Sunday, December 3, 2017


 (Specially written for the Press)
[By Annalist.]
(All Rights Reserved.)

A Canterbury pioneer who was destined to make his name famous far beyond the confines of the Province was Joshua Strange Williams.

Born in London on September 19th, 1837, he was the son of Joshua Williams, Q. C., author of a well-known book on real and personal property. He was educated at Harrow during the headmastership of Dr. Vaughan, and had as tutor, B. F. Westmacott, afterwards Bishop of Durham. Williams then went on to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he got a good sound classical education. In 1858 he was second in the first class of the law tripos; in the following year lie was junior optime in the mathematical tripos, and he was awarded the gold medal of the Chancellor (the Prince Consort) for legal studies. Having taken his B.A., he left Cambridge in 1859. He read his law in the chambers of his father and of Hobhouse (afterwards Lord Hobhouse), and was called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn in November, 1859. He afterwards graduated M.A. and M.L.

His health being poor, Williams was advised, shortly after being called, to go on a long sea voyage, and accordingly in July, 1861, he sailed from London in the emigrant ship Derwentwater, 522 tons. After a tempestuous and eventful voyage, the vessel arrived off Otago Heads to learn that gold had been discovered, and that everyone in the Province was off to the diggings in search of a fortune. Fearing that he would lose his crew, the captain declined to enter the port, but landed his emigrants in the ships' boats and proceeded to Banks Peninsula.

On landing in Canterbury, Williams was admitted to the Bar by Mr Justice Gresson without delay, and in March, 1862, he entered into partnership with Thomas S. Duncan, who, at the time, was Provincial Solicitor and Crown Prosecutor. In October, though a colonist of less than twelve months' standing, he was elected to the Provincial Council for the Heathcote district, A few months later Moorhouse resigned the Superjntendency. Samuel Bealey was elected to succeed him in March, 1863, and there was a change of Government. Wilkin remained leader of the Executive, but Duncan resigned the Provincial Solicitorship, and Williams was appointed to that important post. He remained in the Executive to the end of the year under Wilkin and Cass, and in December witnessed the opening of the first railway in the Province, or even New Zealand, In January, 1864, with the intention of visiting England, Williams resigned from the Provincial Government, and dissolved his partnership with Duncan and it was this vacancy for Heathcote that gave another great Canterbury pioneer (Rolleston) the opportunity of entering public life.

After his return to the colony, towards the end of 1864, Williams started practice on his own account, and continued so until he accepted office under the General Government twelve years later. In 1865 he married Caroline Helen, daughter of Thomas Sanctuary, of Horsham. Sussex, Early in 1866 Moorhouse was re-elected Superintendent, and in May of that year Williams re-entered the Provincial Council as member for Heathcote, A few months later he became Provincial Solicitor in the JoJlie Executive, which, however, lasted for only a few weeks, When Stewart came into office in March, 1867, he called Williams in as a colleague, and this association lasted until March, 1868. Williams retired from the Council at the dissolution of 1870. He was a most useful and sagacious adviser, well versed in the forms of the Council, and qualified to advise on knotty points of law. He spoke seldom and briefly, but exercised a great influence on the deliberations of the Council. Later in 1870 he was appointed District Land Registrar for Canterbury, to which was added, in 1872 the post of Registrar General of Lands. It was while thus employed that Williams wrote his handbook on the Land Transfer Act. In 1873, on the foundation of Canterbury College, he was elected Chairman of the Board of Governors, which position he held until March, 1875, when he was appointed to the Bench.

Shortly after this appointment, Williams was posted to the Otago judicial district to replace Mr Justice Chapman, and there he worked for the next 39 years with great distinction, lending lustre to the Bench, and gaining much credit for his sound law, He presided at many of the most famous criminal trials in the annals of New Zealand law, and incidentally at the investigation of the Colonial Bank's affairs. He was never an orator or a fluent speaker, but he said what he intended to say in simple English, easily understood, He had a fund of wit and humour, was well versed in French and Italian literature, and made some good translations from Dante. In 1895, when the Arbitration Court was established, Williams was chosen as its first President in the belief, which was well fulfilled, that he would establish its proceedings and found its traditions on a basis of sound law. He vacated the post in 1898 to return to the Supreme Court. In 1911, Williams was created a Knight Bachelor, and two years later he was appointed to represent New Zealand on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. He left for assume that position in February, 1914, and in the short time that still remained to him his sound judgment gained recognition in the highest Court of the Empire

While in Dunedin Williams took his place in society as one of its leading citizens. In 1877 he was appointed a member of the Council of Otago University. Two years later he became Vice Chancellor, and in 1894 he succeeded the Rev. Dr Stuart as Chancellor, a position which he held until his resignation in 1909. In many societies of a social and philanthropic nature he took an active interest. He was, for example, president for many years of the Shipwreck Belief Society, the Patients' and Prisoners' Aid Society and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In the Dunedin Philharmonic Society he held the highest position.
Williams's first wife having died while he lived in Christchurch, he married again in 1877, Amelia Durant, daughter of John Wesley Jago, of Dunedin. She and a family of one son and five daughters survived when he died in London, on December 23rd, 1915.
Press, Volume LXVI, Issue 20032, 13 September 1930

 Otago Witness, Issue 3224, 29 December 1915, Supplement

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