Ever industrious, he was respected also for his fairness and, by the bar, for his courtesy, though he could strike out warmly and was impatient of loose legal argument.
Sir Edward Holroyd’s role in the Federation movement was influenced by English class, birth and education. He was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth and his eminent career as a judge appeared destined from birth. His father was a commissioner of the bankruptcy court in London and Edward was a successful product of the English education system. At Winchester College he twice won the Queens Medal for Latin and English essays, attended Trinity College, Cambridge and was called to the London Bar in 1855.
He emigrated in 1859 and practiced at the bar in Victoria and Tasmania becoming an expert in mining and commercial law, eventually entering the Supreme Court. His appointment to a royal commission into the constitution of the Supreme Court helped him later to prepare Victoria’s Judicature Act, which amalgamated common law and equity. By his retirement at eighty, he had an excellent record as an equity judge despite growing deafness and had also acted as Chief Justice. He was also President of the Athenaeum and Savage Clubs. His home was in Alma Road, East St. Kilda.
Holroyd was an immigrant of the generation whose true ties were with the mother country. They saw themselves as Britons and pioneers who as “isolated, small communities remote from the homeland drew comfort from an identity as offshoots of a great and powerful people.” In this they differed from the new generation of Australian-born colonials such as Turner and Deakin who wanted to remove all vestiges of the inferiority and dependence implied by colonial status. Although loyal to the British Empire, the native-born wanted Australia to have equal status with Britain.
Just as there were different political groupings in the 1990s republican movement so there were differences in the Federation movement a century earlier. There were basically three positions.
The Imperial Federalists responding to a movement initiated in Britain wanted to build Britain and its self-governing colonies into a single Federation. They hoped this would stop the drift to separation and give colonies more influence. Holroyd was President of the Imperial Federation League for many years. At the inaugural meeting of the League at the Melbourne Town Hall in 1885, he spoke on federal inter-responsibility in politics and defence and argued that colonial taxation for imperial purposes deserved better representation.
The second group was the nationalists loyal to the empire such as Deakin and Turner and organisations such as the Australian Natives Association who wanted to create an Australian Federation within the empire.
The third group was the radical and independent nationalists who wanted a Federation outside the empire as soon as practically possible. They included Louisa Lawson whose home in Sydney in the 1880s housed the old printing press that produced The Republican . Her son Henry followed in her footsteps as his Song of the Republic makes clear:
Sons of the South, make choice between (Sons of the South choose true) The Land of Morn and the Land of E’en, The Old Dead Tree and the Young Tree Green, The land that belongs to the lord and the Queen, And the land that belongs to you.