Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Robert Little (1822–1890)

by W. Ross Johnston

This article was published:

Robert Little (1822-1890), solicitor, was born on 17 November 1822 at Dungiven, Londonderry, Ireland, son of Patrick Little and his wife Mary Anne, née Boyle. Educated locally in private schools, he studied in 1844-45 for admission as an attorney and solicitor in various jurisdictions in Ireland. After practising in Ireland he sailed with his brother John in the Ganges to Sydney and arrived on 23 June 1846.

Robert was admitted to practice in New South Wales on 8 August and settled in Brisbane in December. He started a practice on his own, using his home at the corner of George and Adelaide Streets as his office. He tried to combine sheep-farming with legal work but soon gave up his pastoral ventures. When the New South Wales government expanded the judicial machinery of Moreton Bay in 1857 he was appointed on 1 April the first crown solicitor for civil and criminal causes. At first the volume of official work was small and he was allowed the right of private practice. In 1857 William Rawlins joined him, possibly as a partner, but left Brisbane after a few years. By 1861 Little had taken E. I. C. Browne as a partner and in 1880 H. L. E. R. Ruthning joined the firm. In 1867 the ministry ruled that the firm should conduct official civil actions as private solicitors; after 1868 they also carried out the railway conveyancing business of the government. In the 1870s Little was criticized in parliament for combining the crown solicitor's official work with private practice. In 1880 four politicians claimed that he was making private and public advantage out of the combination; in November a select committee exonerated him but recommended that the two sorts of legal business be separated. In 1882 the ministry decided that his official work required full-time attention. He retired from practice in 1885.

On 7 August 1873 Little chaired a meeting of attorneys that resolved to form the Queensland Law Society. He served on the committee for preparing the society's rules and at its first meeting on 8 September he was elected president, a position he held until 1880. An active citizen, Little was a good churchman and warden of St John's Cathedral; he was also vigorous in athletics and pair-oared rowing. He was a founder of the Queensland Turf Club and won the Breeder's Cup in 1866. Through his partnership with Browne he acquired a one-sixth interest in the Brisbane Courier. In politics he supported the squatters. Contemporaries described him as a patriarchal squire, 'tall, straight, distinguished looking' and 'a fine style of English lawyer'.

Little was married twice: first, on 15 September 1853 to Medora Anne, eldest daughter of Captain Geary, harbourmaster; and second, on 26 October 1875 to Eliza Harriet, sister of Sir John Bramston. In 1876 he moved into a spacious country house, Whytecliffe, at Albion Heights, built by A. Petrie. He visited Britain from November 1880 to April 1882. In 1889 he sailed for South Asia hoping to relieve his asthma, but contracted fever at Batavia and died at Mount Lavinia, Ceylon, on 17 January 1890. He was survived by nine children.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Bonwick, Early Struggles of the Australian Press (Lond, 1890)
  • N. Bartley, Australian Pioneers and Reminiscences, J. J. Knight ed (Brisb, 1896)
  • R. S. Browne, A Journalist's Memories (Brisb, 1927)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland) 1860, 504, 1869, 1, 600, 1880, 1, 551
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1875, 1880
  • Brisbane Courier, 25 Sept 1880, 21 Jan 1890
  • Queenslander, 11 Sept 1930
  • Queensland Law Society files.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

W. Ross Johnston, 'Little, Robert (1822–1890)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


17 November, 1822
Dungiven, Londonderry, Ireland


17 January, 1890 (aged 67)
Mount Lavinia, Sri Lanka

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