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Thomas Howard Fellows (1822–1878)

by Carole Woods

This article was published:

Thomas Howard Fellows (1822-1878), by George R. Richards

Thomas Howard Fellows (1822-1878), by George R. Richards

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H2992

Thomas Howard Fellows (1822-1878), politician and judge, was born in October 1822 at Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, England, son of Thomas Fellows, solicitor, and his wife Mary, née Howard. He was educated at Eton, then worked in his father's office, studied in Pleaders' chambers and later under the master pleader, Thomas Chitty, serving as his valued assistant for about six years. In 1847 Fellows published in London The Law of Costs as Affected by the Small Debts Act and Other Statutes. Later he took out a certificate as a special pleader and practised until called to the Bar in November 1852. He sailed to Melbourne in the Kent, arriving in April 1853. He was admitted to the Victorian Bar in May, and although inclined first to seek a police magistracy, he persevered at his practice, and after a pro-squatter judgment was appointed standing counsel to the Pastoral Association.

In September 1854 Fellows was returned for the Loddon district to the Legislative Council where he showed an active and lasting interest in legal reform. He followed Robert Molesworth as solicitor-general in the Haines government in June 1856 and in August contested the Central Province seat in the first Legislative Council under responsible government. At Emerald Hill in his only campaign meeting Fellows repelled electors by his high-handed manner and lost. He campaigned again more amicably in September and was returned for St Kilda to the Legislative Assembly. In February 1857 he succeeded (Sir) William Stawell as attorney-general but lost office in March when the Haines ministry resigned. He was solicitor-general in the second Haines ministry from April 1857 to March 1858. In May 1858 he was elected for Central Province by a majority of one to the Legislative Council. He represented the Nicholson ministry in the council without portfolio from October 1859 to November 1860; he failed to modify the council's attitude towards the Nicholson land bill and his attempted compromise in August helped to bring down the government. In October 1863 he became postmaster-general in the McCulloch ministry but found its liberal policy uncongenial and withdrew in March 1864.

During the tussle between the two Houses in the 1860s Fellows doggedly defended the constitutional rights of the council. After a tedious tirade in July 1865 he moved that the assembly's appropriation-cum-tariff bill 'be laid aside'. As leader of the Opposition in the council he was sought by Governor Sir Charles Darling in 1866 to form a ministry but his terms were too difficult. In 1867 he angrily moved the council's rejection of the Lady Darling grant tack to the appropriation bill in August and then declined, unless elevated to ministerial status, to advise the governor. To strengthen the constitutional party in the assembly, Fellows contested St Kilda in the general election of February 1868; he was returned and from May to July, as minister of justice in the Sladen cabinet served as leader of the government in the Legislative Assembly.

When conflict between council and assembly abated Fellows accepted other public roles. In 1870 he was appointed a trustee of the Public Library, Museums and National Gallery and a commissioner of the planned intercolonial legislation and federal union inquiries. In 1872 he helped to organize Victorian exhibits for the London International Exhibition of 1873 and served in the commission on the accommodation needs of the Supreme Court branches. Fellows's legal career culminated with his appointment as fifth judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria in December 1872. To attract him from his large and lucrative common law practice at the Bar, the salaries of puisne judges were raised from £2500 to £3000. Fellows was not an outstanding judge but was valued for his clear expositions, memory for precedent and intimate familiarity with statute law.

Among other activities Fellows was a Prahran councillor in 1861-64 and, because of his attachment to Queenscliff where he spent his summers, was elected one of the first borough councillors in 1863 and mayor in 1865. As a devout Anglican, Fellows gave generously to the Church of England at Queenscliff and to the Anglican school and church near his home in South Yarra, and was privately beneficent. In his youth he was a keen sportsman and in Melbourne often rowed on the Yarra River and played regularly with the South Yarra Football Club. His wife Jane, née Hemmons, and his brother, Rev. Walter Fellows, were present when he died on 8 April 1878 at his home in South Yarra and the Crown Law Offices were closed on the day of his burial at St Kilda cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • H. G. Turner, A History of the Colony of Victoria, vol 2 (Lond, 1904)
  • J. L. Forde, The Story of the Bar of Victoria (Melb, 1913)
  • G. Serle, The Golden Age (Melb, 1963)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 15, 27, 28 Aug, 5 Sept 1856, 25 Jan 1868, 9, 10 Apr 1878
  • Age (Melbourne), 9 Apr 1878.

Citation details

Carole Woods, 'Fellows, Thomas Howard (1822–1878)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Thomas Howard Fellows (1822-1878), by George R. Richards

Thomas Howard Fellows (1822-1878), by George R. Richards

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H2992

Life Summary [details]


October, 1822
Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, England


8 April, 1878 (aged 55)
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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