Past and Present, and Men of the Times.
Hon. William Downie Stewart
page 239 Hon. William Downie Stewart was born at Blair Drummond Scotland, in 1842. He came to this Colony in 1862. He became a pupil of the present Chief Justice, Sir James Prendergast, in 1864, and was admitted to the New Zealand Bar in June, 1867. Whilst he devoted himself specially to his profession, he has always taken an active interest in public questions. In 1875 he visited America, and made a study of the laws in force in that country, and on his return to the Colony advocated in a lecture which he delivered to the Otago Law Students' Society, a large number of reforms, such as simplifying and codifying the procedure of the Supreme Court, the fixing of a scale of costs, that a prisoner should be allowed to give evidence on his own behalf, that confessions or admissions made to a clergyman or priest and communications between a patient and his medical adviser should be privileged, the relaxation of the rule affecting the incompetency of witnesses through want of religious belief, reform of the law relating to workmen on the basis of the mechanic lien laws, a radical alteration in the laws relating to married women, whereby as regards property they would have the status of femme sole. Most of these suggestions are now law. He was elected in 1879 as one of the members of the House for Dunedin. He was offered but declined the office of Attorney-General in Sir George Grey's Cabinet. After the dissolution of Parliament, consequently on the defeat of the Grey Ministry in 1879 he was again returned as one of the three members for Dunedin City. In 1881 he contested Dunedin West against the Hon. Thomas Dick and myself; owing to an accident. I resigned in favour of the Hon. William Downie Stewart, feeling a anable to do justice to my constituents, but Mr. Stewart was defeated by a small majority. In 1883 he again visited America and also Canada. In 1884 he contested the Dunedin West seat with Mr. Dick, and was returned at the head of the poll. Mr. Stewart has Dick, and was returned. In 1887 he again contested Dunedin West with taken a prominent position in the House as a law reformer, and also in all constitutional questions. He has been especially useful Committee work. In 1879 and 1880 he fought hard against the legislation specially directed against the Maori political prisoners. He has been an advocate of Protectionist opinions, strongly supports the reading of the Bible in the public schools, and takes a lively interest in all political questions and social reforms. He was appointed to the Legislative Council in 1891, and is still a member of that body.