WISE, Bernhard Ringrose (1858-1916)

WISE, Bernhard Ringrose (1858-1916)
was the son of Edward Wise (1818-65), a judge of the supreme court of New South Wales, who was born in England on 13 August 1818, educated at Rugby, and called to the bar in 1844. He went to Sydney in 1855 and soon afterwards entered politics. He became solicitor-general in the Parker (q.v.) ministry in May 1857, and attorney-general under Forster (q.v.) in October 1859. He resigned in 1860 and was appointed a judge of the supreme court of New South Wales, but his health gave way and he died while on a visit to Melbourne, on 28 September 1865. He was the author of treatises on The Law Relating to Riots and Unlawful Assemblies (1848), The Bankrupt Law Consolidation Act (1849), The Common Law Procedure Act (1853), and various legal works in conjunction with other writers. He was a man of the finest character, much interested in social questions. He married Maria Bate, daughter of Lieutenant John Smith, R.N., and their second son, Bernhard Ringrose Wise, was born in Sydney on 10 February 1858. He was educated at Rugby and Queen's College, Oxford, where he had a distinguished career, being Cobden prizeman in 1878 and gaining a first class in the honour school of law in 1880. He was president of the union and president of the Oxford university athletic club. He was amateur mile champion of Great Britain, 1879-81, and his interest in athletics led to his founding the Amateur Athletic Association of which he was elected the first president. This became a very important body whose influence was eventually extended all over the world. He was called to the bar of the Middle Temple in 1883, and soon afterwards returned to Sydney.
Wise began to build up a successful practice as a barrister, in February 1887 was elected a member of the legislative assembly for South Sydney as a free trader and supporter of Parkes (q.v.), and on 27 May became attorney-general in his ministry. Some 10 months later he resigned because as attorney-general he was prohibited from taking briefs. He had always been interested in federation and in May 1890 suggested that a journal should be established for the discussion of federal problems. A strong editorial committee was formed and two numbers of the Australian Federalist appeared at the beginning of 1891. In November of that year, when the retirement of Parkes necessitated a new leader being elected, Wise might possibly have been given the position, but though nominated he retired in favour of G. H. Reid (q.v.). He was elected as a representative of New South Wales at the 1897 federal convention and was a member of the judiciary committee. He fought for federation in the referendurn campaign of 1898 and at the New South Wales election allied himself with Barton. He left the freetrade party because he felt that freetrade was being put before federalism. As he afterwards phrased it, "I preferred nationhood to local politics". He was attorney-general in Lyne's (q.v.) ministry from September 1899 to March 1901. But as a candidate for the federal house of representatives though really a convinced freetrader he was labelled a protectionist on account of his association with Lyne and Barton, a freetrader gained the seat, and Wise was lost to federal politics. He became a member of the legislative council of New South Wales and joined J. See's (q.v.) ministry as attorney-general from March 1901 to June 1904, and from July 1901 was also minister of justice. He succeeded in passing an industrial arbitration act, and more than once passed a state children's bill through the council only to have it thrown out in the assembly. He was acting-premier for part of 1903-4. He subsequently travelled, and while in South America in 1906 contracted malaria which affected his health for the remainder of his days. Most of his time was spent in England and in May 1915 he was appointed agent-general for New South Wales. He worked hard in spite of his ill-health and died in London on 19 September 1916. He married in 1884 Lilian Margaret Baird who survived him with one son. He was the author of Facts and Fallacies of Modern Protection (1879); Industrial Freedom A Study in Politics (1892), a more complete statement of the freetrade case; The Commonwealth of Australia (1909), a popular book on conditions in Australia at that time; and The Making of the Australian Commonwealth (1913), which, though sometimes one-sided and generally too much confined to events in New South Wales, is an interesting and valuable document.
Nobody can write about Wise without realizing that he never fulfilled his promise. He had a brilliant brain, a distinguished scholastic career, and seemed born to be a great intellectual leader in Australia. From the point of view of his own interests he made a mistake in nominating Reid as leader of his party when he might possibly have obtained this position for himself, and the average elector in 1901 was no doubt unable to understand that Wise was sincere in thinking that federation itself was more important than the fiscal policy Australia would adopt. His ill health in later years was also a factor in preventing him taking up the fight again, and men of his independent spirit do not find it easy to subject themselves to party discipline. He was one of the finest Australian orators and thinkers of his time, who especially in the federation movement did much to shape the destinies of his country.
Sydney Morning Herald, 21 and 22 September 1916; The Times, 21 September 1916; Wise, The Making of the Australian Commonwealth; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography; A. B. Piddington, Worshipful Masters.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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