I first met Robin in 1963, shortly after his appointment to a Chair in law at Australian National University, at the confronting young age of 30. I succeeded him as a tutor in Ormond College.
There, we both fell under the lilting spell of the Master, Davis McCaughey, who was indeed masterful, on occasions such as this.
In 1975, after Professor Dick Downing's funeral, I confided to Robin that I should like the Master to give my eulogy. "Oh", Robin replied, "Is that entirely wise? Davis is an awfully good judge of character!"
Robin, too, was a master on such occasions, so I approach my task today with trepidation.
Sir Zelman Cowen, when Dean at Melbourne, once told me that he sought out carnations for the law school's buttonhole. Robin was the first of these and, in 1955, went – as many did thereafter – to the United States as Sir Zelman's emissary. He went first to Berkley where he did a Master's degree, and then to Harvard to start his Doctorate.
After Harvard and a year at the London School of Economics, Robin returned to Melbourne Law School. In 1962, with WL Morison and Morval Morris, he published the second edition of a 1955 Casebook on Torts.
He was also, however, an inspired lecturer.
In the mid 1980s, Professor Michael Crommelin and I bemused an entire year of students by assiduously attending Robin's course of lectures on Constitutional History.
There, suddenly - summoned by a simple black-and- white engraving - was Chief Justice Coke, boldly confronting his King, who claims the power to sit as a judge. Coke cannily acknowledges that while the King is not subject to any man, he is subject to the law. The King cannot, therefore, sit as a judge, until he has mastered the law's "artificial reason… which requires long study and experience before a man can attain to the cognisance of it."
Robin had certainly attained to the cognisance of it. He explained things simply and vividly. Indeed, Edward Coke was here. In the Old Commerce Theatre. In 1984.
These were days when words still mattered; and Robin chose them with great care.
Following Robin's death, I was therefore not entirely surprised to receive an email from Robin's godson, John Daley of the Grattan Institute –
to see if it might be possible to obtain Robin's unpublished lecture notes on the basis that if it was good enough to publish Maitland's lecture notes posthumously, it is good enough for Robin!
He equally dazzled International Law students with occasional lectures on the history of the League of Nations, and he became one of very few experts on Australian Ecclesiastical law. But I think that British Constitutional History was his great love – and that road always led him back to Queen Victoria.
He greedily devoured AN Wilson's 2014 Life of the Queen, only lamenting that it was too heavy to hold in bed. He was greatly relieved by Wilson's conclusion that there is insufficient evidence to support Norman McLeod's deathbed claim to have married John Brown and the Queen at Cathie. He was so pleased, that he immediately read the 624 pages all over again!
He once wrote that life must be happily pursued, with unfailing integrity and intellectual endeavour, with all the talents we possess, and with elegance, wit and taste.
And so he did, unerringly and with great faith.
Image: Robin Sharwood (third from right)
Credit: MLS photographer