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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Holroyd, Sir Edward Dundas (1828–1916)

by R. G. De B. Griffith

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Sir Edward Dundas Holroyd (1828-1916), judge, was born on 25 January 1828 in Surrey, England, the second son of Edward Holroyd, a commissioner of the London Bankruptcy Court, and his wife Caroline, née Pugsley. In 1841 he entered Winchester College, where he twice won the Queen's medal for Latin and English essays, and in 1846 he went to Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A., 1851; M.A., 1854). He entered Gray's Inn in November 1851, was called to the Bar on 6 June 1855 and practised in London.

Encouraged by his friend, A. B. Malleson, a former London attorney who had practised in Victoria since 1857, Holroyd migrated and was admitted to the Victorian Bar on 27 July 1859 and to the Tasmanian Bar in 1867. As in London he supplemented his income by free-lance journalism but soon abandoned it as his law practice rapidly expanded. A sound equity lawyer, he also became expert in mining and commercial law. His ability was marked by offers of a seat on the Supreme Court bench in 1872 and 1873. He then declined but accepted elevation on 22 August 1881, two years after he had taken silk. He had been appointed to the royal commission inquiring into the constitution of the Supreme Court in 1880, and later joined in recommending adoption of the English Judicature Acts under which the systems of common law and equity were amalgamated. He helped to prepare Victoria's Judicature Act, passed in 1883 despite the strenuous opposition of the judges, Robert Molesworth and Hartley Williams.

Holroyd's austere manner, dry humour, learned appearance and zeal for detail seemed in sympathy with an equity judgeship. After the Judicature Act he sat chiefly at common law adapting himself to it most competently, particularly in criminal cases. Ever industrious, he was respected also for his fairness and, by the Bar, for his courtesy, though he could strike out warmly and was impatient of loose legal argument. He was no precisian in matters of form but, it was said, often savoured a legal nicety as an artist might delight in a fine picture. These habits delayed proceedings and some counsel claimed that his meticulous noting of evidence cramped their cross-examination style. Otherwise he was practical and authoritative and his judgments, models of prose, had a good record for withstanding appeals. He became senior puisne judge and sometimes acting chief justice, and was knighted in 1903. Thereafter his growing deafness and slowness in court aroused public comment. He resigned on 9 May 1906 and was uniquely complimented on his eightieth birthday by the presentation of a bound address signed by the Victorian Bar.

He was an enthusiastic member of the Imperial Federation League and its president for many years. His speech at its inaugural meeting in the Melbourne Town Hall on 5 June 1885 attracted much notice, especially for its concept of federal inter-responsibility in politics and defence, and for his contention that colonial taxation or subsidy for imperial purposes deserved representation of those who paid. He was a member and sometime president of the Athenaeum and Savage Clubs.

In Melbourne on 19 April 1862 Holroyd had married Anna Maria Hoyles, daughter of Henry Compton, of Totnes, Devon; they had two sons and three daughters. Their household was run somewhat strictly, due partly to Holroyd's dislike of frivolity, though he was otherwise sociable and permitted himself to be 'unconventional in manner and appearance' at home. He was fond of sport and enjoyed good health almost until he died on 5 January 1916 at his home, Fernacres, Alma Road, St Kilda.

Select Bibliography

  • J. L. Forde, The Story of the Bar of Victoria (Melb, 1913)
  • P. A. Jacobs, Judges of Yesterday (Melb, 1924)
  • P. A. Jacobs, A Lawyer Tells (Melb, 1949)
  • Leader (Melbourne), 13 June 1885
  • Argus (Melbourne), 6 Apr 1906, 6 Jan 1916.

Citation details

R. G. De B. Griffith, 'Holroyd, Sir Edward Dundas (1828–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 26 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

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