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Sir John Pedder

Sir John Pedder

First Chief Justice of Tasmania, 1824-1854

By Dr J M Bennett AM

CONTENTSREVIEWS

John Pedder, a shy, ascetic, "gentlemanly" personality, was appointed first Chief Justice of Tasmania in 1823. Even he was surprised; he had been only three years in practice. Probably, his loyalty to the Church of England appealed to the Colonial Office.

The new Chief Justice was shocked by the cost of living in the convict colony of Van Diemen's Land, the reduced state of society, and the harshness of the dominant penal system. He was acutely conscious of the finality of the death penalty and publicly protested the ill-treatment of Tasmanian Aborigines. In his very first trial, the first held in any Australian Supreme Court, a white man was convicted of the manslaughter of an Aboriginal.

Pedder was, Sir Guy Green states in his foreword, "a competent and enlightened trial judge" whose work had a great impact on the everyday life of the colony.

He was less successful when confronted by the novel and extremely difficult questions of public law which arose as the rule of law was established and challenged in the small and remote colony. As an Executive Councillor, he was notorious for diffident and ambivalent opinions.

Other criticism, that he was a hectoring bully in court, that he "ducked and delayed decisions" in the civil jurisdiction, is shown to be false. His 30 years on the Bench were remarkable for his industry and conscientiousness.

"a most comprehensive and thorough account of Pedder's life and times [which] makes a significant contribution to the history of Tasmania and Australia generally."
Sir Guy Green

The Tasmanian State Set of Lives of Australian Chief Justices, which includes, Sir John Pedder and Sir Valentine Fleming is available for $80.00 - to order the Tasmanian State Set, click here.


CONTENTS

Foreword, by the Honourable Sir Guy Green
Acknowledgements / List of Illustrations / Dramatis Personae"

"Mr Pedder Seems to be an Object of Interest"
"My Time Has Been Unremittingly Employed"
Ousting an Attorney-General
"The Liberties of England Depend on the Freedom of the Press"
"Honorable to Law, Humanity and Justice"
Judges and Vice-Roys
An "Illustrious Example of Judicial Integrity"

Abbreviations / Notes / Index


REVIEWS

This volume disputes claims that Pedder was a courtroom bully and postulates that his 30 years on the Bench were marked by industry and conscientiousness. … in sum, a classic example of of the way colonial office-holding enhanced an individual career. … historians now treat him more kindly than his contemporaries did.

DK, Australian Historical Studies, Vol 36 Issue 125 (April 2005), 188

The research of Dr Bennett is extensive. It [the biography of Pedder] is a comprehensive record of court reports and judgments as well as personal correspondence and contemporaneous newspaper reports. This monograph is one of the impressive series on the lives of the initial chief justices of the colonies of Australia published by The Federation Press. As the Honourable Murray Gleeson AC, Chief Justice of Australia, has stated, Dr Bennett “writes with a keen perception”.

Dominic Katter, Cambridge, 2004, 53

What makes the lives of Sir John Pedder and Sir James Cockle, Chief Justices of Tasmania and Queensland respectively, compelling reading is the glimpse they offer of the establishment of the rule of law in colonial Australia. The experiences they faced are simultaneously at odds with contemporary judicial practices and indicative of recurrent tension that exists between the judiciary and the other arms of the state. …
Often men with limited talent or experience are thrust into intolerable circumstances where governors with military inclinations sought to impose their authority.
Sir John Pedder arrived in Tasmania in 1824 and was to remain in the position until 1854. … Appointed above his ability, Pedder was damned by his lack of essential judicial qualities. He was indecisive, unmethodical and transfixed by literalism and form. His personality was, as Bennett notes, the “epitome of dullness, being humourless and cold, lacking in friends and being insecure even in the company of such friends he had”.
Pedder’s lacklustre judicial career was nearly brought to an end in 1848. The issue at hand was the validity of the Dog Act 1846 – the “judge storm” as it was known …
Under Bennett’s pen, these lives are critically, though with sympathy, described and evaluated. The series and these two volumes in particular, make a valuable contribution to the stock of Australian history.

Dr John Williams, The Canberra Times

Like their predecessors, [Bennett's biographies of Pedder and Cockle] are thorough and sympathetic, enlivened with dry wit. They extend the picture of the colonies as small, faction-riven, rancorous, isolated, litigious communities with judges frequently at odds with government over legal issues and their own entitlements.
Apart from having a lake named after him and being long in office, Pedder was unremarkable. He had only been in practice three years when he became Tasmanian CJ because no-one else wanted the meagre salary. Matched with Lt Governor Arthur, he faced the same problems as Forbes did in Sydney with Darling, but showed much less backbone. … Still, he worked hard and long. When he passes sentence of death with “his tremulous subdued voice … scarcely audible”, he suddenly becomes more sympathetic. …
Bennett succeeds in bringing alive both Pedder, wracked by doubt, and Cockle, firm and practical.

Law Society Journal (New South Wales), Vol 42 No 7, August 2004

In his own way [Pedder] contributed significantly to the development of the rule of law in the Australian colonies.
…with whatever faults he had, his three decades on the Bench, made him an institution in his own right. He should be remembered well for his zeal, often in the face of obstacles which would have challenged a judge of the most mature experience, in nurturing the development and eminence of the court he had founded.
… the meticulous research, the scholarly integrity, and the elegance of style which have long been associated with the writings of Dr Bennett are manifest. [The book is] replete with erudition and scholarship, yet easy to read and creates for the modern reader, especially the modern lawyer, a clear picture of how justice was administered in the early days of our nation ….

John Kennedy McLaughlin, (2004) 78 ALJ 243 [Australian Law Journal, April 2004]

There is some temptation for those of us on the promotion trail in national law firms to initially envy the appointment of John Pedder, as he then was, to the position of chief Justice of the Supreme Court in Van Diemen’s Land at the age of 30. Not so tempting, however, when it is discovered that his Honour received only one pay rise in 30 years.
Indeed there is much about the posting that was unenviable. …
There is no doubting the extent of the research behind this text. It is a comprehensive record of court reports and judgments as well as personal correspondence and contemporaneous newspaper reports. …

Lawyers Weekly, 1 March 2004

A fine piece of publishing about a significant Tasmanian figure.
Pedder distinguished himself by his attitudes towards punishment and, in particular, his attitude relating to settlers and Aborigines. “In his first trial,” the book notes “the first held in any Australian Supreme Court, a white man was convicted for the manslaughter of an Aboriginal.”
This is an illuminating and important book. The illustrations are excellent and the information is both compressed and absorbing.

The Sunday Tasmanian, 8 February 2004

   

Published November 2003
Publisher The Federation Press
Hardback/160pp
ISBN 9781862874824
Australian RRP $49.50
International Price $45.00
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Biography
Law - Legal History
Australian History / Studies

Lives of Australian Chief Justices Series


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