The stampless cover has four handstamps the first being a duplex SHIP MAIL ROOM/ SP 17/ 98/ PERTH W.A with an eight barred PO which partially obscures a purple MR JUSTICE HENSMAN/FRANK STAMP/ WESTERN AUSTRALIA plus two copies a black PAID/ OFFICIALLY/ WEST AUSTRALIA. The cover is addressed to Wm Shoosmith Esq, Solicitor, 19 Market Square, Northampton, England. At the lower left hand side the writer has his manuscript initials, ‘APH’, those of Alfred Peach Hensman (Figure 1).
The reverse has a black imprint on the flap of the lion and unicorn holding a crest, above WESTERN AUSTRALIA in a scroll. There is a reception postmark of NORTHAMPTON/ 10.45 PM/ OC 16/ 98 (Figure 2).
The firm of Shoosmiths was founded by William Shoosmith (1820-1907) in Northampton Market Square. He articled with his father in 1840, and in 1845 he set up his own practice of William Shoosmith. No records of the firm still exist but he probably acted as a general practitioner, dealing with legal problems affecting inhabitants of a small town. He was deeply involved in the political life of Northampton and was a Liberal Councillor for nine years before being appointed to the part-time position Town Clerk in 1869 and then as Town Clerk until his retirement in 1902, at the age of 83. He continued to practise on his own account until 1895, when he admitted three of his sons into partnership in 1895. A photo of William Shoosmith is seen in Figure 3.
William married Frances Buxton in 1855 and they had five sons and three daughters. William Buxton Shoosmith was a partner from 1895 until 1924 and senior partner from 1902 until1924; Harry Harcourt Shoosmith was a partner from 1895 until 1927; and, Thurston Laidlaw Shoosmith was a partner from 1895 until 1925. Frank Harrison had been a clerk in 1894-1907, assistant solicitor in 1907-1918, partner 1918-1964 and senior partner in 1924-1964, but the name of the firm remained as Wm. Shoosmith and Sons (Figure 4).
The Shoosmiths firm has grown significantly and now comprises seven offices, 72 partners and over 1,600 employees. It is regarded as one of the most progressive, innovative and technologically advanced law firms in England.
Alfred Peach Hensman was born on 12 May 1834, the second son of John Hensman, solicitor, and his wife Mary, of Springhill, Northampton, England. He went to India and was commissioned in the 1st Madras Fusiliers, but resigned because of ill health. He entered the Middle Temple in 1852 and the University of London (B.A., 1853). He was called to the Bar in 1858, became counsel for the Treasury at the Leicestershire Assizes and later a revising barrister. In December 1882 he was appointed attorney-general for Western Australia.
With his wife Emily and two children Hensman arrived at Perth in the Ballarat on 11 May 1884. He soon won repute as a dignified and reliable lawyer but socially was reserved and somewhat haughty. He was diametrically opposed in temperament and political philosophy to Governor Broome, and the governor questioned Hensman’s right to give legal advice officially to stipendiary magistrates sitting in civil jurisdiction. Hensman maintained that Broome should confine his opinions to points of law and not extend them to questions involving the application of law to facts, especially as he seemed to have privately advised one of the litigants.
In the Executive Council on 24 March 1886 the governor presented a minute accusing Hensman of ‘disloyalty and improper official conduct’, of anti-government conspiracies and actions designed to cripple the administration. Hensman was not permitted to answer the charges and immediately resigned. He expected his resignation to be transmitted to London and was appalled when Broome not only accepted it but also interdicted him, suspended his salary and demanded his resignation from the Legislative Council. Hensman declared his interdiction illegal, refused to resign from the Legislative Council pending advice from the Colonial Office.
Lengthy dispatches passed between Broome and the Colonial Office, and the affair was aired in the House of Commons. In January 1887 Edward Stanhope, the Secretary of state for colonies, vindicated Hensman and ordered Broome to pay his salary in full. Not satisfied, he side-stepped protocol and solicited the aid of his brother, Arthur, to act as his ‘representative’ in London. These efforts were thwarted by a statement from the new Secretary for state for colonies: ‘With regard to your brother’s complaints … in a quarrel reaching the length attained by that between Sir F. N. Broome and Mr. A. P. Hensman, both parties are so carried away .. as to put themselves more or less in the wrong, whatever may have been the merits of the original dispute’.
Many colonists sympathized with Hensman, and on 6 November 1886 a public meeting in the Town Hall, indicated that he was moving into the political arena. With his liberal background, he was concerned with social and political reforms. He had been a staunch advocate for responsible government and supported the move for the emancipation of women: in Western Australia he pressed for female suffrage and opportunities for higher education. He represented Greenough in the Legislative Council in 1887-89 and practised as a barrister until his elevation to the Supreme Court as puisne judge in 1892. He strengthened it with his command of legal principle and his practicality, always treating the rules of court as servants, not masters.
In keeping with his liberalism he was a champion of local autonomy, never yielding to English practice or precedent unless bound to do so. He published a handbook on English constitutional law and an address on Western Australia, which he delivered to the Royal Colonial Institute in London in 1889. Aggravated by continuous disparagement in the West Australian, Hensman sued the proprietors, for libel in 1888. The case was decided in his favour and Hensman received £800 damages.
A competent violinist, Hensman was active in encouraging musical appreciation in Perth and in recognition for his contribution he was presented with a baton by the Perth Musical Union in October 1889. On a visit to England he died on 5 October 1902, survived by his wife and son, Harold William, a barrister in his father’s firm in Perth.
This paper relies heavily on the account of Hensman in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.
I wish to acknowledge the great help of Karen Carter, Head of Corporate Communications & Marketing Services, Shoosmiths for the text about the company as well as Figures 3 & 4.