Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Windeyer, Richard

WINDEYER, RICHARD (1806–1847), Australian reformer and statesman, son of Charles Windeyer [q. v.], was born in London on 10 Aug. 1806. He was educated partly in France, became writer and parliamentary reporter for the ‘Morning Chronicle,’ the ‘Sun,’ and ‘The Times.’ He is said to have helped to originate Dod's ‘Parliamentary Companion’ (Heaton).

He was intimately associated with Thomas Perronet Thompson [q. v.], with whom he co-operated as one of the first secretaries of the Anti-Cornlaw League, was called to the bar at the Middle Temple in 1834, and occupied 2 Pump Court until he emigrated to Australia in the following year, arriving in Sydney on 28 Nov. 1835, where, after the retirement of William Charles Wentworth [q. v.], he became a leader of the bar.

In August 1843 he was elected for the county of Durham to the first representative legislative council, and in conjunction with Wentworth, and afterwards with Robert Lowe (Viscount Sherbrooke) [q. v.], took a most prominent part as one of the popular leaders against the bureaucratic government of Sir George Gipps [q. v.], who feared his uncompromisingly radical opposition more than that of any other member of the council. ‘There is a barrister,’ wrote Mrs. Robert Lowe, before her husband had definitely decided to join the opposition, ‘a Mr. Windeyer, an undoubtedly clever man, who has a strong party opposed to the government—and the home government also; this man is a popular [elected] member; to oppose him and to conquer if possible is to be Robert's main point’ (Life and Letters of Lord Sherbrooke, i. 189).

At this time New South Wales, with its province, Port Phillip (now the colony of Victoria), was in a state of financial depression amounting almost to general bankruptcy; and Windeyer brought forward his monetary confidence bill, based on the report of his select committee, which recommended the Prussian Pfandbriefe system; the bill was carried in the council but vetoed by the governor.

By his never-ceasing criticism and persistent attacks on the public expenditure, he earned the sobriquet of the ‘Joseph Hume of the council.’ His reforming zeal was as unselfish as it was thorough; and, in pursuance of this policy of economy, he voted against the salary of his own father, then police magistrate of Sydney. He held that Sir George Gipps's assessment for quit-rents was illegal, and refusing to meet the demand, an execution was put into his house, and his newly imported wine-vat seized. Acting on the advice of Lowe, he entered into an action against the government for trespass, but lost it. He originated the present jury act as well as the libel act of New South Wales. Throughout his public career he was an earnest supporter of public education, and a consistent advocate for the introduction into New South Wales of representative institutions and responsible government.

As a colonist Windeyer was one of the agricultural pioneers on the Hunter, and devoted much time and money to scientific farming and the draining of his land at Tomago. He was one of the first settlers in Australia to embark in the wine industry, and to import German and other foreign vignerons. He also introduced the first reaping-machines. He was always much beloved by the ‘emancipist’ class, and never had the slightest difficulty with his convict ‘assigned servants;’ while he was one of the very few pioneer settlers who displayed a sympathetic interest in the well-being of the aboriginal race. Windeyer's broad humanity in this respect is commended by an able writer who is altogether hostile to his political creed. ‘One of the hardest worked men in the colony took up the cause of the weak. Richard Windeyer, a barrister overwhelmed with briefs, which he conscientiously toiled at by day or by night, was at all hours in the legislative council as unflinching as in the supreme court. In the course of the session of 1845 he obtained a select committee of eight members to consider the condition of the aborigines’ (Rusden, Hist. of Australia, ii. 247–8). Despite his great practical ability and unremitting industry (though doubtless partly due to his devotion to public affairs), Windeyer's estate never recovered from the financial depression of 1842 and the two or three succeeding years. His health entirely broke down, and he was compelled to leave Sydney and relinquish his public work and private affairs. He died at the residence of his brother-in-law, William Henty, near Launceston, Tasmania, on 2 Dec. 1847. After his death his estate was compulsorily sequestrated, and his father was also compelled to go through the insolvent court; but the legislative council showed their practical respect for his memory by subscribing a sum for the benefit of the family, while the Tomago property was secured by the sacrifice of his widow's inheritance. When the news of his death reached Wentworth, he declared that ‘he had lost his right hand.’

Richard Windeyer was married at Speldhurst church to Marion (d. 1878), daughter of William Camfield of Groombridge Place and Burswood, Kent, on 25 April 1832. His only son, Sir William Charles Windeyer, is separately noticed.

[Personal information, kindly supplied by the late Sir William Windeyer, and researches made specially by Mr. Edward A. Petherick. Also Rusden's Hist. of Australia, vol. ii.; Patchett Martin's Life and Letters of Lord Sherbrooke, vol. i.; Burke's Colonial Gentry.]

A. P. M.