11; Elena Grainger, op.cit., pp.138-142.
10. JM Bennett, Sir James Martin, op.cit., p.313.
11. JM Bennett, Sir James Martin, op.cit., pp.296-306.
12. Colonial Secretary; NRS 1286, Returns of the Colony (Blue Books), 1858, 1863-1886.
13. University of Sydney Calendar;1859, p.99; 1865, p.vi; 1878-79, p.94; 1879-80, p.94; 1886, pp.140, 297; 1887, pp.140, 305, http://calendararchive.usyd.edu.au/index.php (cited 15 Feb, 17 March, 13 May 2008, 10 March 2009); Colonial Secretary; NRS 1286, Returns of the Colony (Blue Books), 1868-1871, 1873-1876; JM Bennett, Sir James Martin, op.cit., pp.316-7; Elena Grainger, op.cit., pp.128-9; Bede Nairn, 'Martin, Sir James (1820-1886)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online Edition, http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A050248b.htm (cited 11 January 2008).
14. JM Bennett, Sir James Martin, op.cit., pp.306-312; Elena Grainger, op.cit., pp.141-9, 154-5.
JM Bennett, 'The Honourable Sir James Martin' in Portraits of the Chief Justices of New South Wales 1824-1977, St Ives, Sydney, John Ferguson Pty Ltd, 1977, pp.23-25.
Cyclopedia of New South Wales, Sydney, McCarron, Stewart and Company, 1907, Modbury, SA, Archive CD Book Australia Pty Ltd, 2007, p.295.
JH Heaton, Australian Dictionary of Dates and Men of the Time, Sydney, George Robertson, 1879, pp.132-4.
Percival Serle, Dictionary of Australian Biography, 1949, http://gutenberg.net.au/dictbiog/0-dict-biogMa-Mo.html (cited 23 January 2008).