Born on 13 June 1850 at
Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England the youngest son of Samuel Topp, a
wool-importer and Sarah née Clapham; Topp’s two elder brothers were
Arthur Maning (St. Kilda Cemetery), a journalist with The Argus
and Australasian, and Charles Alfred (Boroondara Cemetery) who
had a distinguished career as an educationist and civil servant. Before
migrating to Melbourne in 1861 some three years after his family, young Topp
attended Kind Edward’s School, Birmingham later continuing at Church of
England Boys' Grammar School, Melbourne (1862-65); forced to leave school
early, he worked as a legal clerk with (Justice) George Webb
(Melbourne General Cemetery) and studied at night to attain his
matriculation before entering Melbourne University (LL.B., 1877;
B.A., 1878). He was admitted to the Bar on 13 September 1877. Topp had
a brilliant career as a leading Equity barrister. His most successful case
was the famed Oriental Banking Corporation (1884) before Justice (Sir
Robert) Molesworth (Boroondara Cemetery); a winding-up order had been
obtained in England but it had never been tested whether such an order was
valid in the colony. Of vital importance was the question whether the
colonial courts could act independently of the decision already arrived at
by the English court on the same issue; Topp appeared in support of the
application and won in a long and gruelling case. In the Bell vs Clarke
case (1886) that lasted for some 21 days, £1,000,000 was at stake
leading to the retirement of Justice Molesworth from the Bench before he
stood in judgement (“How long am I to be tortured by this case?”). Renowned
for his “slightly audacious” court manner, witty speech and outspoken views
on social issues, Table Talk noted that “like all successful Equity
men, Topp does not aspire to be an orator. He does not possess the forensic
ability of Mr [James] Purves (1843-1910), or the calm and dignified power of
Dr. [Sir John] Madden (Melbourne General Cemetery), nor are these
qualities required in his particular branch of the profession…the successful
man in Equity must be possessed of ‘staying’ powers; he must be able to talk
for days on dry legal law”. Twice married (Mary née Chesterton in
1876; Emma née Dunn in 1881), Topp died at his residence Langdale
- Seymour Road, Elsternwick on 1 August 1902 after a sudden seizure the week before; amongst
the pallbearers to attend his funeral were Sir Samuel Gillott
(Melbourne General Cemetery), (Sir) Leo Cussen (Boroondara Cemetery),
Henry Bournes Higgins (Dromana Cemetery), and Sir Frank Duffy
Sarah, married Archibald Gilchrist (b 1877), Xavier College 1891-93 and
Monumental Headstone (enlarge
ADB Volume 6 1851-90 (R-Z).
Table Talk 22 July 1892.
The Australasian 20 November 1897.
The Argus 2 & 4 August 1902.
The Age 4 August 1902.
Corfield, J & Persse, M., “Geelong
Grammarians. A Biographical Register Vol I 1855-1913” (1996).
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