THE QUEEN’S COUNSEL
In a court contest it was always better to have Sir Archibald Michie on your side. Michie became Victoria’s first Queen’s Counsel in 1863. His adult career, which spanned the middle and second half of the nineteenth century, was by turns involved in the law, politics, the arts, literature and economics.
Like Deakin, Murray Smith and Kerferd he was one of the great polymaths of the Federation period i.e. leaders whose activities spanned a huge range of interests. Contemporary polymaths like Barry Jones would have felt at home in this era.
Born in London, Michie was admitted to the bar in 1838 and immigrated to Sydney in 1840 where he married Mary Richardson, a union which lasted almost 60 years.
His legal practice flourished as his advocacy skills were recognised. He became a successful barrister in the supreme court and in 1858 bought 73 Chancery Lane where a number of barristers were soon practising.
Forget the 1999 campaign about GST on books – as early as 1836 Michie had helped form the Abolition of Taxes on Knowledge Committee to fight taxes on books! In 1855 he had the popular distinction of being one of the barristers who voluntarily and successfully defended the Eureka rebels.
Michie was a member of four select committees on federal union in which he supported federation but in 1889 opposed the notion of Imperial federation that proposed a single federation of Britain and its self-governing colonies (Holroyd).
Michie was a well known St Kilda personality. He was twice elected to represent St Kilda in the Victorian Parliament and resided at ‘Tregarie’ Alma Road, East St Kilda.
He served on two royal commissions and from 1873 to1879 held the post of agent general to London. He was attorney- general in two Victorian governments and three times attempted to pass a bill to abolish state aid to church schools. It passed the lower house in 1857 but failed to go through the upper house by a single vote (Duffy, Mulquin). His inconsistencies and outspoken uncompromising attitude could frustrate friends and opponents. In 1852 he had supported the bill for state aid. He was a free trader yet argued certain tariffs could be called protection. One of his peers commented: ‘Would to God his judgement and consistency were equal to his genius.’
He wrote for the Herald and Punch and for many years was the Victorian correspondent for Time. He lectured on various subjects such as Shakespeare, published many pamphlets and in his early days was an ‘immensely popular’ lecturer at the School of Arts. He was also prominent in the anti-transportation movement in the 1840s.
Michie was confined to his home because of illness for his last 10 years of life. He was largely forgotten by the public when he died in 1899. One of the giants of a “generation of public men who were liberal by culture as well as in opinion”, he was buried in St Kilda Cemetery. Lady Michie and their five children survived him.