Of Law and Literature: Justice Harding’s Contribution to SLQ
The previous issue of Hearsay (91) with the article from David Marks KC advocating for libraries and library membership (thanks, David!) got us thinking about State Library of Queensland’s foundational link to the legal profession and the judiciary.
Last year State Library celebrated its 120th birthday with the theme “your story is our story”. Our official birthday was in 1902 with the opening of the Public Library of Queensland. The library’s origins, however, go back half a dozen years before then with the establishment of the Brisbane Public Library in 1896 (photo below).
Reader, about now you may be thinking, well, thanks for the history lesson, but what does this have to do with our learned profession? State Library’s founding collection came from the private collection of his Honour Justice Harding. Hence, our story is your story, too.
Englishman George Rogers Harding was called to the Bar in 1861. He emigrated to Australia in 1866 with his wife Emily Morris. Upon arrival in Brisbane, he was immediately called to the Bar here. In 1879 he became a puisne judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland.
Justice Harding’s love of the law was matched by his love of literature. Barrister and politician Sir Littleton E. Groom KCMG KC writing in The Brisbane Courier in 1931 described him as “a lover of books and personally a keen collector of them. He had an extensive library of reference works and general literature, which, with the care and method of a connoisseur, he was always at great pains to preserve in good order and condition. It consisted of between 4,000 and 5,000 volumes of practically new books, and included the most notable recent works in the departments of biography, history, science, politics, travel, and general literature.”
The distinguished judicial career of Justice Harding was brought to an abrupt and tragic end in 1895 when he became ill, reportedly from gout, during a trial and died in his chambers at the age of 56.
Speaking in court after Justice Harding’s passing, Sir Samuel Griffith GCMG QC, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Queensland, said, “His sense of duty was strong and absolutely regardless of himself, of which no better proof can be given than the painful scene in his chambers last Thursday morning, when, suffering under great pain, he concluded his summing up to a jury … But ere he could enter judgment in the case he was summoned to his own.”
That same year, the Mayor of Brisbane called a public meeting to discuss the need for a public reference library and an annual grant of £500 (approximately $100,000 today) was requested.
The Queensland Government accepted the proposal, and the money was spent on some 4,000 books from the extensive private library of the dearly departed Justice George Rogers Harding.
A Board of Trustees was established in early 1896 with Chief Justice Sir Samuel Griffith as chair. At their first meeting, the board noted that “an opportunity ought to be afforded to men to get access to such books, in a place away for the trouble of little disturbances of home, to study the great works of history, poetry, and science”. Further, it was opined that a public library would help “prevent the spread of larrikinism”.
Of course, the small matter of the public library having a collection, but no building, had to be addressed.
The growing collection was stored in various government buildings over the next few years before finding a permanent home in the renovated old museum building in William Street in 1902. And, so, the Public Library of Queensland officially opened and Justice Harding’s much-loved books were delivered into the hands of the good people of our state.
From that humble beginning of 4,000 books, State Library’s vast collection of materials now services over 5 million people annually, both onsite and online.
In summation, and in addition to the compelling reasons put forth by David Marks, there are many reasons to become a member of State Library:
- to honour the spirit of His Honour Justice Harding and his love of the law and literature
- to do these 10 things you didn’t know you could do at the library
- and, perhaps most importantly, to “prevent the spread of larrikinism”.
M. Carter & A. A. Morrison. 1972. Harding, George Rogers (1838–1895). Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4. https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/harding-george-rogers-3712
Littleton E. Groom. 26 Sep 1931. Mr Justice Harding. The Brisbane Courier. p. 19. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/21733849
Robert Holden. 1970. An Account of the Origins and Development of the State Library of Queensland.