James Martin is a fascinating character in the history of NSW. Inexplicably, despite his achievements, he is almost forgotten.
Martin came to the colony as a baby when his Irish Catholic father was appointed groom to the new Governor, Sir Thomas Brisbane. The young James spent his childhood at Government House in Parramatta.
An intelligent and ambitious boy, he overcame many obstacles to pursue an education, and developed a special love for the classical world. He worked as a journalist and newspaper editor before embarking on a legal and political career.
He was the first native-trained lawyer to be appointed Attorney-General, and the first native-trained Queen’s Counsel.
Despite the anti-Catholic prejudice that prevailed in nineteenth century Sydney, Martin rose to occupy the two highest positions in the colony – the only person to have done so. He was Premier of NSW three times during the 1860s and 1870s, and Chief Justice of NSW from 1873 to 1886.
Mentored by William Charles Wentworth, Martin himself was a mentor to Henry Parkes, the Father of Federation. Inspired by colonial patriotism, he worked to increase opportunities for native-born Australians. He was particularly interested in making education available to everyone and improving social conditions in the colony.
Henry Parkes was Premier at the time of Martin’s death in 1886. He recommended that the street running alongside the GPO be named in his honour.
Find out more about James Martin here.