Friday, 16 January 2015

Legal Luminaries

The prompt this week comes from a French postcard and shows two men sitting in a courtroom. They could be either solicitors or litigants, but the woman to their left and and the gentleman behind them are both wearing gowns and would appear to be barristers.  I don't have any courtroom photographs myself, as of course it's not usual for them to be allowed to be taken, but I thought that the photograph below was relevant here. It's just a small picture and I don't know where it was taken or what the particular occasion was, but it is dated 11 February 1929, and shows my grandfather John Morrison looking rather young and inexperienced, seated here with a group of worthy gentlemen.  According to my late mother, these men were all leading lawyers of their time in Christchurch New Zealand, and the fact that my grandfather was photographed in their distinguished company showed the esteem in which he was held by his contemporaries. He would have been 39 when the photograph was taken.  He had educated himself at night school after leaving school aged 14, obtained his law degree and went on to become the Commissioner for Stamp Duties in Christchurch in the 1940s. When he retired he received many letters congratulating him on his very successful career achievements.

The names I have for the gentlemen pictured are, from left to right (not including the man who is only half in the shot on the far left): Mr W.D, Allard, Mr J. D. Harman, Mr Bruge, Mr Douglas, Mr Hill, Mr George Harper, Mr Morrison [my grandfather John], Mr Izard and Mr Neave.

Without knowing what the reason for the photograph was, I have so far only managed to find out about one of the other gentlemen here. George Harper, as he then was, is seated next to my grandfather, with his bowler hat and cane beside him. It would appear from the obituary published in the Evening Post of 13 March 1937 that he must have been about 86 at this time. He was not a Knight of the realm in 1929, because that honour was only bestowed on him about six weeks before he passed away.  He certainly does appear to have had a distinguished career, and no doubt held sway in many courtrooms.
This portrait accompanied an article in the Evening Post of 1 February 1937, in which the award of the knighthood was announced.

 Another portrait from the New Zealand Herald of the same date.


(By Telegraph—Press Association.)
The death occurred this evening of Sir George Harper, who was knighted in the last New Year's Honours in February. He was in his 95th year.
Sir George Harper, K.B., 0.B.E., was one of the best-known and most highly esteemed citizens of Christchurch. To the end of his life his vitality and undiminished interest in public affairs were remarkable, for, while many younger men had retired from active work, Sir George continued to serve the community in many capacities.
He was a member of the Christchurch Domains Board, the board of governors of Christ's College, the Cathedral Chapter, the board of trustees of the McLean Institute, and he served for some time on unemployment relief organisations.
The fourth son of the Most Rev. H. J. C. Harper, Primate of New Zealand, and first Bishop of Christchurch, Sir George was born on April 24, 1843, at Stratfield Mortimer, Berks, England, of which parish his father was vicar from 1840 to 1856. He received his early education at St. Peter's College, Radley, Berks, and Eton, and was the oldest living Etonian. Bishop Harper arrived at Lyttelton on December 28, 1856, but Sir George did not come out until 1858. He attended, the upper department of Christ's College for several years, and in 1866 he went to London and studied for the Bar at the Inner Temple. In June, 1869, he was called to the English Bar, and a year later, on his return to Christchurch, he was admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of New Zealand. 
Between 1870 and 1880 he was engaged in most of the principal cases in Christchurch and in the Court of Appeal. In the' eighties he was a member of the Royal Commission consisting of Judges of the Supreme Court and certain members of the legal profession set up to- assist in the revision of the Supreme Court Acts and in the framing of a new code of procedure. For many years Sir George was a member of the New Zealand Law Society, and the Canterbury District Law Society, of which he was president for two years. He was a member of the governing body of Christ's College since 1900, and sub-warden since 1920. He was also a Fellow of the College. He joined the Christ's College Rifles Volunteer Company in 1883 as captain. At the beginning of the Great War Sir George, with several others, founded the Citizens' Defence Corps, of which he was president. This organisation was instrumental in recruiting more than 5000 men for active service and in establishing a club for returned soldiers. The club was afterwards merged into the Returned Soldiers Association. For services during the war period Sir George was awarded the 0.B.E. He retired from active legal work in the firm of Harper, Pascoe, Buchanan and Upham in 1930, and had often been called "the father of the legal profession in Canterbury."

Here's a photograph of my grandfather John Morrison in his retirement, looking quite distinguished himself. It was 1972 and he was in his early 80s, having just stepped off a plane to visit us in Canberra.  If only I could have asked him more about the earlier photograph, but I was a young university student and unfortunately old photographs and family history were not matters that interested me back then. When the Paperspast web site extends to coverage of the Christchurch newspaper The Press beyond 1928, hopefully there will be more to be discovered. 

My grandfather was probably pleased that I had followed in his footsteps by studying law, but sad to say I didn't go on to pursue such an illustrious career as he did. Here is a photo from about 1977, showing yours truly all kitted up in gown and wig, on the one and only occasion that I was required to appear in court as a junior barrister in support of the QC that my employer hired to defend a client who was charged with stealing material from a building site, namely a type of scaffolding known as acrow props. The rule is that QCs can't officially appear without a junior, but this 'so-called' junior had had no previous court experience. The case went on before a judge and jury for about a week, and I think our client was found guilty in the end.
 I found working for a sole practitioner who defended all sorts of characters to be a very chaotic experience every day, and must confess that I only lasted about a year before deciding that becoming a public servant was a better option. Working in the Tax Office was nowhere near as exciting, but when my former employer was struck off a couple of years later for breaches in relation to keeping of his trust accounts, I was relieved not to be still working with him! 

For more Sepia Saturday blogs on matters legal or otherwise this week, just click  here


La Nightingail said...

You looked quite elegant in your gown & wig. Do you ever think about what it might have been like if you'd gone on with the law? I took a business law course in college which prepared me to handle subrogation claims for the insurance company I worked for, and that was rather interesting.

Lorraine Phelan said...

Your grandfather sounds amazing. He must have been a determined man. Was he an ANZAC as well?

Sharon said...

A very interesting post!

I detested Business Law when I was studying and admire anyone who studies or works in the legal profession!

Liz Needle said...

Your grandfather was certainly in illustrious if elderly company. You should try to find out how he came to be included in this photo. Very interesting.

Jo Featherston said...

I used to tutor accounting students in business law at Sydney Uni, and I doubt whether many of them enjoyed it all that much either!

Jo Featherston said...

Yes, I'm working on finding that out. Perhaps he acted as secretary to some board of which they were members.

Jo Featherston said...

No, I expect he preferred study to fighting, but three of his four brothers served and one did not return.

Postcardy said...

Your grandfather still looked fairly young in his eighties.

Deb Gould said...

Your grandfather is clearly the youngest in that first photograph -- such an honor, to be included with all those distinguished older men! And you're pretty distinguished, too, in your wig and gown!

Bob Scotney said...

Great to hear of a Sepian who studied law and who has a wider background in the profession.

Little Nell said...

This has made my day - a Sepian in gown and wig! Your grandfather was clearly well thought of to be photographed with all the ‘legal luminaries’. Great post.

Mike Brubaker said...

This was a terrific post! The group photo has a wonderful quality of a close fraternity. Your story and photo completes the circle.

Wendy said...

Love the group photo of the leading lawyers of the town. I bet they had amazing stories when they got together.