Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Sir William Montagu Manning (1811–1895)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

William Montagu Manning (1811-1895), by John Hubert Newman

William Montagu Manning (1811-1895), by John Hubert Newman

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23480846

Sir William Montagu Manning (1811-1895), barrister and politician, was born on 20 June 1811 at Alphington, Devon, England, son of John Edye Manning and his wife Matilda Jorden, née Cooke. Educated in Tavistock, Southampton, he went to University College, London. He worked for his uncle, Serjeant Manning, and entered Lincoln's Inn in 1827. Called to the Bar in 1832 he practised on the Western Circuit. With S. Neville in London he published in three volumes, Reports of Cases Relating to the Duty and Office of Magistrates Determined in the Court of King's Bench (1834-38) and Proceedings in Courts of Revision in the Isle of Wight (1836). On 16 August in Paris he married Emily Anne, sister of Judge Edward Wise. In 1837 they decided to join his family in Sydney and arrived on 31 August in the City of Edinburgh. Manning was soon appointed a magistrate and chairman of the Quarter Sessions with a salary of £800. Annually re-elected by the magistrates, he was also commissioner of the Courts of Requests in 1841-43 and became solicitor-general in 1844, the office being confirmed in 1845 through the influence of Lord Brougham. In 1848-49 he acted on the Supreme Court bench and relieved Chief Justice Stephen of the Equity work. His wife had died on 16 November 1846 leaving three children; on 7 June 1849 at St Saviour's, Argyle, he married Eliza Anne, daughter of Rev. W. Sowerby.

From 1837 Manning had acquired real estate: 1200 acres (486 ha) at Mulgoa, some 50 town allotments at Kiama and 1000 acres (405 ha) in the Illawarra. Possibly his father's defalcations led Manning to seek a larger fortune than was possible from the Bar. In 1848 he held 63,000 acres (25,495 ha) in the Lachlan District. He joined his brothers Edye and James and with them E. and R. Tooth and T. S. Mort was a partner in the Twofold Bay Pastoral Association which held over 400,000 acres (161,876 ha) in the Monaro and Bega districts. With Mort he financed the Maizena Co. at Merimbula. He shared in shipping ventures with Edye but had severe losses in 1851 when their uninsured Phoenix was wrecked. As solicitor-general he was allowed private practice but derived only £200 from it.

In October 1851 Manning was nominated to the Legislative Council by Governor Fitzroy. In debates on the new constitution, despite his friend James Macarthur, he admired the American Constitution and asserted that a colonial hereditary House of Lords was inapplicable in the colony. The council was dissolved on 29 February 1856 but he remained solicitor-general until 5 June when he was given a pension of £800. He advised Governor Denison on the interim administration and refused to join Stuart Donaldson in a temporary ministry before the elections were held. He topped the poll for the South Riding of Cumberland as an 'independent liberal' conservative and was appointed to the interim Executive Council. On 6 June he became attorney-general in Donaldson's ministry and paid £3000 towards the discharge of his father's debts. Manning cautioned against too hasty administrative changes but the ministry was uneasy and he complained that 'electioneering interests are leading both Donaldson & Darvall to break faith with me'. The government fell in August but in October Manning took office under H. W. Parker, introducing twenty-two bills and carrying seventeen.

The arduous work of setting up the administrative machinery of responsible government affected Manning's health and he resigned on 25 May 1857 and was made Q.C. He sold the furniture at Orwell House for £1000 and after a farewell banquet, a testimonial, a purse of £1000 for a portrait and a piece of plate he sailed for England with his family. He found himself 'particularly blessed, in finding scarce one missing of the many friends whose memory I had cherished during an absence of 20 years'. On 23 February 1858 he was knighted by the Queen and in January 1859 at his uncle's house was given an ornate silver epergne and four dessert stands. He returned to Sydney in November 1859 and advised Denison on the arrangements for Queensland's separation, drafting the inaugural proclamation. In February 1860 he refused a temporary seat in the Supreme Court but reluctantly agreed to act as attorney-general under W. Forster on condition that he would 'be in no way identified with the general policy of the Government, nor expected to enter either House of Parliament'. After three weeks the ministry fell and he refused to continue under John Robertson. In June 1861 he accepted nomination to the Legislative Council 'if permitted to enter the House unfettered by any pledge or conditions' but indicated that he would not oppose Robertson's land legislation. In 1862 when opposing the Legislative Council bill he argued that the nominee principle should have a longer trial and despite objections to the late swamping of the House 'he upheld the right of it being done under proper circumstances'.

Manning had returned with a fortune of £30,000 and when the Twofold Bay Pastoral Association was dissolved in 1860 he was paid £22,000 by Robert Tooth. In 1859-60 he built Wallaroy, Edgecliff, for £10,000 and paid Andrew Lenehan £250 for furniture. He took pride in an extensive garden with rare trees, shrubs and masses of flowers as well as tennis and croquet lawns and an archery ground. In 1861 he contributed £2600 to a partnership with Thomas Hood and his brother in Langton station (Peak Downs), Queensland, and next year joined Mort and J. T. Allan in squatting ventures; in 1867 they held six runs totalling over 500 sq. miles (1295 km²) in the Mitchell District. He also held runs in New South Wales with Mort. By 1867 Langton station had debts of £25,000; it was sold to Harden, Wood & Manning. He was a director of the Moruya Silver Mining Co. and in 1866-67 and 1868-70 of the Australian Joint Stock Bank. He also had interests in mineral lands.

From 1863 Manning was counsel for the Australian Mutual Provident Society. A lover of literature and music, he was vice-patron of the Orpheonist Society and in the 1880s president of the University Music Club. He was an early member, trustee and later vice-president of the Australian Club, vice-president of the Civil Service Club, a steward of the Australian Jockey Club, member of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron and active in charitable institutions. He was founding president of the New South Wales Rifle Association in 1860-95, elected to the Senate of the University of Sydney in 1861 and vice-president of the Horticultural Society of New South Wales in the 1870s.

In August 1865 Manning refused to serve as attorney-general under C. Cowper. On 12 March 1868 as president of the Sydney Sailors' Home he invited the Duke of Edinburgh to picnic at Clontarf to raise funds for the home. Manning was walking beside him when the duke was shot and believed that he had saved the prince's life by diving for Henry O'Farrell's pistol. He claimed his own escape from death 'almost to have been miraculous'.

In October 1868 Manning became attorney-general under Robertson but refused to sit in cabinet or represent the government in the Legislative Council. In January-December 1870 he served under Cowper. He had to deal with the complex and unsuccessful criminal proceedings for slave-trading against the master of the Daphne in the Vice-Admiralty Court. The prosecutor, Captain Palmer, attacked Manning but Governor Belmore declared that his conduct of the case 'so far from meriting censure was most disinterested'. He also advised Belmore on other imperial questions and served on the Law Reform Commission. By August his finances were precarious. He had heavy losses when the Queensland Steam Navigation Co. was liquidated and '“Esprit de corps” de famille' had led him to incur 'imprudent responsibilities' for two brothers and a nephew, but the mortgaged Peak Downs station caused his worst losses. He owed about £20,000, two-thirds of it to the Bank of New South Wales. He wrote to Shepherd Smith, the general manager, that he could not cope with his difficulties which were increased when his Peak Downs's partners sequestered their estate in Queensland. Though humiliated by his name appearing in the Queensland Insolvency Court he managed to compound some debts and helped by Edward Knox secured his release from the Bank of New South Wales in November 1871. Wallaroy had to be let but, according to Shepherd Smith, he 'improperly' managed to keep some mineral lands near the Peak Downs copper mine which in 1872 began to pay dividends. Thenceforth he confined himself to his 'own proper work' and was back in Wallaroy by 1874.

In 1873 Manning served on a select committee on a new Legislative Council bill and drew up resolutions as the basis for legislation. No longer a conservative he proposed that the council be elected in the same way as the assembly but with only four electorates, 'cumulative' voting to represent minorities and retirement of a third of the members every three years. In February 1875 Governor (Sir) Hercules Robinson asked him to form a ministry. He failed because Robertson and his followers would not join a ministry led from the council. More conservative elements praised Manning for his attempt because he said that the prerogatives of the Crown were threatened and constitutional advantages might accrue from recognition of the Legislative Council in the choice of a premier.

On 28 April 1876 Manning became a puisne judge of the Supreme Court, thereby losing his pension and earnings at the Bar. On accepting office he wrote to the attorney-general, W. B. Dalley, advocating recent law reforms in England: 'I have always been disposed to look at the Law … from a public, rather than from a professional point of view'. His 'struggle to prevent suffering to suitors' and extra duties affected his health. He wrote in 1879 to Parkes asking in vain for relief. By 1882 G. Long Innes could comment: 'Manning is as mournful as ever—the poor old boy is gouty, doleful and disappointed'. In 1883 he visited England with his wife and three daughters. On returning in March 1884 he resumed his duties as primary judge in Equity. In October 1887 he resigned from the bench and was reappointed to the Legislative Council.

In April 1878 Manning was elected chancellor of the University of Sydney. He claimed that 'the teachings of the Faculty of Arts are the very essence of University education and the chief source of culture'. The university expanded rapidly under his guidance and in the 1880s faculties of law, medicine, science and engineering were established. In 1881 he gained the admission of women to all university privileges on 'an equal footing with men'; the women students' union, Manning House, was named in tribute. He acquired the organ for the Great Hall and hoped to endow a chair of music. He won increased government grants to the university and was responsible for freeing the £200,000 bequest of J. H. Challis from English estate duty; in 1890 the income was used to found new chairs. In 1893-94 he successfully fought the university's case for retention of government grants in commemoration addresses and the press.

In 1892 Manning was appointed K.C.M.G. He died at Wallaroy, Edgecliff Road, on 27 February 1895 and was buried in the cemetery of St Jude's Church of England, Randwick. He was survived by a son and a daughter of his first marriage and by his second wife and their son and three daughters. His daughter Emily was a well-known writer. His estate was valued for probate at £14,623.

A portrait by Sir John Watson-Gordon, R.A., in 1858 is in the University of Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1869, 1, 343, 1871-72, 1, 511
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 June 1856, 22 Dec 1873, 19 Mar 1874, 3-6, 10 Feb 1875, 28 Feb 1895
  • Illustrated London News, 19 Mar 1859
  • Empire (Sydney), 12 Sept 1862
  • P. Loveday, Parliamentary Government in New South Wales, 1856-1870 (Ph.D. thesis, University of Sydney, 1962)
  • Earl of Belmore letters, Cowper papers, S. A. Donaldson ministry letters, Manning papers no 246, 1107, Parkes letters, Stephen papers MS777, manuscript and printed catalogues (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Bank of New South Wales Archives
  • CO 201/493-94, 504, 508, 517, 522-23, 532-33, 536, 546, 548, 551, 557-59, 565, 581, 584, 587.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Manning, Sir William Montagu (1811–1895)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 18 July 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

William Montagu Manning (1811-1895), by John Hubert Newman

William Montagu Manning (1811-1895), by John Hubert Newman

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23480846

Life Summary [details]


20 June, 1811
Alphington, Devon, England


27 February, 1895 (aged 83)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Key Organisations