The Info List - Josiah Symon

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Sir Josiah Henry Symon KCMG (27 September 1846 – 29 March 1934), Scottish-Australian lawyer and politician, was a member of the Australian Senate
Australian Senate
in the First Australian Parliament, and an Attorney-General of Australia.


1 Early life and education 2 Career 3 Death and recognition 4 Philanthropy 5 References

Early life and education[edit] Symon was born in Wick, a town in the county of Caithness
in the Scottish Highlands, in 1846. He was educated at Stirling High School, where he was the dux in 1862, before attending the Free Church Training College in Edinburgh.[1] His brother, David Symon, was a member of the Legislative Assembly of Western Australia.[2] Career[edit] In 1866 he emigrated to South Australia and was employed as an articled clerk with his cousin, J D Sutherland, a solicitor in the city of Mount Gambier. The leader of the South Australian Bar Association at the time (and a future Chief Justice of South Australia), Samuel Way, noticed Symon's work and invited him to join his firm. Symon, having completed his studies, was called to the bar in 1871, and admitted to practice as a barrister. In 1872, after the death of one of the partners at Way's firm, Symon became a partner alongside Way. In 1876, Way was appointed as a judge, and Symon bought out his part of the business. In March 1881, Symon was made Attorney-General of South Australia in the Morgan government, although at the time he had not been elected to the Parliament of South Australia. He was elected as the member for Sturt in the South Australian House of Assembly
South Australian House of Assembly
several weeks later. However, the Morgan government lost power on 24 June of that year, and Symon lost his position as Attorney-General. Later in 1881, Symon was made a Queen's Counsel, and on 8 December of that year he married Mary Cowle, with whom he was to have five sons and seven daughters. In 1884, Symon was offered a judicial position, but he declined to accept it. He travelled to England in 1886, and was offered a nomination for a seat in the British House of Commons, however he declined this opportunity also. In 1887, after returning to Australia, he lost his seat in the South Australian parliament. He was a highly effective and ruthless advocate: in 1889 he successfully prosecuted the William Hutchison libel case against J. B. Mather and George Ash of The Narracoorte Herald. In his highly technical argument he succeeded in having evidence from Hansard
and Crown Law documents ruled as inadmissible. Ash (who conducted his own defence) then turned to politics and law, and after his untimely death received glowing tributes from Symon.[3]

Symon at the 1898 Australasian Federal Convention.

Symon stood for election to the Australian Senate
Australian Senate
at the 1901 election for the Free Trade Party, and was placed first overall by the voters of South Australia. He was made leader of the opposition in the Senate, and was a leader within the Free Trade Party
Free Trade Party
on tariff policy. After being elected to the Parliament, he stood down from his position as a member of the council of the University of Adelaide, a position he had held since 1897. At the 1903 election he again topped the poll for the Senate in South Australia. When the High Court of Australia was created in late 1903, Symon was mentioned in the press as a possible judge of the court, although ultimately he was not appointed. From August 1904 to July 1905 he was the Attorney-General of Australia in the Reid Ministry. Symon was renowned as a tough and uncompromising politician. He has been described as both an "eloquent and emotional speaker" and often "abrasive and argumentative."[1] Late in 1904, Symon was involved in a dispute with the judges of the High Court. In the court's early years, its official home was a courtroom in Melbourne, although it often sat at the court in the Sydney suburb of Darlinghurst. Justices Barton and O'Connor lived in Sydney, but Chief Justice of Australia
Chief Justice of Australia
Sir Samuel Griffith lived in Brisbane, and took a two-day train ride to attend each sitting in Melbourne. When Griffith asked for some bookshelves to be installed in the Darlinghurst courthouse, so that his law library might be moved from his offices in Brisbane, Symon criticised Griffith for holding any sittings outside Melbourne, and began intrusive inspections of the judges' travel expenses. Prime Minister George Reid tried to intervene, and Griffith even took the extraordinary step of delaying scheduled sittings early in 1905. The stand-off was resolved when the Reid government left power, and the new Attorney-General (and future Chief Justice) Isaac Isaacs
Isaac Isaacs
permitted the judges to travel. Later, in 1930, when Symon was president of the Adelaide
branch of the Royal Empire Society, he was an outspoken opponent of James Scullin's nomination of Isaacs as Governor-General of Australia. In 1909, when the Free Trade Party
Free Trade Party
and the Protectionist Party
Protectionist Party
merged to form the Commonwealth Liberal Party, Symon was one of a small group of politicians who did not join, instead remaining in Parliament as an independent. Symon did not hold any other ministerial positions, and eventually left the Senate after losing his seat in the 1913 election. He continued to practice as a barrister until his retirement in 1923 at the age of seventy-seven. Death and recognition[edit]

Symon died in 1934, and was given a state funeral. He was survived by his wife, his five sons and five of his seven daughters. In addition to bequeathing his library, Symon also left money for the establishment of scholarships at the University of Sydney, Scotch College in Adelaide
and Stirling High School, which he had attended in his youth. The Canberra suburb of Symonston is named for him. Philanthropy[edit] Symon was a lover of history and literature, and was nominated as a founding member of the Parliamentary Library Committee, which oversees the Parliament of Australia Parliamentary Library.[2] Symon, along with Tasmanian Senator John Keating, who was also on the committee, suggested that historical documents relating to Australia but kept in the United Kingdom to be brought to Australia. In 1907 he visited the Public Record Office
Public Record Office
in London while on a holiday, and campaigned for the logs of Captain James Cook's ships HM Bark Endeavour and HMS Resolution to be brought to Australia, in the same way that the log of the Mayflower
had been taken to Boston in the United States. Though unsuccessful, Symon continued the campaign on his return to Australia, and in 1909 moved a resolution in the Senate to call for the logs to be brought to Australia. Although the logs were never given to Australia, the original copy of the Constitution of Australia
Constitution of Australia
was brought to Australia in 1990, after campaigning by Prime Minister Bob Hawke in a tradition which historians link to Symon.[3] Symon had a massive personal collection of approximately ten thousand books, which he ultimately bequeathed to the State Library of South Australia. He had already donated his collection of law texts to the Law School at the University of Adelaide
University of Adelaide
in 1924. Symon also wrote and published a number of books, including Shakespeare at Home, published in 1905, and Shakespeare the Englishman, published in 1929, both on the subject of William Shakespeare. Some of Symon's lectures on Shakespeare were also published in pamphlet form.

Political offices

Preceded by H.B. Higgins Attorney General of Australia 1904–1905 Succeeded by Isaac Isaacs


^ Biography - Sir Josiah Henry Symon - Australian Dictionary of Biography ^ David Symon
David Symon
– Biographical Register of Members of the Parliament of Western Australia. Retrieved 16 May 2016. ^ "Death of Mr. Geo. Ash, M.P." The Millicent Times (SA : 1891 - 1905). SA: National Library of Australia. 27 February 1897. p. 3. Retrieved 24 September 2015. 

^ "The quest for the nation's title deeds, 1901–1990". Australian Library Journal. Archived from the original on 11 February 2006. Retrieved 17 February 2006.  ^ "Parliamentary Library". Parliament House of Australia. Retrieved 17 February 2006.  ^ "The quest for the nation's title deeds, 1901–1990". Australian Library Journal. Archived from the original on 11 February 2006. Retrieved 17 February 2006. 

Serle, Percival (1949). "Symon, Josiah". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.  "George Reid – In office". Australia's Prime Ministers. Archived from the original on 21 February 2006. Retrieved 17 February 2006.  "Papers of Sir Josiah H. Symon". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 17 February 2006. 

Authority control

WorldCat Identities VIAF: 24300836 LCCN: no2003116