Daily Archives: April 18, 2011

Those Mild Colonial Boys of the Law

Two young men, both working in the law, in two British settler colonies in different hemispheres, both diarists.

Mary Larratt Smith Young Mr Smith in Upper Canada, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1980, 184 p. & notes.

J.M. Bennett (ed) Callaghan’s Diary: The 1840s Sydney Diary of Thomas Callaghan B. A. of the King’s Inns, Dublin, Barrister-at-Law, Sydney, Francis Forbes Society for Australian Legal History,2005. Available here.

Young Mr Smith in Upper Canada- what a terrific title!  It has echoes of “Mr Smith goes to Washington” and I was hoping that it might be an impassioned expose of Upper Canadian life, albeit a decade or two after the time I’m interested in, but no such luck.

Instead “Young Mr Smith” was Larratt William Violett Smith, who went to Upper Canada in 1833 with his family as a twelve year old boy and pretty much stayed there.  His diaries, transcribed and annotated here by his grand-daughter, cover the years 1839 (when he was aged eighteen) up to 1858 and aged thirty eight.  The author and granddaughter, Mary Larratt Smith, who shares half his name- has (or rather had- surely she’s not still alive?) one clear memory of her grandfather when she was taken to see him in the summer of 1905 when her grandfather was 85 and she was not quite three.  He lived in a large, early Victorian house called Summer Hill in what is now the Summerhill area of Toronto, with its own eponymous subway station.  It took her about ten years to transcribe his journals and a small collection of letters which now rest in the Canadian History Department of the Metropolitan Toronto Library.  The author/editor has embedded the journal entries and letters into her own explanatory narrative, and her occasional references to ‘my grandfather’ remind you that she has an emotional stake in this work.  I did find it annoying that the journal entries were not typographically marked out from her own surrounding material.  There was an italicized date at the start of the extract, but then she would sometimes slip between Larratt Smith’s words and her own with no clear visual marker of the difference.  The letters, at least, were presented in a smaller font, and much more clearly distinguished.

In 1833, “Young Mr Smith’s” father, Captain Larratt Hillary Smith from Devonshire, took advantage of the land grants offered to veteran law officers, and took up a large tract of land at Oro in Simcoe County.  He undertook the 38 day journey with his wife and four children, arriving in York where they stayed long enough to enroll Larratt and his younger brother George as boarders at Upper Canada College, before shifting the rest of the family to take up their primitive farm some distance away.  The farm land was stony and unproductive, the family was unhappy, and after four years the family moved closer to Twickenham Farm, closer to Toronto, leaving the Oro property behind.

Larratt and his brother continued at Upper Canada college. After serving as a  17-year old Lieutenant in the Home District militia during the 1837 Rebellion, Larratt then went to England. His Uncle George, with no sons of his own, had proposed training his nephew in the wine business with a view to eventually making him his heir.   But Larratt didn’t like it, returned to Canada, and his brother George went in his stead- probably not a good move as brother George ended up a very wealthy man.  Larratt decided to go into the law instead, and so he was articled to William Henry Draper, the solicitor general, and lived in Toronto as a young man-around-town.

And here we find him, attending the various balls in Toronto, hooning around climbing greasy poles and chasing pigs at the ‘Olympic Games” celebrated in Toronto in June 1843, stealing cats, shooting, singing, acting.  There are many similarities with small colonial life in Australia- assemblies, debating club, church etc. He lived in what sounded like a 19th-century share house with other young lads his own age, and had to shift lodgings several times.  Although he lived and worked as an independent young man in Toronto, his connections with his family at Twickenham Farm were strong. His father would often come into town and Larratt would often visit them and stay several days with them on holidays.

The journal entries are fairly short (although no doubt they would have appeared longer written in long hand)  with rather a preoccupation with the weather- although from what I read of Upper Canadian winters, who wouldn’t be obsessed with it.  [I’m slightly- very slightly- regretful (for about two seconds)  that we won’t be visiting there during the depths of winter as I just can’t imagine what such cold weather would be like.] He is interested in several girls, but eventually his attentions focus on Eliza Thom whom he marries on 23rd December 1845 on a day that was 18 degrees below zero at 7.a.m., and “a very fine day”.  There are not many intensely personal entries in his diary, and when they do occur, it is at a time of great distress: the loss of their first baby at four weeks from whooping cough, and six years later the death of Eliza herself.  The cause is not specified, but she died from what started as a cold a week earlier.  His two children are sent to live with their maternal grandmother, his own family having returned to England some years earlier.

In the second half of the book, Smith’s grand-daughter editor is able to supplement the fairly terse entries with a number of personal letters, and here Larratt Smith comes over as much more affable.  It’s in the letters, though, that you glimpse the Victorian attitudes towards marriage, sociability and money coming through in a letter to his father, when he is considering the idea of looking around for a second wife, three years after Eliza’s death:

I must have a house of my own before long.  I miss my boys dreadfully.  At the same time I have made up my mind (unless a pretty face makes a fool of me) that my better half that is to be ‘must bring some grist to the Mill.’  Now don’t imagine that I crave Fortune’s arrivistes, for I detest the species, & I could not marry the richest woman in the world if I could not win her affect, but I feel that the chain once broken is not the same, & that, bringing as much love as one can, there may be other qualifications not wholly to be disregarded.

Larratt Smith did remarry, a girl called Mary Elizabeth Smith, 18 years his junior and they went on to have eleven children together.  Larratt Smith paddled around in the shallows of political and legal life.  He was certainly known to many of the figures that I’ve been reading about- the Robinsons, the Jarvises, the Baldwins and the Boultons- although in many cases they were the sons of the men who were there when Judge Willis was in Upper Canada.

Although his parents had returned to England from their sojourn in Upper Canada, the family connections remained strong.  His father came over for a surprise visit- Larratt Smith had not received the letter telling him of his imminent arrival- and his sister came over to join him.  Larratt himself traveled home for a while, and there was much talk, at least, of visiting.


BUT This was not the case for a second Mild Colonial Boy of the Law, Thomas Callaghan   who arrived in Sydney in 1840. You can see a picture of him here.

His father had died when he was young, and although his mother managed to give her children a good education, she had had to flee to France to escape her creditors.  Thomas found himself at the age of 22 to be a briefless barrister in Dublin with bleak prospects.  In order to distance himself from his mother’s disgrace, and in hopes of “eventually securing my own fortune and acquiring wealth” young Thomas left Ireland  for Sydney.  He arrived without family and friends and established himself amongst the expatriate Irish legal community in Sydney.   His Catholicism brought him into contact with Roger Therry and John Herbert Plunkett in particular as prominent Catholic lawyers, but he also made contacts amongst the Supreme Court judges as well. Chief Justice Dowling turned up on his doorstep one morning, and, in what seems to be forming into a pattern, Judge Stephen as well:

I lay down on the bed, when a knock came to the door and Judge Stephen stood before it.  I was quite in undress, however he came in and stayed with me for some time. He is a man of quick and intelligent mind, but of a delicate and nervous frame.  He is a gentleman and rather unaffected, though having a very good opinion of himself. (10/3/1844).

In rather more decorous circumstances, he also came into contact with William A’Beckett and Richard Windeyer who assisted him in his career. He struggled to find his feet at first, and kept body and soul together by court reporting, which he did not enjoy.

How long am I to continue this work? To sit all day in a nasty court, side beside the greatest vagabonds under Heaven! Polluted by this contact and sickened by their breath, while I am performing an office of comparatively low and laborious drudgery.  This have I done for nearly six weeks and I know not how long I may have to continue it.  (24/6/41)

His contacts pulled on their strings of influence, but he had to wait several years until eventually being appointed a Commissioner in the Court of Claims, and then acting Crown Prosecutor.  Once promoted to Crown Prosecutor, his diaries trail away.

Callaghan’s journals, which apparently were penned in execrable handwriting, have been recently released with a introduction by J. M. Bennett.  Bennett provides a sound introduction, but then leaves us in Callaghan’s very capable hands.

This book is a terrific resource, not just as a window onto Sydney itself, but more particularly onto the legal community at the time. Callaghan himself has been likened to Samuel Pepys, and although this volume is only 196 pages compared with Pepys’ weighty tomes, I can see the likeness. Like Pepys, he is full of gossip and observation about the people he meets, inconsistent in his friendships, sociable and waspish at times. He is at times downcast about his decision to come to Sydney

I am beginning to think that I have been sadly mistaken in my plans for happiness here.  I have come to a barren soil, to a dreary land, to a wide country: I thought I was coming to a fine colony where wealth abounded, and where I should in a short time realize a fortune that would fit me for enjoying every comfort.  But now I find that I am in a poor, petty, profligate place where I may live perhaps by my own labour, but where I can scarecely hope ever to realize an ample fortune without resorting to all the vicissitudes of gambling in land an in similar speculations.  Here everything is extravagantly dear and every item is extravagantly expensive so that little can be saved of what is hardly earned.  The country in itself has no charms for me and its present people have few traits after my heart.   I am alone here and I doubt very much whether I could ever think of now staying or settling here. (27/11/41)

But he did: he married in 1848, had two sons and a daughter and developed a lucrative private practice and ended up a judge of the Quarter Sessions. He died prematurely at the age of 48 after being kicked in the head by a horse that he had just bought.  But let’s not end so gloomily.  He was a generous, if fitful, journal-writer, berating himself as many do for his inconstancy in writing:

September 2, 1843.  My last entry of June the 20th! This is improving in regularity with a vengeance!