The Spike Golden Jubilee Number May 1949
Law and Victoria College
Law and Victoria College
In wellington, law is in the air. This is the view of the late Miss Irvine-Smith, an outstanding personality of the early days of Victoria University College in her book The Streets of My City. Here, in Wellington, sits the Court of Appeal, the highest appellate tribunal in the Dominion; here, too, we have the Houses of Parliament and the various Departments of State, those manufactories of rules, orders and regulations that, of recent years, have descended upon us like the leaves of autumn. Is it any wonder, then, that its University College, Victoria, has made a special feature of its law studies, that "the College on the hill," during the fifty years of its history, has drawn from the well of the law much of the lifeblood of its existence!
In no small measure the prominence which its students have achieved in important spheres of our national life is due to the high standards set by its professors of law. The first of these, McLaurin, was a remarkable man. He qualified simultaneously as a barrister and a senior wrangler at Cambridge, where he shared rooms with the South African, Smuts. After lecturing at Victoria College in jurisprudence and mathematics, he was appointed Professor of Mathematical Physics at Columbia University in the United States and later President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Here, at the cost of his health, he raised so many millions for his Institute that it became one of the wealthiest of the endowed corporations in America—a striking contrast with Victoria which, in matters of endowment, has been the neglected Cinderella of the university colleges of this country.
After him came Maurice Richmond, remembered more as an erudite lawyer and a pensive philosopher than as a practical teacher. He was somewhat overshadowed in this respect by his successor J. W. Salmond who had lectured for several years at the Adelaide University before accepting the Chair of Law here. He combined the gifts of a brilliant scholar with those of an inspiring instructor and guide. In his early days, he had practised law at Temuka and Geraldine, but his heart was in the theory rather than in the practice of the law; and what was Temuka's loss and Geraldine's became the world's gain. As a jurist, Sir John Salmond holds today in the world of law a position no less exalted than that of Lord Rutherford in the world of science. His works on jurisprudence and torts reveal the clarity of mind and expression which made him so impressive a teacher, and they have long been leading textbooks throughout the British Empire and America. When he severed his connection with the College and entered the law Drafting Department, afterwards to become Solicitor-General and a member of the judiciary, his place was filled by James Adamson, a member of the Faculty of Advocates of Edinburgh. A very dry wit and an exceptional scholastic record always proclaimed the country of his origin. In the early days of law teaching, so many lecturers seemed to drift away to other fields of intellectual endeavour that it was suggested that the Government ought to impose a poll-tax on the exportation of local professors. No such precaution was necessary in the case of Adamson. He stayed 31 years, expounding the heavy intricacies of such subjects as Roman Law, Conflicts and International Law. His classes usually commenced at eight in the morning when the burr of his soft voice and his sepulchral tones did not always rouse to active and sustained attention the semi-somnolent whose candle had been burning brightly at both ends. His colleague, J. M. E. Garrovv, who lectured on the practical side also came from Scotland but he had practised in Dunedin and served for a time as Registrar at the Otago University. His methods were more prosaic. Countless students of the many subjects that the budding solicitor had to master will recall his Sunday evening suppers at which their desire to do justice to the ample fare he had provided was tempered by the fear that a shaking hand or a clumsy elbow might render them in his eyes unfitted to enter the profession of the law. He waspage break page break
a lovable character whose approach to the students' problem was always one of simplicity and kindliness. His successor, Professor Cornish, was a former graduate and followed the path of Salmond through the office of Solicitor-General to the Supreme Court Bench. The present Dean of the Faculty is Professor James Williams, well-known both here and overseas for his writings upon the subject of Contracts. Save for a short interval at Sydney University, he has occupied the Chair of English and New Zealand law for fourteen years; and, for the last five of these, Professor R. O. McGechan, who formerly practised on the equity side of the New South Wales Bar, has lectured on those academic topics that were for so long the peculiar province of "Jimmy Adamson."
Now, if the law, as Dr Samuel Johnson observed, is 'the last result of human wisdom acting upon human experience for the benefit of the public,' it is pertinent to enquire what advantages this Dominion has derived from the many who have studied it. The answer is to be found in the proud record of our public service—judicial, legislative and departmental. In the short time at our disposal for this talk, the passing parade cannot be sufficiently mirrored. Only a few names can be given, to illustrate, and not to complete, the record. Our present Chief Justice, Sir Humphrey O'Leary, is the first home-grown product of Victoria College to fill this, the highest office of the judiciary. A fine representative footballer, he collected all the forensic prizes with his cheery assurance, his wit and his Irish eloquence. The first College graduate actually to become a Supreme Court judge was H. H. Ostler, afterwards Sir Hubert Ostler, noted for his keen, rapier-like mind and his habit of sweeping aside mere technicalities in his passion to do justice. He was followed by A. W. Blair, first secretary of the Debating Society; D. S. Smith, now Chancellor of the New Zealand University; Arthur Fair, formerly Solicitor-General and King's Counsel; Robert Kennedy, knighted this year; H. H. Cornish; James Christie, C.M.G., formerly Law Draftsman; J. D. Hutchison one of the best Canterbury footballers of earlier days and a keen supporter of boxing. E. P. Hay, the latest addition to the Bench, was also a student of Victoria.
To the Courts of Compensation and Arbitration the College sent the late P. J. O'Regan, all his life a stalwart champion of the legal rights of the worker, and, more recently, D. J. Dalglish, an acknowledged expert in company and statute law. D. G. Morison, present Chief Judge of the Native Land Court, is a graduate in law as was his predecessor, F. O. Acheson, who died last year.
Amongst the Magistrates, there have been J. L. Stout, a foundation student of 1899, who in length of service rivalled that of his distinguished father, Sir Robert Stout, twenty-seven years Chief Justice and one of New Zealand's greatest public figures. Joseph Morling was Chief Judge of Samoa, L. H. D. Sinclair of the Solomon Islands. Legal knowledge imbibed within the College walls has been imparted by many to multi-coloured races in the far-flung outposts of the Empire. After the first world war, T. N. Holmden was Chief Justice of Baghdad; since the last war, C. J. Treadwell has become Assistant Commissioner of the Sudan. It is true that to attain this position he had to pass in Arabic; but more than one student has commented that this is no worse than to pass in Latin, a subject decidedly more suited to Caesar than to a degree in law.
In the delicate arena of diplomacy, Sir Carl Berendsen (who shares with the late Neville Chamberlain a love for the ubiquitous umbrella) is New Zealand Minister to the United States; Guy Powles is now Administrator of Western Samoa and J. S. Reid is First Secretary to the Legation at Washington.
Old friendships and rivalries of the College appear also on the Parliamentary scene. Amongst the sitting members, we have the Honourable H. G. R. Mason, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, M. H. Oram, C, G. Harker and W. A. Sheat. There have been F. W. Schramm, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Mason of Napier and T. H. Seddon, Chairman of the War Pensions Board. T. D. H. Hall until recently Clerk of the House, was a graduate; so is H. N. Dollimore, the present Clerk. Victoria College graduates who are today King's Counsel include P. B. Cooke, the President of the New Zealand Law Society; A. H. Johnstone of Auckland who has given signal service to the legal profession over a long period of years; H. E. Evans, now Solicitor-General and Chancellor of the Anglican Diocese of Wellington; and O. C. Mazengarb who is also a Doctor of Laws. So is N. A. Foden of the Crown Law Office and so was George Craig, C.M.G., who specialised in Customs Law and became Comptroller of Customs. A foundation student and a member of the first executive of the College, he represented the best type of public servant. His later years, unfortunately, were marred by the grimmest of tragedy. All three of his daughters were killed by the Japanese while being evacuated from Singapore, two (twins) had been doctors in charge of a hospital in Malaya, and the third who served under them as a nurse, on the outbreak of war, had graduated in 1928 as a Bachelor of Laws, the first of the second generation of graduates at the College.
Over the fifty years, many brilliant legal students have played a worthy part in the social and intellectual development of the College. In 1907, on the Students' Association, one finds William Perry as President, H. F. O'Leary as Secretary and D. S. Smith a member of the executive committee. All three have since received the honour of Knighthood. Mention has already been made of Sir Humphrey O'Leary and Sir David Smith.page 34
Returned servicemen have reason to admire the efforts on their behalf of Sir William Perry, a great imperialist and a Minister in the War Cabinet. In 1905, Lord Plunket presented to the College a "Plunket Medal" for oratory. This coveted prize has been competed for annually. Appropriately enough, it was first won by an Irish student, E. J. Fitzgibbon, speaking on an Irish statesman. The following year, H. F. O'Leary won it, and thirty-seven years later, his son did so. A number of lawyers, and not all of them Irish, have since received this award and gone on to take prominent parts in public life. In the same way, the Debating Society which came into being during the first year of the College has proved a testing-ground for the embryo lawyer, creating the opportunity in face of an audience, often unresponsive and sarcastic, to think quickly and argue well. Amongst the best exponents of the difficult art of debate have been H. P. Richmond, of Auckland, F. A. de la Mare of Hamilton, F. P. Kelly of Napier, M. H. Oram of Palmerston North, and, from Wellington, G. G. Watson and B. E. Murphy, the latter a fluent and incisive speaker, who diverted his talents from the practice of law to the teaching of economics in which he holds the Chair at his old College.
Writing of legal practitioners in medieval times, Professor Maitland says, "These lawyers are worldly men, not men of sterile caste, they marry and found families, some of which become as noble as any in the land; but they are in their way learned, cultivated men, linguists, logicians, tenacious disputants, true lovers of the nice case and the moot point. They are gregarious, clubbable men . . . multiplying manuscripts, arguing, learning and teaching, the great mediators between life and logic, a reasoning reasonable element in the English nation." This is a warm picture of the place of the lawyers in the community. It has an application to a present-day New Zealand as well as to an England that is past. And fifty years of law at Victoria University College have helped to make it so.
W. E. Leicester