DOWLING, Sir James (1787-1844)


DOWLING, Sir James (1787-1844)
chief justice of New South Wales
was born in London on 25 November 1787. Educated at St Paul's School he became a parliamentary reporter, studied law and was called to the bar at the Middle Temple in 1815. He edited the second edition of W. Paley's Law and Practice of Summary Convictions, and was also responsible for several volumes of Reports of Cases. On 6 August 1827 he was appointed third judge at Sydney, where he arrived in February 1828. He acted with tact and consideration over a question of precedence which immediately arose. Governor Darling (q.v.) held that the terms of his commission placed Dowling next in precedence to the chief justice, Forbes (q.v.), while Stephen, the other judge, pointed out that in England such questions were decided by seniority. Dowling suggested that the matter should be referred to the home authorities, and that in the meantime Stephen should take precedence. The question was settled in favour of Stephen's view, and Dowling cheerfully accepted the position of junior judge. The state of Stephen's health, however, threw a good deal of work on the shoulders of Dewling, who also learned that in Sydney in those days a judge was constantly open to criticism. In June 1832 he found it necessary to defend his judgment in a particular case which had been criticized in letters printed in the Sydney Monitor, and was assured by Viscount Goderich that he would not permit himself "to entertain even a momentary impression to his prejudice". In December Stephen retired and Dowling became second judge. In January 1834 some remarks of Dowling's on the conduct of a criminal trial led to the three judges drawing up an important memorandum suggesting many possible improvements in dealing with criminal cases. In September 1835 Dowling was appointed acting chief justice during the absence of Forbes on leave. W. W. Burton (q.v.), the third judge, objected to this on the ground that his previous appointment as a judge at the Cape of Good Hope made him senior to Dowling. In April 1837 Forbes retired from his office, and Dewling was appointed chief justice on 29 August 1837. He had the misfortune to have associated with him as third judge J. W. Willis (q.v.) who arrived at Sydney in November 1837, and made himself so obnoxious to the chief justice that for the sake of peace Governor Gipps (q.v.) transferred Willis to Melbourne in January 1841. In June 1843 Dowling expressed his willingness to act as speaker of the new legislative council, but Gipps ruled against this as he considered it would not be in the public interest. In August 1844 Dowling was granted 18 months leave of absence on account of a break-down in his health, but he died on 27 September. He was knighted in 1837. He was married twice and was survived by Lady Dowling and two sons and two daughters of the first marriage. A pension of £200 a year was granted to Lady Dowling.
Dowling was a man of kindly and sensitive nature, whose death was hastened by 17 years of painstaking, able and conscientious work, scarcely ever relieved by a holiday. One of his sons, James Sheen Dowling (1819-1902), was born in England and came to Australia with his father in 1828. Returning to England in 1835 to complete his education he was called to the bar in 1843. He came to Australia again in 1845 and practised as a barrister. In 1858 he was appointed a district court judge. He retired in 1889 and died on 4 May 1902.
Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vols. XIII to XXVI; J. Arthur Dowling, Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. II, pp. 99-105; C. H. Currey, ibid, vol. XIX, pp. 90-104; British Museum Catalogue; R. Therry, Reminiscences of Thirty Years' Residence in New South Wales and Victoria; The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 May 1902.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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