DOBSON, Sir William Lambert (1833-1898)


DOBSON, Sir William Lambert (1833-1898)
chief justice of Tasmania
was born at Carr Hill, Durham, England, on 24 April 1833. His father, John Dobson, a solicitor at Gateshead, Durham, married a daughter of Matthew Atkins of Carr Hill, Durham, and four of his sons subsequently became well-known in Australia. William, the eldest, arrived in Tasmania with his parents on 16 July 1834, and was educated at Christ's College and the Hutchins School at Hobart. Leaving school he spent 18 months in the public service, returned to England, and entered at the Middle Temple. At the Inns of Court examination held in June 1856 Dobson took first place and was admitted to the bar. He returned to Tasmania at the end of that year and in 1859 was appointed crown solicitor. He was elected a member of the house of assembly for Hobart, and on 6 February 1861 became attorney-general in the second Weston (q.v.) ministry, continued in this position when the ministry was reconstituted under T. D. Chapman (q.v.), and remained in office until January 1863. When Whyte (q.v.) became premier Dobson was elected leader of the opposition, on 24 November 1866 became attorney-general again under Sir Richard Dry (q.v.), and held the same position in the succeeding Wilson (q.v.) ministry from 4 August 1869 to 5 February 1870. He was then at the age of 36 appointed a supreme court judge. In 1884 he was acting chief justice, and on 2 February 1885 became chief justice. He held this position until his death on 17 March 1898. On four occasions he administered the government of Tasmania, and was chancellor of the university, president of the leading sporting bodies, vice-president of the Royal Society of Tasmania and the Art Society of Tasmania, and trustee of the Tasmanian museum, art gallery and botanical gardens. He married in 1859 Fanny Louisa Browne, daughter of the archdeacon of Launceston who survived him with a son and three daughters. Dobson was knighted in 1886 and created K.C.M.G. in 1897.
Dobson had a kindly and generous nature free from petty weaknesses, and was interested in everything that was for the good of Tasmania. He was a member of the Linnean Society, and much interested in botany and higher education generally. As a member of parliament he brought in the act which made education compulsory, and he was also responsible for the act abolishing imprisonment for debt. He did not give the impression of being a brilliant lawyer but he was an exceedingly sound one; it has been stated that during his judicial career he never had a decision reversed by a higher court. He held a distinguished and honoured position in Tasmania throughout his life. His brother, Henry Dobson, is noticed separately. Another brother, Frank Stanley Dobson (1835-95), born in Tasmania, was educated at the Hutchins School and St John's College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. and LL.B. He was called to the English bar in 1860 and then went to Victoria and practised as a barrister at Melbourne. In 1863 he was appointed a lecturer in law at the university of Melbourne and held this position for many years. In 1869 he was elected a member of the legislative council and was solicitor-general in the O'Loghlen (q.v.) ministry from July 1881 to March 1883. In 1884 he became chairman of committees and held this position until his death on 1 June 1895. A third brother, Alfred Dobson (1848-1908), was born at Hobart and educated at the Hutchins School. He was called to the English bar in 1875, returned to Tasmania and entered the house of assembly on 14 June 1877. He was attorney-general in the first Fysh (q.v.) ministry from August 1877 to December 1878, leader of the opposition 1883-4, and speaker of the house from July 1885 to May 1887. In April 1901 he became agent-general for Tasmania in London, and held this position until he was accidentally drowned in the English Channel on 5 December 1908. A few days before his death he was offered the position of third supreme court judge at Hobart but declined it.
The Mercury, Hobart, 18 and 21 March 1898, 8 December 1908; The Argus, Melbourne, 3 June 1895; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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