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Sir Julian Emanuel Salomons (1835–1909)

by Suzanne Edgar and Bede Nairn

This article was published:

Julian Emanuel Salomons (1835-1909), by unknown photographer

Julian Emanuel Salomons (1835-1909), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 11619

Sir Julian Emanuel Salomons (1835-1909), barrister and politician, was born on 4 November 1835 at Edgbaston, Birmingham, Warwickshire, England, only son of Emanuel Solomons, merchant, and his wife, née Levien, whose sisters married (Sir) Saul Samuel, S. A. Joseph and P. J. Cohen, a founder of Sydney's Jewish community. Privately tutored, he arrived in Sydney on 4 September 1853 in the Atalanta and worked as a stockbroker's clerk and in a book shop. He became a skilled debater at the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts. Appointed secretary to the York Street Synagogue in October 1855 at a salary of £100, by 1857 he had passed with credit the preliminary examination of the Barristers Admission Board. Assisted financially by the Jewish community, he returned to England, altered the spelling of his name to Salomons, entered Gray's Inn on 14 October 1858 and was called to the Bar on 26 January 1861. He came back to Sydney and was admitted to the colonial Bar on 8 July. He married his cousin Louisa Solomons at Lower Edmonton, Middlesex, England, on 17 December 1862.

In 1866 Salomons appeared for Henry Louis Bertrand after he had been convicted of murder. The Supreme Court ordered a new trial, but next year the Privy Council ruled that the court had acted beyond its powers. Bertrand's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and the case reinforced Salomons's growing repute for industry and brilliance. But overwork resulted in a nervous breakdown and on 16 August he was admitted to Bay View House, a mental hospital at Tempe; he was discharged on 2 December. Working incessantly, he concentrated mainly on real property, electoral and municipal matters, bills of exchange and criminal law; every brief was treated as though worth a high fee and, if necessary, he would argue a case without charge. A certain emotional brashness and vanity did not retard his mounting eminence; he was increasingly briefed by the Crown and held a general retainer by 1884. In 1870 he had been a member of the Law Reform Commission and on 16 August 1881 he was appointed royal commissioner inquiring into the complex affairs of the Milburn Creek Copper Mining Co. Ltd. His skilful report led to E. A. Baker's expulsion from parliament.

Salomons was a conservative free trader but not strongly partisan in politics. Defeated for East Sydney in December 1869, he became solicitor-general from 18 December 1869 to 15 December 1870 in (Sir) John Robertson's and (Sir) Charles Cowper's ministries, though he was not appointed to the Legislative Council until 11 August. He resigned from the council on 15 February 1871.

In 1886 the chief justiceship was refused by W. B. Dalley and F. M. Darley. Salomons accepted the office despite a sacrifice in income, 'being assured by those most qualified to guide me … that my appointment will be acceptable to the public and to both branches of the profession'. The Sydney Morning Herald and Bulletin were pleased but other newspapers stated that he lacked 'aristocratic position', judicial balance and dignity. Uncertain of the reaction of the puisne judges, Salomons displayed irresolution by calling on (Sir) William Windeyer, who taunted him with being unacceptable and accused him of 'always breaking down mentally'. It was true that Salomon's habit of working with 'frantic energy' had necessitated several health trips to Europe but he always returned restored, to be besieged with briefs. Gazetted as chief justice on 13 November, he took the unprecedented step of resigning on 19 November before being sworn in; though urged by the legal profession to reconsider, he refused. The office had been his goal 'for many years', but he decided that his 'temperament would not bear … the strain and irritation that would be caused by unfriendly relations'.

Reappointed to the Legislative Council in 1887, Salomons became vice-president of the Executive Council and representative of the Sir Henry Parkes government in the Legislative Council from 7 March 1887 to 16 January 1889. On 28 August 1888 Parkes, who believed Salomons stood `at the head of his profession at the Bar', recommended him for a knighthood and he was appointed K.B. in May 1891. He broke with Parkes over Federation, and from 23 October 1891 to 25 January 1893 was a member of Sir George Dibbs's protectionist cabinet as vice-president of the Executive Council and representative of the government in the Upper House. He resigned from the council on 21 February 1899.

On 6 April 1895 George Dean was convicted of attempting to poison his wife. Clamorous popular agitation resulted in a royal commission at which Salomons appeared for the Crown; its report resulted in a free pardon for Dean. On 18 July the defending lawyer R. D. Meagher, informed Salomons in chambers that Dean had confessed his guilt to him. Salomons was appalled: not only had the press and public been duped but Dean's wife and her mother had been harassed for allegedly seeking to incriminate him falsely. Salomons appealed in vain to Meagher to speak out and offered fifty sovereigns to begin a fund for Dean to leave the country and to publish a letter clearing his wife. After much soul-searching 'in an awful nightly pain', Salomons concluded that it was his duty to publish the facts as 'efficiently' as possible, even though a client relationship existed between him and Meagher. Again he was accused of mental aberration and vilified as a Jew. His emotional speech of self-defence in the Legislative Council did not fully dispose of the possibility of unprofessional conduct on his part, but it displayed great moral courage and advanced his reputation for integrity: 'They are at liberty to tear my whole life to pieces and to show to anyone anything that will make me ashamed', he said, and dwelt with pride on his Jewishness. Meagher was disbarred; Dean received fourteen years for perjury.

In 1899-1900 Salomons was agent-general for New South Wales in London. In 1899 he was elected a bencher of Gray's Inn. He had opposed Federation as faddish and inimical to the best interests of New South Wales, but after the passage in 1900 of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, he received a general retainer from the Federal government and was gracious in his address of welcome to the first judges of the High Court. He possessed the 'pluck and tenacity of a soldier-ant'; with short stature, cross-eyes and squeaky voice, he combined a caustic tongue and mordant wit and was 'quite the fastest long-distance talker of his time'. He blended benevolence with his pugnacity, was courteous to his juniors and was a very active member of the Jewish community. Broadly cultivated from his youth, he had contributed to the Empire, collected fine paintings and was a trustee of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales. In 1872-73 and 1889-90 he had been a member of the Barristers Admission Board and was a member of the Linnean Society of New South Wales.

Salomons retired in 1907. On the eve of a projected visit to Europe, he died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 6 April 1909 in his home, Sherbourne, Woollahra, and was buried in the Hebrew portion of Rookwood cemetery. He was survived by his devoted wife and by two married daughters. Despite recent losses from sugar investments, his estate was valued for probate at £34,813.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Blacket, May it Please Your Honour (Syd, 1927)
  • A. B. Piddington, Worshipful Masters (Syd, 1929)
  • L. Blackwell, Death Cell at Darlinghurst (Lond, 1970)
  • A. M. Cohen, ‘Sir Julian Emanuel Salomons …’, and H. H. Glass, ‘Some Australian Jews and the Federal movement’, Australian Jewish Historical Society, Journal, 2 (1944-48) and 3 (1949-53)
  • J. M. Bennett, ‘Sir Julian Salomons — fifth chief justice of New South Wales’, JRAHS, 58 (1972)
  • Empire (Sydney), 12 Feb 1864
  • Cosmos Magazine, 31 Aug 1895
  • Bulletin, 19 Feb, 19 Mar 1881, 23 Dec 1882, 13, 20 Nov 1886
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Jan 1893, 7, 8 Apr 1909
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 7 Apr 1909
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Windeyer uncatalogued manuscript 186 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 201/557/46, 53, 559/527, 615 595/379, 580, 605/297.

Citation details

Suzanne Edgar and Bede Nairn, 'Salomons, Sir Julian Emanuel (1835–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Julian Emanuel Salomons (1835-1909), by unknown photographer

Julian Emanuel Salomons (1835-1909), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 11619

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Solomons, Julian Emanuel

4 November, 1835
Birmingham, Warwickshire, England


6 April, 1909 (aged 73)
Woollahra, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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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.

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