Thursday, June 6, 2013

Robert Garling Van Someren, Death 29 Dec 1931, Penang


The death occurred in Penang in the early hours of Tuesday morning of Mr. Robert Garling Van Someren, the doyen of the Malayan Bar, at the ripe age of 79. The deceased had been practically bedridden during the last two years, although his intellect remained bright and penetrating till the end. The death of Mr. Van Someren removes one of the most outstanding members of the Malayan Bar in the last half century. In March 1873, (Mr. Roland Braddell states in the course of his article on Law and Crime in One Hundred Years of Singapore) a young man presented himself to the Supreme Court at Penang praying to be examined for admission to the Bar, and, if successful, to be admitted; but his prayer was opposed because he was not yet twenty-one. The Judge, Sir William Hackett, reluctantly held against the young man, but allowed him to be examined, which he was in due course, and, having passed with flying colours and attained full age, he was admitted to the local Bar on May 1st 1873. The young man was Robert Garling Van Someren, until lately the doyen of the local Bar, of whom a fond farewell was taken by his brethren and by the Bench at Penang and at Singapore towards the end of 1918. For forty-five years Mr. Van Someren practiced in the Courts of this Colony, and upheld their highest traditions. No man who was ever practiced in our Courts has ever eared or deserved a higher affection, a higher esteem, or a greater place in its annals. Gifted with a marvellous memory, he scorned notes beyond a few odd jottings on his brief, and to the very last it was a marvel to everyone how a man could store in his brain the knowledge which Mr. Van Someren did. Over and over again the writer has heard questions put to Mr. Van Someren in the Court of Appeal, quite off the particular points which he was arguing, but which he would answer out of the stores of his memory by referring to some case bearing on the question, and frequently by giving the names of the parties and the volume and the page of the report, without referring to note or book; and the writer hardly ever found his references to be wrong. Just before he retired he argued an intricate point in the Court of Appeal, dealing with immovable property, in a way that would have brought the highest credit on a leader of the Bar at the zenity of his powers and his physical strength.


Mr. Van Someren was born at Penang on March 15th 1852. His father, Peter Robert Van Someren (who had been born in India, educated in England, and thereafter had returned to India), was persuaded to go to Malacca by a relative, Mr. Samuel Garling, who was Resident Councillor in Malacca. In about 1832 or 1833 Mr. Van Someren's father was placed in charge of the Land Office at Malacca, and later in Penang, where in 1837 he married Cornelia, youngest child of Mr. John Rodyk, who, like Mr. Van Someren's grandfather, was a Dutchman, and who had been Governor of Ternate, which was blockaded by British men-of-war during trhe war between England and Holland. Ternate capitulated to the blockade, and John Rodyk, amongst others, was made a prisoner, and transferred to Bencoolen by the English. After the exchange of Malacca for Bencoolen in 1824 the British Government removed, and John rodyk voluntarily went to Malacca, and from that time resolved to throw in his lot with the British, as did many other Dutch. Mr. R. G. Van Someren was the second child of the marriage: his elder brother, Mr. Samuel Van Sonmeren died in 1912. His father retired from Government service and went to India in 1857, but returned to Penang the next year. Through the influence of Mr. Alexander Rodyk, the Registrar of the Court, and of Sir Peter Benson Maxwell, he was appointed Coroner, which in those days was a slaried office of importance, and which he held until his children were taken charge of by their uncle, Mr. Alexander Rodyk, mentioned above, and in 1864 were sent to England for their education. In December 1868 Mr. R. G. Van Someren returned to Penang, and was articled to his cousin, Mr. Charles Rodyk, a younger brother of that Mr. Bernard Rodyk who has been mentioned as one of the founders of Messrs Rodyk and Davidson. Immediately on his admission to the Bar Mr. Van Someren was taken into partnership by Mr. Charles Rodyk. Later, he practiced in partnership in Penang with Mr. Gregory Anthony and Mr. T. Gawthorne. In 1900 he came to Singapore, and commenced partnership with Mr. Edaljee Khory, a Parsee barrister and a very popular Freemason, after whom a Lodge of Mark Masons in Singapore is named. This partnership continued until Mr. Khory's retirement in 1908, after which Mr. Van Someren practiced alone until he retired, but chiefly as counsel.


Mr. Van Someren's name will be preserved for many years by his splendid book on the Courts and their procedure, which is now in its second edition: no one but he could have written it, and the present which he made to the profession of his vast stores of knowledge was a fitting gift from one who was always ready to lend his assistance to any of his professional brethren who asked it. He was, in particular, always exceedingly kind and helpful to the junior Bar, and the writer had on many occasions to thank Mr. Van Someren for assistance or advice.

In 1876 Mr. Van Someren married Alice, daughter of Mr. Abraham Logan. All of his sons served in the Great War: Robert Abraham is a doctor in Government service in connection with sleeping sickness in Uganda, and on the outbreak of war he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, in which he is now a Captain with British East African Forces; Alexander Grant Vermont, who is a Major in the Royal Army Medical Corps (Regular Forces), served during the War in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and in the North-West Provinces, and is now on the Staff at Lahore; Walter Noel was a Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps, and was wounded in September 1918 in France; Victor Gurney is a doctor and L.R.C.P., L.R.C.S., L.D.S., of Edinburgh University - he was in British East Africa when war broke out, and became a Captain in the forces there; Claude Donald was a Lieutenant in the Machine Gun Corps, and was killed in the great German attack on March 21st., 1918, after fighting from 3 a.m. till 7 p.m., when he fell, the only person left untouched in his detachment being one small "runner", who made a desperate effort to carry back his Lieutenant's body: but he was too young and too small, for Lieutenant Van Someren was a big, strong man; finally Vernon, who was a student at Gray's Inn, but joined up on the outbreak of war, fought through Ypres, Loos, Bethune, Huluch Quarries, the Somme battles, and the great battles which ended the War, gained the Military Cross, the Distinguished Service Order, and the Croix de Guerre, and became the youngest Lieutenant-Colonel in the Army (he was twenty-three on November 26th. 1918).

Source: The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), 31 December 1931, Page 9

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