Sam Hanna Bell Samuel Beckett John Hewitt Bernard (Barney) Hughes James Joseph Magennis VC Frances Elizabeth Clarke Stewart Parker William Carleton Rosamond Praegar

William Hearn (1826 - 1888):
Political economist; jurist; politician; academic

William Edward Hearn from Cavan was a highly accomplished figure in several fields who spent the greater part of his career in Australia. 

Hearn was born in at Belturbet, County Cavan, son of an Anglican clergyman who spent some time as vicar of Kildrumferton, County Cavan. He attended Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, a distinguished establishment which later would have as pupils Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett. In 1842 he entered the University of Dublin, Trinity College, where he had an outstanding academic record, graduating as first senior moderator in classics and distinguishing himself in logic and ethics. He also studied law at Trinity College under Samuel Mountifort Longfield, eminent jurist, Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, deputy and later Regius Professor of Feudal and English law, and first Professor of Political Economy at Trinity College; he also had positions at King's Inns, Dublin, and Lincoln's Inn, London, being admitted to the Irish Bar in 1853.

In 1849 Hearn was foundation Professor of Greek at the new Queen’s College, Galway, one of the colleges of the Queen’s University in Ireland and therefore a sister establishment to the Queen’s Colleges in Belfast and Cork. While incumbent there he published in 1851 The Cassel Prize Essay on the Condition of Ireland. However, he occupied the chair for only five years, leaving in 1854 on his appointment as one of the four founding professors of the University of Melbourne, his areas of academic study covering modern history and literature, political economy and logic; he also assumed on occasion the duties of the Professor of Classics. This was the time of huge changes to Australia especially with the discovery of its large gold deposits, with concomitantly a rapid rise in population including a burgeoning intellectual life. As lecturer and teacher Hearn was very popular, and among his students numbered some who later would become luminaries of Australian life. He did not though confine himself to the university, being called to the Bar of the Colony of Victoria in 1860. While he was not extremely active in court, his contributions to legal scholarship were recognised by his being made Queen’s Counsel in 1886. 

He published four books of note while at Melbourne: Plutology or the Theory of the Efforts to Satisfy Human Wants (Melbourne, 1863; London, 1864), a textbook of political economy, was praised by several eminent economists such as William Jevons, Alfred Marshall, and the Irishman Francis Ysidro Edgeworth. The Government of England (1867), concerned with the growth of constitutional law and conventions, was praised by the leading English constitutional jurist of the time, Dicey, who stated that the work “has taught me more than any other single work of the way in which the labours of lawyers established in early times the elementary principles which form the basis of the constitution”. The Aryan Household (1878) was concerned with the early social institutions, such as the family and the household, of the supposed progenitors of Western European peoples. The Theory of Legal Duties and Rights (1883), gave the theoretical reasoning behind his practical attempts to codify the laws of Victoria. He was also a frequent contributor to newspapers and journals, often anonymously. 

Outside the university he was prominent in public affairs, perhaps most notably regarding civil service reform; he was appointed to a board established by the government of Victoria to investigate this and was a member of a Royal Commission which recommended entrance to the civil service by examination. He was also an advocate of adult educational classes and founded the People's College at the Melbourne Mechanics’ Institute which aimed to provide by lectures and examinations a formal educational qualification other than a full university degree. 

He stood several times for election to the Legislative Assembly, firstly in 1859, to the annoyance of the University authorities who were indignant enough to pass a university statute forbidding professors from such candidatures. He was at any rate unsuccessful, but tried again in 1874 and 1877, by which time he was Dean of the law faculty and no longer a professor in the titular sense (though he retained all professorial entitlements and emoluments); he was again defeated. Success did come in September 1878, and he came to be known as a relatively neutral member politically, concerned with technical aspects of legislation, though against this, his suggestions in the 1880s regarding consolidation of Victoria law were politely rejected as being too theoretical. An earlier practical venture in law had been with regard to the Land Act 1862. According to the author of the Act, the Monaghan-born Charles Gavan Duffy, Hearn’s drafting was defective as it allowed the ostensible purpose of the Act, the dispersal of large pastoral estates, to be evaded within the law by pastoralists acting through their agents. This allegedly faulty drafting was later ascribed more to the then attorney-general than to Hearn. 

Without question Hearn’s influence and legacy were positive: he was respected and admired by his students and his scholarly work, whatever its alleged shortcomings, was certainly durable and helped put Melbourne on the international university map. Hearn also served for a short term as Chancellor of the University. He was twice married, and had six children by his first wife. 

Born: 21 April 1826
Died: 23 April 1888
Richard Froggatt

Professor Sir Peter Froggatt


Australian Dictionary of Biography; Dictionary of Irish Biography