LILLEY, Sir Charles (1830-1897)

LILLEY, Sir Charles (1830-1897)
premier and chief justice of Queensland
was born at Newcastle on Tyne, England, on 27 May 1830, the son of Thomas Lilley. He was educated at University College, London, and intending to study law, was articled to a solicitor. He gave this up, enlisted in the army, and while stationed at Preston did some lecturing on temperance and industrial questions. This brought him into disfavour with his superior officers, but some friends purchased his discharge. He remained at Preston and worked on the committee which made possible the Preston Free library. Deciding to go to Australia he arrived at Sydney on 4 July 1856. Soon afterwards he went to Brisbane, joined the crown solicitor's office, and finished his law course. He took up journalism, acquired an interest in the Moreton Bay Courier, afterwards the Brisbane Courier, and for two years was its editor. He was prominent in the movement for separation and, elected to the first Queensland legislative assembly by a majority of only three votes, held the seat for the remainder of his parliamentary career. He was called to the bar in 1861 and established a good practice. In September 1865 he succeeded John Bramston as attorney-general in the first Herbert (q.v.) ministry, and held the same position in the Macalister (q.v.) ministry which succeeded it. On 7 August 1866 he was again attorney-general in the second Macalister ministry and was responsible for much legislation before the defeat of the ministry in August 1867. On 25 November 1868 he became premier, and also at first attorney-general, and then colonial secretary. His most important work as premier was the introduction of free education which came into force in January 1870. Queensland was the first of the Australian colonies to adopt this principle. As a protest against the monopoly of the A.S.N. Company Lilley ordered three vessels to be constructed for the Queensland government at Sydney. One, the Governor Blackall, was actually completed, and the A.S.N. Company as a result reduced its charges. Lilley, however, had acted without reference to his colleagues and, a vote of censure having been moved, was deserted by all his followers except one when the division took place. However, when the A. H. Palmer (q.v.) ministry was formed in May 1870 he was elected leader of the opposition. In January 1874 Macalister, having carried a vote of no confidence, offered to stand aside so that Lilley might be premier. He, however, declined office of any kind, but shortly afterwards accepted the position of acting-judge of the supreme court. He became a judge in July 1874, and in 1879 succeeded Sir James Cockle (q.v.) as chief justice. He was much interested in education and was largely instrumental in founding the Brisbane grammar school. In 1891 he was chairman of the commission which reported in favour of founding a university at Brisbane. In 1893 some comments on the financial transactions of Sir Thomas McIlwraith led to threats of removal from his office. Lilley, who had been intending to retire, resigned his position and put up as a Labour candidate against McIlwraith in the electorate of Brisbane North, but was defeated. He had a severe illness in 1896 and died on 20 August 1897. He married in 1858 Miss S. J. Jeays and was survived by a large family including several sons. He was knighted in 1881.
Lilley was an excellent speaker and a good judge, a scorner of mere forms and quibbles. He was scarcely a good parliamentary leader because his ideas were in advance of his times. All his life he had been in sympathy with the poorer-paid classes of the colony, and when he attended the laying of the foundation stone of the trades hall at Brisbane in 1891 he showed his sympathy with Labour ideals in an outspoken address. An able and completely honest man of strong democratic convictions, he gave valuable service to his state in many capacities.
The Brisbane Courier, 21 and 23 August 1897; The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 August 1897; C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty Years; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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