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3. Chapter III Read For The bar

RETURNING from my excursion among the bushrangers to my own affairs, when nineteen years of age I was offered the position of acting Assistant Accountant in the Colonial Treasury, during the absence of the Accountant, Mr. James Thomson, on six months' leave. That was in July, 1864. I remained in the Treasury until 1878, when I became Secretary to the Crown Law Offices.

During the period 1864–78 there were not many events that deserve to be recalled either in my own history or in that of the Colony.

I had a salary on which I could live in comfort, and although my ambitions were as strong as ever my love of pleasure was even stronger. What a mysterious conflict that is between the reasoning power, which keeps pointing out the right road, and an ill-regulated emotional faculty, which seeks to drag one along the wrong road. Indulging the wrong habits always makes the upward path so much steeper and the downward path so much easier. How fortunate that man is whose false steps are arrested by a friendly touch of common sense disguised in a flash of satire!

Many years before the event to which I allude I was a witness in a case brought by the Treasury

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against a Sydney distiller. Counsel for the defendant was Sir Julian Salomons, and he cross-examined me very closely. One answer I gave to what looked very like a trap question not only avoided the trap, but completely demolished the case Sir Julian was attempting to make. I was a stranger to him, but he sent me a message to remain in court until the case was over, as he desired to speak with me. When free, Sir Julian said: “Look here, young man; you ought to study for the Bar. If you do I'll help you in every way I can.” I at once replied, “Thank you ever so much—I am now preparing for the Bar preliminary examination.” This happened in the year 1866. As time passed from one year to another the progress I made at one time was forfeited at another by more agreeable engagements. There was none of that spur of necessity which makes all the difference in such cases as mine. At last, in 1877, Sir Julian, to whom I had always replied, “I will soon be ready for the preliminary now,” apologised for his previous inquiries, adding, “You must have thought me very silly. I now hear that you will not begin practice until you are admitted to the Bar of the next world!” I was so impressed by this satirical rebuke that I at once took up my residence with a coach, and soon passed the preliminary. Not long afterwards I passed the final, and was admitted to the Bar in 1879—fourteen years after I had begun to qualify for the preliminary examination

I had a lazy horror of the Greek portion of the preliminary, and, in later years, got an Act passed by the Parliament of New South Wales making

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Logic or French an optional substitute. I took Logic.

My educational record was not quite so black as it appears. My first tutor, the Rev. B. Quaife, leaned to the intellectual sciences, and was glad to neglect my Latin, Mathematics, and History, in order to read courses of lectures on Psychology, Metaphysics, Logic, and Moral Philosophy. Inattentive though I often was, these studies were, I believe, of singular benefit to me in after life. The older I get the more vivid my view of that benefit becomes.

The most neglected of all those studies—Psychology—is one of the most necessary. The scientist, the artisan, the chemist, the surgeon, the physician, the artist, the engineer, the divine, the historian, the poet, the author, the politician, and the actor—each has to acquire knowledge in relation to his trade or profession, more or less; but there is no one study more relevant to each and all as the study of psychology, that is to say, of the human mind, which is the sovereign lord in us of all other facts, and the only link which mankind has with the Supreme Mind. Unfortunately, the mind is the most elusive and unseeable of all existences. Like the Divine Mind, it can be seen by mortal eyes never for what it is, only in what it does.

In all civilised countries education rightly engages attention and provokes discussion. The conflict between the Churches and the advocates of secular education in Australia during 1865 was as keen as in older countries. The Anglicans and Roman Catholics fought for their State-aided Church

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schools, whilst other religious bodies were on the opposite side.

Illustration facing p.22. Rev.John Reid and Mrs.Reid

A brilliant struggle, in which Sir Henry Parkes and Archbishop Vaughan led the respective parties, ended in 1866 in the “Public Schools Act” of that year, which broke all but the last link between Church and State.

On June 18th, 1867, my father died. I can truly say of him that he combined intellectual power with moral rectitude, social sympathy, and religious fervour in an altogether pure and delightful way. When praise comes my way for anything that seems to be good in what I have done, I feel painfully sensible of my almost total failure to do justice to the good example which he set.

The leading teacher of elocution in Australia at that time—Professor T. P. Hill—gave five specimens of pulpit oratory in his book. Four were from famous preachers; the fifth was taken from a sermon preached by my father.

My mother died on June 18th, 1885. The equal of my father in piety, she was, happily for him and for us, his superior in domestic economy. They were two glorious examples of the living reality of Christian belief and the supreme charm of perfect love and trust between man and wife. One very interesting feature in my mother's life of usefulness at home and abroad was this. The second school for ragged children in Scotland, and the first in Australia, were due to her love for friendless childhood.

My first keen disappointment in my efforts to get “out of the ruck” occurred early in 1874. Sir

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Saul Samuel, then Postmaster-General, was charged with a mission regarding our postal services to the United States, and then Great Britain. He asked me to act as his private secretary. The Governor, Sir Hercules Robinson, cordially concurred, and offered me letters to his friends at home. But Sir Hercules informed me later that the Under-Secretary to the Treasury, who was a former political rival of Sir Saul Samuel, declared that he “could not carry on the Department without me.” How very flattering this singular admission if true; how very galling if not quite accurate!

If there is one lesson which a young man should take to heart more than another it is this: make failure in one direction the starting point for success in another. That was what I did.

I set about writing “Five Essays on Free Trade.” Free Trade was a subject on which I had often spoken in debating clubs. New South Wales had always based her fiscal policy upon Free Trade; Victoria had just entered upon a Protective policy. I believed in the former view with all the ardour which beginners sometimes share with experts. Since there was nobody to convince in New South Wales I addressed my essays to the electors of Victoria, with a degree of confidence which must have seemed amusing, if not disgusting, to an adverse critic. Although confidence may be “a plant of slow growth in an aged bosom,” it flourishes luxuriantly between young shoulders. The essays attracted some notice, and some of the acknowledgments were interesting. Mr. Gladstone wrote:—

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“23 Carlton House Terrace,

London, S.W.,

July 13, '75.


“I have to acknowledge the arrival of your letter of May 12 and of the accompanying Essays on Free Trade.

“It gives me cordial pleasure to learn from you that the public sentiment of New South Wales is thoroughly favourable to freedom of commerce.

“I cannot but hope that, in any part of Australasia where a different sentiment prevails, the people may shortly discover that they move in the wrong direction. It is rather sad to reflect that after the Mother Country has with so much difficulty and struggle relieved herself from the mischiefs of Protection the moral weight of her example, which has been powerful in Europe, should not have been more effective in checking the disposition of some of her youngest Colonies to create for themselves similar mischiefs. At the same time I am glad that Governments at home have respected their freedom and left them, with whatever regret, in a condition to purchase experience, like every other commodity, in the best or the worst market as they please.

“You are at liberty to make such use of this letter as you may think proper; and I shall be glad if I can find any opportunity of drawing attention or causing it to be drawn to the subject of your Essays.

“I remain, dear sir,

“Your faithful servant,


G. H. Reid, Esq.”

I was also elected an honorary member of the Cobden Club.

As part of my education for public life I wrote an essay upon the resources of the Colony, entitled “New South Wales, the Mother Colony of the Australias.” In 1878 the Government published this

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essay for distribution abroad. It was widely noticed in a way of which I was very proud. The London Examiner said the diction had a resemblance to that of Macaulay. As that great writer was my favourite author, and had cured me from an unhealthy appetite for works of fiction, I felt immensely gratified. There are some who would say I had not left the realm of fiction when I took to the fascinating English of the greatest of British essayists.

In 1878 I left the Treasury and became the Secretary of the Crown Law Offices—a step into the legal world. I was admitted to the Bar in September, 1879. Thus came to an end the prolonged struggle between my ambitions and my enjoyments. I very nearly “missed the 'bus.” One text often flashed across my remorseful consciousness: “Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel!” If I have excelled in anything I fancy it has been owing far more to the weakness of my adversaries, and the generosity of my friends and supporters, than to any merit of my own.

I felt more anxious about those two examinations than I felt about any other ordeal. My failure in either would have been at once so well deserved and so supremely ridiculous. My first paper in the preliminary was in Latin, the Rev. Walter Scott, the Warden of St. Paul's College, being the examiner. In the afternoon he took me in Mathematics. What a thrill of mingled gratitude and relief I felt when he remarked, “You forgot to sign your Latin paper this morning,” and having signed it I saw that it was marked “Satisfactory.” May his ashes rest in peace for evermore! Then Professor Stephens, of the Sydney

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University, who took me in Logic and Constitutional History, and was Chairman of the Board of Examiners, sent a special message announcing my pass.

The only occasion I can remember upon which I went to lunch and could not eat it was on the day fixed for the meeting of the Law Examiners. Before they met, and before luncheon, I was in the chambers of Mr. F. E. Rogers (afterwards Judge Rogers) when one of the examiners, Mr. G. B. Simpson (afterwards Mr. Justice Simpson), came in. Seeing me, the latter led the conversation into a distressing channel. He professed to lament the rigidity of the rule that compelled the Board to pluck every candidate who failed in any one question! The force of habit took me shortly afterwards to lunch, but the certainty of my failure killed every desire for food. The learned examiner made up for his cruel pleasantry, for he came to the Crown Law Offices later in the day in a storm of rain to announce my success. I then enjoyed the sharpest revulsion from despair to satisfaction I have ever experienced. Afterwards I made him my Attorney-General, and then placed him on the Bench. Post, not propter, hoc!

In the beginning of 1880 I took part in a public debate. An eccentric barrister named David Buchanan, who enlivened judicial proceedings by his contempt for points of law, and swayed juries by his natural eloquence, issued a challenge, asking for an antagonist in a public debate on the merits of Free Trade, he being one of the few prominent advocates of the other policy. I accepted the challenge. I was approaching an electoral contest, and was keen

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to enter the lists, although still in the public service. No better proof that the fiscal issue was not in party politics could be given than the fact that, although I was a public officer, the share I proposed to take in this contest was not objected to.

As in most other cases, the comparatively small number of Protectionists in Sydney at that time made up for their lack of numbers by their enthusiasm. They arrived early and got the larger share of the space in the hall. The majority of the Free Traders arrived later; many were unable to get in. We were allotted one hour apiece, Mr. Buchanan to open, a vote to be taken at the close. My friends listened quietly to Mr. Buchanan for sixty minutes; his friends listened quietly to me for one minute! I got my “baptism of fire” with a vengeance! To be defeated, as eventually I was, by what the Chairman described as a small majority, was galling enough; but the unfairness of it all made a lasting impression. The immediate effect was a stern resolve to “stick to my guns,” and I occupied my full time in speaking to the reporters—it was impossible to do more.

I got many benefits out of that bitter experience. In facing those hostile and unmanly opponents that night I learned lessons which were of infinite service to me in the long career of political warfare which began later in the year.

In preserving your good temper you achieve at least a “moral victory.” Nothing irritates opponents more. Nothing gives you a better footing with an audience. It always multiplies your chances of getting a hearing.

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It helps, especially if good temper is reinforced by good humour, to give what you say at least a pleasant appearance. If you gain a reputation for saying “funny things” you become an agreeable personage even in a pulpit. In politics the openings are boundless. Bores are in a class of infinite variety. But the worst are those who occupy public time. When the ears of an audience are tickled the approaches to its intelligence and sympathy become easier. To those who “joke with difficulty” these observations are not addressed. In a political gathering such persons, nine times out of ten, in trying to be funny fail miserably, and become easy targets for those in the audience who have a sense of humour.

I should like to impress upon young men who seek to enter public life that the only solid ground worth standing on is an ardent desire to be of service to your fellow citizens. If you possess such a desire your ambitions will bear good fruit in any event.

If personal aims and strivings and methods be purified by good motives, your best will achieve its best. Whatever that best may be, your mind should enjoy its activities. Could any fate on earth be more enviable than enjoyments so earned?