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Sir William Foster Stawell
This picture shows the late Sir William Foster Stawell, after whom the township of Stawell was named. It comes from a wood engraving published in The Australasian Sketcher, published in Melbourne by Alfred Martin Ebsworth. April 18, 1889. State Library of Victoria - Accession Number A/S18/04/89/57

Sir William Foster Stawell


William Stawell was the second son of Jonas Stawell & Anna Stawell nee Foster of Old Court, Cork, Ireland and studied law at Trinity College, Dublin University and at Lincoln's Inn, London. After practising for a time in Dublin he is reported to have stated that when he saw 40 hats on the court pegs and there was only work for 20 lawyers - he decided the time was right to come to Australia. This was in 1842.

William Stawell joined his cousin Mr. John L. Foster briefly on a property near Avoca and then settled in Melbourne where he again practised law. He quickly gained a reputation as having a sound knowledge of the law and a great capacity for work. In 1851 when Victoria ceased to be part of New South Wales, William Stawell became a member of the Legislative Council and Attorney-General of the State. In 1856, upon the introduction of responsible government, he was returned for Melbourne at the first election for the Legislative Assembly and became the Attorney-General in the first ministry. William Stawell was then instrumental in drafting Victoria's first constitution.

In 1856 he married Miss Mary Frances Greene of Woodlands, Sunbury.

In February 1857, Victoria's Chief Justice Sir William a'Beckett, QC resigned and was succeeded by William Stawell who was knighted in July 1857. Sir William Stawell held the position of Chief Justice for 29 years with distinction. He was Acting Governor of Victoria in 1876 and again in 1884.

In June 1858 the Township of Stawell at Pleasant Creek was named in his honour by Mr. Gavan Duffy who was then Minister of Lands.

During Sir William Stawell's long career in public life, he was a Trustee of the Public Library, the Museum and the National Gallery and was involved with the organising of the Burke & Wills Expedition. He was also the Chancellor of the University of Melbourne for a time.

On retiring from his public duties in 1889, Sir William was travelling to England with Lady Mary Stawell, when he became unwell and left the ship at Naples where he died on 12 March 1889 and was buried at Naples. He was survived by Lady Stawell, six sons and four daughters.

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