Sir Archibald Burt: First Chief Justice of Western Australia, 1861-1879
1 Jan 2002
Dr. J. M. Bennett
Archibald Paull Burt, "reputed to be the ablest lawyer in the West Indies", arrived in Western Australia in 1861 at the age of 50 when bureaucratic disputes blocked his preferment in the Caribbean. He came from a long established family of sugar planters in the Leeward Islands, where he himself was a slave owner for a short time. Educated in England, he was, by the age of 45, a West Indies QC, a Crown Law officer, and active in the legislature of St Kitts. In 1861 he became Civil Commissioner and Chairman of Quarter Sessions at Western Australia, adapting himself and his family to the then isolation of Perth, and finding the climate beneficial to his health. He advised the government on the need for a Supreme Court of comprehensive jurisdiction and helped to see into place that and many other legal and constitutional changes. He was appointed first Chief Justice of the colony and, until his death in 1879, he was the Colony's sole judge. A commanding lawyer and a man of great independence and diligence, well versed in all aspects of colonial administration, he directed the court and the legal profession along English lines, having, at times, spirited differences with some free-thinking members of the Bar who were reluctant to conform. So strong were the foundations on which he set the law and its institutions in the colony that they survived the mischief worked by lesser lawyers who succeeded him in the nineteenth century. The Western Australian State Set of Lives of Australian Chief Justices, which includes, Sir Archibald Burt, Sir Henry Wrenfordsley and Sir Alexander Onslow is available for $130.00 - to order the WA State Set, click here.