Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, 22/12/1832 - 6/7/1844
Transferred to Madras and appointed Judge of Supreme Court there in 1844.
William Westbrooke Burton was born at Daventry, Northamptonshire, England on 31 January 1794. He was educated locally and entered the navy as a midshipman in 1807. Burton served in the Mediterranean, on the East Indies station and off the coast of North America. Leaving the navy in order to study law, he was admitted to the English Bar at Inner Temple in November 1824.(1)
In 1827 Burton accepted a seat on the bench of the newly constituted Supreme Court at the Cape of Good Hope as a second Puisne Judge. The Chief Justice was Sir John Wylde [Person 175] who had been the Deputy-Judge-Advocate in New South Wales.(2)
On 15 April 1827 Burton travelled to Holland where he studied the Dutch language and Roman Dutch law for six months before sailing for the Cape. He took seat after the oath was administered on 1 January 1828 and drafted rules regulating the form of procedure of the Supreme Court in civil cases and helped make rules for criminal cases.(3)
Burton left the Cape of Good Hope for Sydney on 14 October 1831(4) and according to the Returns of the Colony and the Australian Law Almanac, was appointed to the Bench of the Supreme Court of New South Wales on 11 October 1832 (5) and was sworn in on 22 December 1832 under 9 Geo. IV, c.83. (6)
In July 1834 Burton went to Norfolk Island to try some convicts who had mutinied. Many were sentenced to death but since no clergy were on the island, he reprieved the men until their cases could go before the Executive Council.(7)
On 18 November 1835 at the close of the criminal sessions of the Supreme Court, Burton addressed the Petit Jury and expressed views that gave rise to much controversy. Between 1833 and 1835, Burton delayed the number of capital convictions and expressed the opinion that “the grand cause of such a state of things was an overwhelming defect of religious principle”. Burton maintained that the number of religious teachers were not sufficiently attentive to the morals of the convicts. He considered that both bond and free occupying wastelands had acquired wealth dishonestly. He also deplored the large number of convicts congregated in Sydney and the custom of licensing unsuitable persons to conduct public houses. L.D. Lang and Samuel Marsden supported Burton and his address was relied upon in a petition to the British government in 1837 demanding reforms to the transportation system. As a result of a report by the Select Committee on Transportation in 1837, transportation to New South Wales ceased soon after.(8)
Burton held office in the Supreme Court until 6 July 1844. In the same year, William Burton left Sydney to become Puisne Judge at Madras, and while in India, was knighted. During his appointment in India, Burton expressed interest in the emigration of young Indians to Sydney.(9)
In 1857 Burton retired on a pension and returned to Sydney. On the 11 August 1857, William Burton was elected a member of the Legislative Assembly,(10) and elected President of the Legislative Assembly on 9 February 1858,(12) a post he held until his resignation on 10 May 1861.(13)
Burton left the colony in 1861 and died in London on 6 August 1888.(14)
2. Australian Dictionary of Biography A-H, Vol 1, 1788-1850, Melbourne University Press, 1983, p184.
4. Historical Records of Australia 1831-1832, Series 1, Vol, 16, p836.
5. Australian Law Almanac 1962, p50.
6. NSW Government Gazette 26 December 1832, p481.
7. Australian Dictionary of Biography op.cit., p184.
8. ibid., p184-185.
9. Australian Law Almanac Government Printer Sydney, 1962 p50.
10. NSW Parliamentary Record 1824-1999, Vol VI, p26.
11. NSW Government Gazette, 9 February 1858, p235.
12. NSW Parliamentary Record op.cit., p26.
13. Australian Dictionary of Biography op.cit., p186.
(1) The New South Wales Law Almanac, 1985, Sydney, Government Printer, 1882 -