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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Martin, His Honour the Hon. Sir James

Martin, His Honour the Hon. Sir James, sometime Premier and Chief Justice of New South Wales, was the son of John Martin, of Fermoy, Ireland, and Mary his wife, daughter of David Hennessy, of Ballynona, and was born at Middleton, in the county of Cork, on May 14th, 1820. His parents emigrated to New South Wales the next year, so that Sir James was virtually almost a native of Sydney, where he arrived in Nov. 1821. He was educated at Cape's School and Sydney College; and, having embraced the legal profession, was admitted a solicitor of the Supreme Court of New South Wales in May 1845. In 1848 he commenced to contribute to the Atlas newspaper, and three years later to the Empire, started by Mr. (now Sir) Henry Parkes. His political commenced contemporaneously with his journalistic career, Mr. Martin being elected to the old Legislative Council for Cook and Westmoreland in 1848. He was unseated on petition, but was promptly re-elected unopposed; and had the like good fortune in 1851. When the first Legislative Assembly was constituted after the concession of responsible government in New South Wales Mr. Martin was returned to the popular chamber by his former constituents, his principal efforts being in the meantime directed to diverting the Riverine trade from Victoria, and to getting a branch of the Royal Mint established in Sydney. Under the new constitutional régime he attached himself strongly to the Liberal party, then led by Mr. (afterwards Sir) Charles Cowper. When the Conservative Administration of Mr. Donaldson was defeated, in August 1856, Mr. Martin, though only a solicitor, was appointed Attorney-General in the first Cowper Government; and so obnoxious had he made himself to the anti-progressive party that the motion of censure carried against the Government in the following October was mainly based on the fact of his inclusion in it. Later in the year, however, Mr. Martin was called to the bar; and thus the main objection raised to his nomination was removed. He was therefore, without any repetition of the previous clamour, reappointed Attorney-General by Mr. Cowper on his return to power in Sept. 1857, being made Q.C. in the same year. Mr. Martin resigned in Nov. 1858, and remained out of office till Oct. 1863, when he himself formed a Ministry, in which he took the Attorney-Generalship, in addition to acting as Premier. Prior to this, in 1859, he had been elected one of the four representatives of East Sydney under the system of manhood suffrage inaugurated by the Electoral Act of 1858. A financial deficit was bequeathed to the Martin Ministry by their predecessors; and with the view of meeting it, the Treasurer, Mr. Forster, in 1864, proposed a protective tariff, which was adopted in the Assembly, but rejected in the Council. The Government appealed to the country, but the response was a triumph for the free-trade party; Mr. Martin, who now became member for the Lachlan, being ejected from office in Jan. 1865, on a motion of no confidence proposed by his old chief Mr. Cowper. The latter gentleman now took the reins, but failed in meeting the necessities of the financial situation; the result being that Mr. Martin was recalled to power in Jan. 1866. He was fortunate in securing the co-operation of Mr. (now Sir) Henry Parkes, who had led the assault upon the Cowper Government, but who had, as a rule, acted in opposition to Mr. Martin. The new Administration proved one of the strongest ever formed in New South Wales; and, if it had performed nothing else, would be memorable for its great achievement in passing the Public Schools Act for the extension of elementary education to all parts of the colony, as well as to all classes of the community. Mr. Martin being a nominal Catholic, his action on this question marked his final breach with the ecclesiastical authorities of that communion. In Sept. 1868 Mr. Parkes resigned, and the Ministry only held together a month longer. During their tenure of office the Duke of Edinburgh visited the colony, and was shot at by the would-be assassin O'Farrell. As a memento of the general loyalty displayed during his visit (despite this untoward outrage), and of the official attentions he received, the ex-Premier was knighted by patent in 1869. In Dec. 1870 Mr. Martin formed his third Administration, which lasted till May 1872, and in which he was Attorney-General and Vice-President of the Executive Council, as well as Premier. He was succeeded by Mr. Parkes, who in Nov. 1873 appointed Sir James Martin Chief Justice of New South Wales—a post Mr. Parkes' Attorney-General (Mr. Butler) believed to be his due, and resigned in consequence of his not being offered it. In the following year Sir James Martin protested against the action of Sir Hercules Robinson, then Governor of New South Wales, in not appointing an administrator of the government during his absence in Fiji, and claiming the position as an appanage of his office as Chief Justice of the colony for the time being. In order to obviate the recurrence of any similar difficulty, Sir Alfred Stephen was subsequently appointed permanent Lieutenant-Governor. Sir James Martin, who was elected a member of the senate of Sydney University in 1858, married, in 1853, Isabella, eldest daughter of the late William Long, of Sydney. In 1865 he received the Queen's permission to bear the title of Honourable within the colony, after ceasing to be a member of the Executive Council. During the latter years of his life, Sir James Martin was recognised by all classes as one of the most distinguished men of Australia, and he particularly impressed Mr. Froude, the English historian, who records his impression of him in "Oceana" as that of a man who would have worthily filled the office of Lord Chief Justice of England. He died in Sydney on Nov. 4th, 1886.