Open main menu

The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Downer, Hon. Sir John William

Downer, Hon. Sir John William, K.C.M.G., M.P. Q.C., formerly Premier of South Australia, was born in Adelaide on July 5th, 1844, and educated at St Peter's College in that city. He was admitted to the South Australian bar in 1868, and belongs to one of the most prominent legal firms in the capital. Mr. Downer, who was made Q.C. in 1878, entered the Assembly in the same year as member for Barossa, and still represents that constituency. He was Attorney-General under Mr. (now Sir) John Bray from June 1881 to June 1884. In this capacity he introduced and carried through the House a measure to allow persons charged with criminal offences to give evidence upon oath, and a Married Woman's Property Bill. In 1883 he was one of the representatives of South Australia at the Sydney Convention, which gave birth to the abortive Federal Council of Australasia. Mr. Downer took the leadership of the opposition during Mr. Bray's absence in Europe in 1885; and having carried a motion of want of confidence in the Cotton Ministry, assumed office in June 1885 as Premier and Attorney-General. The accession of Mr. Bray, later in the same year, strengthened the Ministry, which carried a tariff, going a considerable way in a protective direction. In Jan. 1887 Mr. Downer left for England to attend the Colonial Conference as one of the delegates of South Australia. He attended all the sittings, and was entrusted by his Australian colleagues with the duty of presenting the case for an assimilation of the law of England with that of the colonies. in regard to marriage with a deceased wife's sister. During his stay in England he was offered and accepted the distinction of K.C.M.G. Sir John Downer only returned to Adelaide to learn of the defeat of his Government, and the resignation of his colleagues in June 1887 during his absence. He has not since taken office, but was appointed one of the delegates of South Australia to the Federation Convention held in Sydney in March 1891. Sir John, who was elected a member of the Council of the University of Adelaide in Nov. 1887, married Elizabeth, daughter of J. Henderson.