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SIR W.C. WINDEYER, POLITICIAN, CHANCELLOR, UNI SYDNEY

This abused mourning cover has a blue imperforate 1854 ‘Laureate’ stamp of New South Wales canceled with an indistinct barred numeral ‘57' of Raymond Terrace and it is addressed to W.C. Windeyer Esq, University, Sydney. The vendor states that the stamp is the Plate III, being the Plate I re-engraved with the background of crossed lines (Figures 1 & 2).

 

The reverse shows more clearly that it is a mourning cover with the characteristic white on black posy of flowers on the flap. There is a poorly unframed oval RAYMOND TERRACE/ AU 17/ ( )/ NEW S. WALES as well as an unframed oval reception SYDNEY/ [crown] postmark with the year date illegible, but because of the serifs and the spacing out of the letters of ‘SYDNEY’ it is an example of Fig. 72 of Tobin & Orchard with known usage of 10 January 1854 to 23 April 1855 (Figures 3 - 5).

Sir William Charles Windeyer, politician and judge, was born at Westminster, London, only child of Richard Windeyer and Maria. He arrived in Sydney in November1835 with his family and was educated at Elfred House Private School and the King’s School. In 1852, he gained a scholarship to the University of Sydney and was among the first graduates of the University in 1856, graduating with a BA, and subsequently MA. This started a long association with the University for he was in 1855-65 Esquire Bedell, a Fellow of the Senate 1866-1897, an Examiner in Law, Vice-Chancellor 1883-1886 and Chancellor 1895-96. Windeyer was admitted to the Colonial Bar in 1857, and on 31 December of that year he married Mary Elizabeth Bolton at Hexam, N.S.W. He also was a law reporter on Sir Henry Parkes’s Empire newspaper and was supported in politics by Parkes. He was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1860, being the University’s first elected representative in that body.

In 1860 Windeyer had been the main mover in the revival of the Volunteer Force; on 4 December he was commissioned captain of the No. 2 company of the Sydney Battalion of the Volunteer Rifles and in 1868 was promoted major. He was a member of the winning New South Wales rifle team in the match against Victoria in Melbourne in 1862. On the return voyage the City of Sydney was wrecked off Green Cape; no one was lost but Windeyer suffered shock and ill health and resigned from parliament on 22 December 1862.

 

As well as maintaining his legal practice, Windeyer served in several government administrations in the 1860s and 1870s. In 1876, Windeyer was elected to the Assembly as the first member for the University of Sydney. In 1878-79, he was Attorney-General in the Parkes-Robertson coalition, where he successfully introduced many significant bills as a private member, including the Patents Act and the Married Women’s Property Act. On his resignation from parliament in 1879, he was appointed to the bench of the Supreme Court.

Windeyer was keenly interested in educational matters. He was a strong advocate for the extension of free and secular education, which resulted in increasing numbers of matriculants for the growing University. He was strongly committed to higher education for women and in 1891 was founding chairman of the Women’s College within the University. In addition he was the President of the Sydney Mechanic’s School of Arts, where he taught Latin and Greek, and he delivered the Commemorative Address on the celebration of the Fiftieth Anniversary (Figure 6).

Windeyer proved controversial in criminal cases. With a rigorous and unrelenting sense of the retribution that he believed criminal justice demanded, he had a sympathy verging on the emotional for the victims of crime, especially women. Hostility to Windeyer reached a climax in 1895 when he imposed the death penalty on George Dean for poisoning his wife. Despite such contentious episodes his eminence as a judge was widely recognized by those qualified to assess it.

Windeyer had visited England for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1887 and was made an honorary doctor of laws by the University of Cambridge; he was knighted in 1891. Although outwardly unmoved and altogether unyielding, he was grieved by the clamour and obloquy aroused by the Dean case and in 1896 he visited England for a rest. He retired from the bench and in 1897 accepted a temporary judgeship in Newfoundland but died of paralysis of the heart on 12 September at Bologna, Italy. He was survived by his wife, three sons and five daughters.

Sir Henry Parkes, in his Fifty Years in the Making of Australian History (1892), wrote "My friend Windeyer was a young man of high spirit, bold and decisive in the common incidents of life, with a strong capacity for public affairs. He would have made as good a soldier as he has made a sound Judge". There are numerous photographs of Windeyer, but as the University of Sydney is my alma mater, I prefer to show him as the University’s Chancellor (Figure 7).

Most of the text is derived from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

 

 
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