Bernhard Ringrose WiseKC (10 February 1858 – 19 September 1916), commonly referred to as B. R. Wise, was an Australian politician. He was a social reformer, seen by some as a traitor to his class, but who was not fully accepted by the labor Movement. He said, “My failure in Sydney has been so complete—my qualities those which Australia does not recognise, my defects those which Australians dislike most.” When he died, William Holman said, “There is hardly anything in our public life which we have to consider to-day that cannot be traced back to his brilliant mind and clear foresight … [Wise] held undisputed supremacy as the foremost debater, foremost thinker and foremost public man in the life of New South Wales”.
Wise was born in the Sydney suburb of Petersham. He was the second son of Edward Wise, a judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, and Maria Bate (née Smith). After his father’s death in 1865, his mother took the family to Leeds, England to put her sons through grammar school, where their “homemade clothes exposed us to ridicule and bullying”. She moved to Rugby and took work, so that Wise could be educated at Rugby School as a day student.
Wise won a £90-a-year scholarship to The Queen’s College, Oxford, where he had a distinguished career, being Cobden Prizeman in 1878 and gaining a first-class in the honour school of law in 1880. He was president of the Oxford Union and president of the Oxford University Athletics Club (OUAC).
Wise was amateur mile champion of Great Britain, 1879–81, and his interest in athletics led to his co-founding the Amateur Athletic Association, alongside Clement Jackson, and Montague Shearman, of which he was elected the first president. This became a very important body whose influence was eventually extended all over the world. In 1882, he moved to London and worked closely with the social reformer, Arnold Toynbee.
Wise was called to the bar of the Middle Temple in April 1883; and, in August 1883, he returned to Sydney with his fiancée, Lilian Margaret Baird, whom he married in April 1884. He was admitted as a barrister in August 1883 and began to build up a successful practice.
In February 1887, Wise was elected to the Legislative Assembly for the working class district of South Sydney, advocating direct taxation, payment of members, an eight-hour day and free trade. On 27 May, became Attorney-General of New South Wales in Henry Parkes’s fourth ministry. Eight months later he resigned because as Attorney-General he was prohibited from taking briefs and he was defeated at the January 1889 election. In the 1890 maritime strike, he supported the right of the workers to strike, and won back his seat in South Sydney, despite his education and accent.
Wise had always been interested in federation and in May 1890 suggested that a journal should be established for the discussion of federal problems. A strong editorial committee was formed and two numbers of the Australian Federalist appeared at the beginning of 1891. In November of that year, when the retirement of Parkes necessitated a new leader being elected, Wise might possibly have been given the position, but though nominated he retired in favour of George Houston Reid. In 1894, he was returned as member for Sydney-Flinders. His failure to choose sides between Reid and Parkes during a no-confidence debate left him isolated and he was defeated for re-election in 1895.