BURTON, Sir William Westbrooke (1794-1888)


BURTON, Sir William Westbrooke (1794-1888)
judge and president of the legislative council, New South Wales
son of Edmund Burton and Eliza, daughter of the Rev. John Mather, was born at Daventry, Northamptonshire, England, on 31 January 1794. He was educated at Daventry Grammar School and entered the royal navy as a midshipman in 1807 on the Conqueror. He saw service off Toulon in 1811 and at New Orleans in 1814. Leaving the navy to study law he entered at the Inner Temple in November 1819, and was called to the bar in November 1824. He was recorder of Daventry in 1826-7, and a judge of the supreme court at the Cape of Good Hope from 1828 to 1832, when he was transferred to the supreme court at Sydney. In July 1834 he went to Norfolk Island to try some convicts who had mutinied. Many were sentenced to death, but as no clergy were on the island, Burton reprieved them until their cases could go before the executive council and clergy could be sent to the island. He endeavoured also with some success to improve the miserable conditions of the convicts, and himself a religious man, arranged that two of the prisoners should act as catechists to the others until clergy could be procured. Eventually both Protestant and Roman Catholic chaplains were appointed. Burton gave an account of the position at Norfolk Island in his book The State of Religion and Education in New South Wales, which was published in 1840. Two years later he brought out a volume The Insolvent Law of New South Wales, with Practical Directions and Forms. In 1844 Burton was appointed a judge at Madras, and left New South Wales on 6 July of that year. Had this appointment been delayed for a few months he would have become chief justice as Sir James Dowling (q.v.) died in September. He carried out his duties at Madras in a capable way and on his retirement came to Sydney again in 1857. He was nominated to the legislative council, and in March 1858 was elected its president. In May 1861, on account of the council having insisted on amendments to two measures brought forward by the government, the crown lands alienation bill and the crown lands occupation bill, an attempt was made to swamp the chamber by appointing 21 new members. When the council met and the new members were waiting to be sworn in, Burton stated that he felt he had been treated with discourtesy in the matter, resigned his office of president and his membership, and left the chamber followed by several others. The house was adjourned, and as the session had nearly closed it was impossible to do anything until the next session. When the council was reconstituted later a compromise was come to, under which practically the whole of the 21 proposed new members were not again nominated; but Burton also was not nominated. He shortly afterwards went to England and lived in retirement. He was blind in his later years and when about 90 dictated a letter congratulating G. W. Rusden on his History of Australia which had been read to him. He died in his ninety-fifth year on 6 August 1888.
Burton was an upright and thoroughly capable judge, and his retiremerit from the council with others, which left it without a quorum, was the means of effectually preventing an action which the Duke of Newcastle in a dispatch to Governor Young afterwards described as both "violent" and "unconstitutional" (Rusden's History of Australia, vol. III, p. 172). Burton married (1) Margaret, daughter of Levy Smith, and (2) Maria Alphonsine, daughter of John Beatty West. He was knighted in 1844.
The Times, 13 August 1888; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography; G. W. Rusden, History of Australia; An Epitome of the Official History of New South Wales; Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vols. XVII to XIX, XXIII: Burke's Peerage, etc., 1888.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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  • William Westbrooke Burton — Sir William Westbrooke Burton (31 January 1794 – 6 August 1888), was a judge and president of the legislative council, New South Wales, (Australia).Early lifeBurton was born in Daventry, Northamptonshire, England, the fifth son of Edmund Burton,… …   Wikipedia


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