In Sefton, on the way to my parents’ place, I drive down Helen Street, from which three Avenues proceed: Chifley, Lorando and Roosevelt. I’m a bit of a fan of suburban street name themes. Helen Street is part of a small Classical precinct, along with Priam, Hector and Virgil; the last is a bit of an odd man out, not being a character in the Iliad, and when I was a kid I though it was named after the pilot of Thunderbird 2.
Chifley and Roosevelt Avenues make sense, as two political heroes of the postwar years when the market gardens and orchards of the west were being turned into suburbs, but I’d always been puzzled by Lorando. A Google search last weekend turned up the following story from the 1871, about a trial of one William Lorando Jones for blasphemy – he had given an address at Parramatta Domain which roundly criticised the Bible, and the Old Testament in particular, after the fashion of Thomas Paine, as being “a mass of immoralities and a lie.”
Whether or not the street at the back of Sefton High School commemorates a 19th-century deist, I’m glad that it led me to this case – I never knew there was a Domain at Parramatta where firebrands gave speeches, and Mr Buchanan’s case seems to me to be a fine defense of the principles of freedom of speech, even though it failed. William Lorando Jones was found guilty and sentenced to two years in Darlinghurst Gaol and a fine of 100 pounds.
Mr. Buchanan, before addressing the jury, submitted that there was no case to go to them. The defendant was charged with blasphemy; this, according to the highest authorities, was an offence consisting in an attack upon the established religion of the country. In England there was an established religion, which thus became part of the law of the land, and to speak against that religion was to speak against the law itself; at the same time, however, any person who choose to do so might criticise, or even libel, the religious belief of any other sect in England beside the Church of England, and might call into question the doctrines of the Roman Catholic, Wesleyan, Congregational, or other dissenting sect, with the utmost impunity. Here in Australia the case was different, for we have no established religion; therefore, as a logical sequence, as the religion established by law in England is not law in this country, to speak against that religion here could not be an infringement of the law.
His Honor considered that any one who, in a wholesale way, says that the Bible is not true, and denies the divinity of our Saviour, is amenable for blasphemy.
Mr. Buchanan still contended that any attacks, save upon an established religion, were not amenable to law.
His Honor admitted that Christianity was not established in this colony by Act of Parliament, but did not hesitate to say that it came to us as part and parcel of the common law of England necessarily incorporated in the Constitution of the colony as an offspring of the British nation.
At the request of Mr. Buchanan, however, his Honor reserved the point.
Mr. Buchanan, in a forcible and eloquent speech extending over two hours, upheld the right of the defendant as a free subject in a free country to express his opinions on matters of religious belief, either public or private, and contended that a jury who would convict a man as guilty of blasphemy when he had merely given utterance to the convictions of his soul for the benefit (as, he however, wrongly thought) of his fellow-creatures, were individually and collectively worthy of being held up to the utter scorn and contempt of the entire civilised globe. To punish such a man for expressing his honest belief would be to roll us back to those dark ages, when, as in the case of Galileo, pains and penalties were held over every man who dared to think for himself and publicly express his opinions.
At the conclusion of Mr. Buchanan’s speech, during the delivery of which the Court was crowded to excess by a most attentive audience, whilst the seats on the Bench were occupied by many of the leading magistrates, there were audible expressions of approval, which, however, were promptly suppressed by the police.