From Australia’s Jewish Past: Sir Julian Emanuel Salomons (Solomons) – barrister and politician extraordinaire

July 19, 2022 by Ruth Lillian
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Julian was born on 4 November 1835 in Birmingham, England and emigrated to New South Wales in 1853, working first for a bookseller and then for a ‘stock jobber’ – now known as a stockbroker – moving on to study law.

Sir Julian Salomons

He was a committed Jew and community member, taking up the position of secretary – with a salary of £100 – at Sydney’s York Street Synagogue in October 1855.  By 1857 he had passed with credit the preliminary examination of the Barristers’ Admission Board and resigned his position as synagogue secretary.  He was keen to complete his studies in London and, with the help financially from the Jewish community, he went to further his law degree at the Courts of Gray’s Inn in London in 1858, completing his degree on 26 January 1861 when he was called to the Bar.  During his time in London, he altered the spelling of his name to Salomons.  In 1862 he returned to Sydney and was admitted to the Colonial Bar in July.  He travelled again to London the following year and married his cousin Louisa Solomons.

Julian went on to be an outstanding barrister with a gift for submitting evidence.  He became very successful in the cases he defended and gained growing repute amongst his colleagues.  Unfortunately, the pressure of work caused him to suffer a nervous breakdown and, following treatment at Bay View House in Tempe, he still continued to work incessantly, concentrating mainly on property, electoral and municipal matters, bills of exchange and criminal law.  Every brief was given the same attention and treated as though it was worth a high fee, and, if the need arose, he would defend a case without charging.  He never ceased working on his cases until the last minute available and this continued right up until the end of his career.  Unfortunately, there were times when his emotions got the better of him and he was accused of mental deviation and vilified as a Jew.   Julian always showed great pride in being a Jew no matter where he was or the circumstances.

In one particular case, when Julian was defending a member and colleague of the Legislative Council who was guilty of his crime, the emotional speech of self-defence given did not fully disregard the possibility of unprofessional conduct on Julian’s part.  It did, however display great moral courage and advanced his reputation and integrity.   It was reported that Julian had said ‘They are at liberty to tear my whole life to pieces and to show to anyone anything that will make me ashamed’.  Whilst Julian was known for his emotional brashness and vanity, he was a good-natured person, and this particular incident did not hinder his mounting prominence in both his legal and parliamentary career.  Another interesting case in 1868 was when he defended the Irish nationalist Patrick O’Farrell on a charge of shooting at the Duke of Edinburgh, a son of Queen Victoria.

In the following year, Julian accepted a nomination to join the NSW Legislative Council as well as that of solicitor-general, representing the government in the Upper House, a position he held for twelve months.  By 1870, he had become a member of the Law Reform Commission, following which, in 1881, he was appointed NSW Royal Commissioner.  Interestingly, Julian was made the fifth Chief Justice of NSW in 1886 but resigned before he was to be sworn in because of the hostility of some members of the bench.  He became Vice-President of the Executive Council twice, from 1886 to 1889 and from 1891 to 1893.  His term in the Legislative Council lasted a period of 12 years, commencing in 1887 and concluding in 1899.

On 28 August 1888 Sir Henry Parkes, who believed Julian stood `at the head of his profession at the Bar’, recommended him for a knighthood granted by Her Majesty Queen Victoria in May 1891 .

In 1897, much discussion and debate was taking place regarding a Federation Bill to formalise the Birth of the Nation of Australia which would lead to all Australian colonies coming together as one.  Julian opposed the Bill as he believed it would give too much power to the smaller states.  He went on to give the longest speech in the history of the council, addressing the bill for approximately eight hours, with his speech lasting for over two days.  For the next three years, a number of referendums were held across the colonies. The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 had to be agreed upon by the British Parliament before Federation could proceed. In March 1900, a delegation – including an observer from Western Australia and representatives from each of the other five colonies – travelled to London to present the Constitution to the British Parliament.  It was passed on 5 July 1900, with Queen Victoria signing the Act on 9 July.

Following the passing of the Act, Julian was provided with a general retainer from the Federal Government, and appeared to change his opinion regarding the Bill going to be a strong supporter and was certainly most gracious in his address of welcome to the first judges of the High Court.  Julian possessed the ‘pluck and tenacity of a soldier-ant’ and, whilst short in stature, cross-eyed and with a squeaky voice, he combined a caustic tongue with sarcastic wit and was known to be ‘quite the fastest long-distance talker of his time’.  He blended benevolence with his defiance, was courteous to his juniors and always remained a very active member of the Jewish community. In an extract from the AJHS Journal, Morris Forbes describes another example of Julian’s sense of humour. “Salomons was a contemporary of Sir Samuel Griffiths, the first Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia.  On the publication by Griffiths of a translation by him of Dante’s Inferno, he gave copies to a number of friends, including Salomons. The translation was not particularly notable, and Salomons recorded it thus: ‘I thanked him and told him that I fully appreciated the great honour, but I asked him to inscribe his name upon the flyleaf, with a line showing that he had given it to me, as I told him, I should not like anyone to think that I had borrowed the book, nor should I like anyone to think that I had bought it.’ ”

For a period in 1899, Julian acted as Agent-General for NSW in London and following this, his next appointment in 1903 was that of standing counsel for the Commonwealth Government in NSW.  Julian retired from his law and political career in 1907.   His other interest was collecting art and he became a trustee of the  Art Gallery of NSW.   He passed away at his home in Woollahra on 6 April 1909 after a short illness and was buried at Rookwood Cemetery.  He was survived by his wife Louisa and two daughters.

The AJHS Acknowledges the following references in the preparation of this story

Australian Dictionary of Biography ANU; Australian Jewish Encyclopaedia article by Joseph Jacobs and Goodman Lipkind;;; Parliament of NSW Legislative Council; Worshipful Masters by A B Piddington; Who’s Who 1909; extract from an article by Morris Forbes in AJHS Vol XIII Part 2 Page 222; The Sydney Morning Herald and The Times – 7 April 1909


The Australian Jewish Historical Society is the keeper of archives from the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 right up to today. Whether you are searching for an academic resource, an event, a picture or an article, AJHS can help you find that piece of historical material. The AJHS welcomes your contributions to the archives. If you are a descendent of someone of interest with a story to tell, or you have memorabilia which might be of significance for the archives, please make contact via or its Facebook page.


2 Responses to “From Australia’s Jewish Past: Sir Julian Emanuel Salomons (Solomons) – barrister and politician extraordinaire”
  1. david baden says:

    People of his calibre don’t seem to exist any more,unfortunately.

  2. Ben Roberts says:

    There is a serious error in this report. It’s absolutely impossible that his salary was £ 100 per week £10 per week was a huge salary at that time

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