Fethard-born Adam Loftus Lynn, Ballarat’s first practising solicitor

This is fourth article in Tinteán‘s series on the Irish and Australian Law

Adam Loftus Lynn courtesy of the author


Emigration to the Australian colonies was attractive for Irish lawyers because the principles of common law, which applied in England and Ireland, had equal application. For example, during the early gold rush years in Victoria, from 1852 to 1860, Irish attorneys were almost 25% of those admitted to practise. One such Irishman, Adam Loftus Lynn, born in 1795 at Innyard, near Fethard, Co.Wexford, was the first solicitor to practise on the goldfields of Ballarat in Victoria.

Lynn was admitted to the High Court of Chancery, Ireland, in 1817, married in 1833, and settled into a comfortable life in Wexford. After their marriage, Adam and Marianne Lynn built their home, St. Kieran’s, which faced Bannow Bay, with Fethard Heads on the left and Bannow Island on the right.  Consequently, the decision to leave must have been difficult, although an over-supply of lawyers in Ireland was probably a factor. While a longer voyage than it was to North America, the experience gained on convict passages to the Australian colonies was useful, particularly for a man with a large family.  The family set sail from Liverpool for Sydney with 10 children, with another born on the voyage (during a storm on the Bay of Biscay) and yet another born in Sydney.

Although Wexford did not suffer the destitution and depopulation to the same intense degree as other counties in Ireland during the famine years, it did not remain untouched. In addition, throughout 1848, revolution was in the air in Wexford, with both a failed insurrection and a well-attended celebration of the French revolution in the town of Enniscorthy.  The memory of the 1798 rebellion remained in the minds of the Lynn family, too, as their home was taken over by the rebels as a sort of headquarters, and they had to flee to Duncannon fort for protection. According to Lynn’s daughter’s memories, the decision to leave Ireland was made in 1849.  

As far as family circumstances are concerned, Lynn himself was a small land-owner and, as the rule of primogeniture applied, his elder brother inherited the family land. As younger sons, he and his brother were educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where Adam Loftus Lynn was Alumni No.511, and his younger brother (Thomas Keogh Lynn, medicine) was Alumni No.530.

Once in Sydney he was admitted to practise as a Barrister and Advocate in 1850, although he abandoned the law to dig for gold in the southern goldfields. And it was gold that attracted him to Ballarat, firstly to dig for gold.  In a series of articles on early Ballarat, W B Withers wrote:

Mr. Lynn appears to have been the first gentleman of the legal profession who commenced practice in Ballarat. … and there is every reason to believe that in the very first rushes to this place, lawyers made up a fair proportion. These came, however, to dig only, and it was left to Adam Loftus Lynn to open the practice of that lucrative business which has since helped many of the brigade to accumulate handsome fortunes.

The finding of the monster Canadian nugget in the month of February, 1853, caused a tremendous rush from the seaboard to Ballarat, and Mr. Lynn was one who started from Geelong at that time to try his luck in the notable lottery of this place of golden marvels. He occupied himself awhile in digging, but was not very successful; and, like the war-horse, snuffing the battle afar off, he prepared himself for the regular dispensation of those legal benefits which even then began to be sought after. Certain premonitory signs had indicated to this shrewd gentleman the probabilities of success in his profession. On several occasions, while delving away in his blue serge shirt on old Golden point, he had been called up from his hole to advocate the cause of some poor soul arraigned before the awful majesty of his commissionership of the day; and thus he not only acquired a knowledge of the growing wants of the diggers, but laid the foundation of that professional connection which he has maintained to a considerable degree even to the present day.

Lynn was admitted as an attorney, solicitor, and proctor of the Supreme Court of Victoria on 4 September 1852, but it was not until 1 May 1853 that he began regular practice.

As a lawyer he was involved in some of the events leading to the Eureka stockade. On 7 October 1854, James Scobie was murdered near the Eureka Hotel and, a few days later, a coroner’s inquest discharged James Bentley, licensee of the Eureka Hotel, who had been accused of murdering Scobie.  At a subsequent Board of Enquiry held on 2 November, Lynn gave evidence that he had been engaged by the relatives of the deceased James Scobie for the prosecution of Bentley.  It is likely that he was also the Ballarat Reform League’s solicitor as there is an unconfirmed statement published in Bob O’Brien’s book Massacre at Eureka (1992) that Lynn was the Reform League’s solicitor, as well as an acquaintance of the Eureka leader Peter Lalor (Co. Laois) and his defender, Galway-born barrister and politician Richard Davies Ireland. 

In Withers’ The History of Ballarat, Lynn is included as one of the most influential of Ballarat men, as he dealt with briefs relating to disputed claims, partnership documents and other agreements relating to mining.  He saw the introduction of court practice in Ballarat and continued practising in his profession for the next 25 years, including many years as solicitor to the Municipal Council.  Indeed, on his death at 83, he was still practising law as well as a Trustee of the Savings Bank and Secretary to the Trustees of the Cemeteries.

The establishment of the Miners Hospital in 1855 (later the Ballarat Hospital) owed much to Lynn’sinfluence and he was President of the Management Committee of the Hospital from 1858 to 1860.  He was also a committee member of the Benevolent Asylum in Ballarat. A member of the Anglican Church, Lynn was a regular contributor to the columns of the Ballarat Star and he also published occasional pamphlets on theological questions.

Lynn had chambers in Lydiard Street, and this building still stands.  His first home in Ballarat was a two storey prefabricated iron house sent out from England,  known as ‘The Gables’,  and it was erected in Dana Street.  His second house (built in 1857), still stands in Mair Street, though somewhat altered. When Anthony Trollope, the English novelist visited Ballarat in 1871 he thought the city ‘cultivated’ and Mair Street the most European Street in the colony of Victoria. 

The story of this particular Irishman may not be unique, but it is unusual:  Lynn and his family came as cabin passengers with no relatives or friends here.  The usual story of Irish emigration is that of bounty emigration, and the majority of Irish had close family members here, as well as established kinship networks. Neither was Lynn the average Irish gold-digger. Lynn’s life story is significant on a number of levels, I feel, not least to indicate the variety of Irish experiences in Australia.

Despite being influential and owning extensive property in Ballarat, it was all mortgaged, and when he died in 1878, his will revealed that his liabilities exceeded his assets. Thus, Lynn didn’t succeed in accumulating a ‘handsome fortune’ as others had, either gold-digging or practising law; however he left a large family and many descendants, of whom I am one.

Dr Christine Wright

Image from National Gallery of Australia.

Dr Christine Wright is a descendant of Adam Loftus Lynn