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Brandons: 175 years of keeping it in the family

17 November 2016 - By Angharad O'Flynn

Brandons law firm in Wellington celebrated its 175th anniversary in mid-November 2016.

Established in 1841 by Alfred de Bathe Brandon (the first of three to have that name), the firm has a rich history, rooted in the city of Wellington.

While Brandons is the third oldest firm in New Zealand, it is the only firm to have had a constant family presence for its entire history. It is unlikely that there are many law firms in the world with this span.

Over the years it developed a reputation as a top firm and was mostly recognised for its approach to property and conveyancing, especially during the mid to late 1800s.

The Brandon family were also heavily influential in both early Wellington politics and in the Wellington District Law Society, with at least two members officially noted as having served on councils, with the second Alfred de Bathe Brandon serving one term as Mayor of the city. The first two Alfreds also served as President of the Wellington District Law Society.

The beginning of a legacy

Born in London in 1809, Alfred de Bathe Brandon the first was educated in the teachings of law. He was among 150 families and cabin passengers to travel to New Zealand on an emigrant ship called The London. He was 30 years old at the time.

He set up his practice on the corner of Bowen Street and Lambton Quay. Initially named Brandon, Ward, Hislop and Powles, the firm adopted its current name in 1991, after many name changes.

Early on in his career, there was a dispute as to whether Brandon was qualified to act as a lawyer. His critics argued that he was just a copying clerk and they feared that if he was allowed to practise, other unqualified lawyers would start to apply.

The matter was ultimately settled after Brandon wrote letters to Chief Justice William Martin, in 1841 pointing out that, “The rule under which you prohibit me from practising is original…and unprecedented in so young a colony.”

After several colleagues in London produced certificates and evidence that Brandon was certified and therefore allowed to practise, Brandon said of the evidence that it “will abundantly refute and expose the gross misrepresentations made to you by parties imbued with feelings anything but calculated to engender respect for the members of a notable profession.”

Despite this shaky start to his career, Alfred Brandon was one of the first lawyers in the city.

For around 50 years thereafter, his firm played a key role in the legal affairs of Wellington; with Brandon spreading his skills over many areas of counsel.

Brandon's involvement in the formation of the Bank of Australasia, the National Bank, and the Bank of New South Wales put the firm in good stead and bolstered their reputation.

Alfred also had a thriving political career outside of his firm and he chaired on several other Wellington councils.

He was Chairman of the Board of Education and Chairman of the Board of Governors and was elected the first President of the Wellington District Law Society in 1879, where he served as President until his death in 1886.

The second Alfred de Bathe Brandon (son of the first)

He was born in September of 1854. In 1872 Alfred gained a scholarship from the University of New Zealand and attended Cambridge in England in 1873. He graduated with a BA.

Upon returning to New Zealand Alfred was admitted to the Bar then admitted as a barrister solicitor of the Supreme Court.

He also had a thriving political career on top of his achievements as a lawyer and, like his father was a President of the Wellington District Law Society.

He represented the Thorndon Ward on the Wellington District Council for five years before being elected the 12th Mayor of Wellington and President of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce.

It wasn’t long until the First World War broke out, and enter the third of the Alfred de Bathe Brandons: a notable war hero and lawyer.

Alfred the third (a son of the second)

The third Alfred was educated at Trinity College in Cambridge and commenced his practice as a lawyer in New Zealand in 1907.  However, it was never his intention to stay with the firm for very long.

Once the First World War broke out, Albert decided to train as a pilot and join the Royal Naval Air Service. Told that he was over age and wouldn't be accepted to the Admiralty it was suggested that he learn to fly privately and then look for positions. After seven weeks of training, he obtained his pilot's licence.

In December 1915 he joined the Royal Flying Corps and in 1916 was commissioned as a second lieutenant.

He flew in the attacks against German aircraft and was the first man to shoot down a Zeppelin. He did so on 31 March 1916 when he released a batch of incendiary darts onto the Zeppelin. Not long after, it was picked up on German transmissions that the Zeppelin had reported, "have been hit.  Request Ostend keeps watch on Airship wavelength".

Nothing was heard again after this report.

For his contribution to the war effort, de Bathe Brandon was awarded a DSO for services in the Destruction of Zeppelins.

In 1919 he returned to New Zealand where he worked at the family firm.

Terry Brandon

Skipping ahead to the most recent generations... Terry Brandon was told that he was the one who was going to practise law and carry on the family name.

“This was in an era when it was probably customary to do what your parents told you to do, or at least more so than you might see today,” explains Richard Brandon, one of Terry's three children and a current partner at the firm bearing his last name.

Richard is one of three children of Phillip Brandon. He is not the first to study law in his family either - his eldest sister Catherine was the first to study the law in this generation.

“My own decision to study law was made fairly late, only picking up the Stage One law papers while in my third year into my Arts degree at Otago University,” says Richard.

He continues, “While I believe my parents were proud of me for studying and later working in law I was under none of the pressure that my father was to follow the family tradition.”

“The rest, I guess, is history,” says Richard, a proud father of two young sons himself.

“I think I am most likely to be the last in the family to work at the firm, but I am hopeful that the firm will continue long after I am gone, and I think it is in very good shape to do so.

“While having a family member is something perhaps unique, it would be nothing without all of the other people and firms who joined Brandons and its permutations over time.

"It is the reputation of those people on who the reputation of the firm is built, and it is the responsibility of the current and future staff and partners of the firm to maintain and build that reputation.”

Last updated on the 24th January 2017