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Sir Edward Eyre Williams (1813–1880)

by Robert Miller

This article was published:

Edward Eyre Williams (1813-1880), by Batchelder & O'Neill

Edward Eyre Williams (1813-1880), by Batchelder & O'Neill

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H37475/30

Sir Edward Eyre Williams (1813-1880), judge, was born in England, sixth son of Burton Williams, a planter of Trinidad, West Indies, and his wife Jane, née Hartley. He was educated in England and called to the Bar of the Inner Temple in November 1833. On 13 March 1841 in London he married Jessie, daughter of Rev. Charles Gibbon of Lonmay, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Next year on 13 February they arrived in the Port Phillip District in the Andromache.

Williams toyed with the idea of taking up squatting but was persuaded to practise his profession. On 30 March he was admitted to the colonial Bar and made his initial court appearance on 7 April, when he 'acquitted himself in a manner to establish his credit as a quick examiner and a self-possessed speaker'. He first lived at Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, but in 1846-52 owned Como Estate before moving to South Yarra and later St Kilda. Early in his career he appeared for the defendant in several libel cases, notably with (Sir) William Stawell for H. Moor in his actions against W. Kerr in 1848, and against E. Wilson and J. S. Johnston of the Argus in 1851. Williams became known for 'a spasmodic style of address—something of a melodious bark', which earned him the title of the 'Boanerges of the Melbourne Bar'.

Williams was active in community affairs in the 1840s and 'his portly figure was frequently to be seen … whenever any question affecting the public welfare required a strong helping push'. In May 1844 he was appointed a member of the Bourke District Council and was made a trustee of the Port Phillip Savings Bank. He was on the committee of the Mechanics' Institute and, prominent in moves to set up the Melbourne Hospital in 1845-46, was a member of its first committee of management in 1847. Williams was a founding member of the St George's Club in April 1846. He spoke against transportation at a public meeting in March 1847. A keen Anglican, he was a founding member of the Diocesan Society in September 1848 and later supported the establishment of a Sabbath observance association.

On 1 April 1851 Williams was appointed chief commissioner of insolvent estates. In mid-July he announced his intention to stand for the Legislative Council seat of Loddon in the first elections after Victoria's separation from New South Wales; but he withdrew when later that month he was appointed commissioner of the Court of Requests for the City of Melbourne and County of Bourke; he also became chairman of Quarter Sessions. In April 1852 he was appointed solicitor-general, entitled to a non-elective seat in the Legislative Council; but on 21 July he became second puisne judge of the Supreme Court.

Not so colourful as his colleagues Stawell and (Sir) Redmond Barry, Williams nevertheless proved both capable and reliable. Much of his time was spent on circuit and he gained a reputation for disposing of his work speedily to maintain a tight schedule of travel, sometimes keeping the court sitting until 2 a.m. Accused by some of lacking the industry of his colleagues, Williams was for many years in delicate health and from April 1859 took two years leave of absence in England. In early April 1874 he resigned on medical advice, taking only Criminal Court business in his final weeks of office to 30 April. On 28 May with his wife he left the colony in the City of Melbourne, bound for England via Sydney.

Williams was knighted on 28 May 1878. He retired to Bath where he died, aged 66, on 30 April 1880 survived by his wife, a daughter and two sons, of whom the younger was Sir Hartley. His other daughter had been killed in 1872 while mountaineering in Switzerland. His Victorian estate was valued for probate at £6650.

Select Bibliography

  • Garryowen (E. Finn), The Chronicles of Early Melbourne (Melb, 1888)
  • H. McCrae (ed), Georgiana's Journal (Syd, 1934)
  • Australian Jurist, 19 May 1874
  • I. F. McLaren, ‘ “Como”, an historic Melbourne home’, Victorian Historical Magazine, 28 (1957-58)
  • Port Phillip Gazette, 13 Apr 1842
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 5 May 1880, p 5
  • Argus (Melbourne), 6 May 1880
  • P. Street, Legal history essay (Law School, University of Melbourne).

Citation details

Robert Miller, 'Williams, Sir Edward Eyre (1813–1880)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 21 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

Edward Eyre Williams (1813-1880), by Batchelder & O'Neill

Edward Eyre Williams (1813-1880), by Batchelder & O'Neill

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H37475/30

Life Summary [details]




30 April, 1880 (aged ~ 67)
Bath, Somerset, England

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