HANSON, Sir Richard Davies (1805-1876)


HANSON, Sir Richard Davies (1805-1876)
premier and chief-justice of South Australia
was born at London on 6 December 1805. He was the second son of R. Hanson, a fruit merchant and importer, and was educated at a private school in Cambridgeshire. In 1828 he was admitted to practise as an attorney and solicitor, and shortly afterwards became a disciple of Wakefield (q.v.) in connexion with his colonization schemes. He was again associated with Wakefield as one of Lord Durham's secretaries when he went to Canada in 1838, and had a share in the preparation of the famous report. In the house of commons in July 1839 Charles Buller, not wishing to take undeserved credit for the portion of the report that dealt with waste lands and emigration, said: "The merit of this very valuable report was due to Mr Hanson and Mr Wakefield" (R. C. Mills, The Colonization of Australia, p. 269). On the death of Lord Durham in 1840 Hanson emigrated to New Zealand, and at the end of 1841 was appointed crown prosecutor at Wellington. He went to Adelaide in 1846, practised at the bar, and also did journalistic work. He became one of the leading barristers, and in 1851 was appointed advocate-general and member of the legislative council. He framed the first South Australian education act, and also brought in the district councils act of 1852 which formed a stepping stone to responsible government. He drafted the act which brought this about in 1856, and was attorney-general in the first ministry under Finniss (q.v.). Early in 1857 he was elected to the house of assembly as one of the representatives of the city of Adelaide. The first three ministries had a combined life of about 11 months, but in September 1857 Hanson became premier and attorney-general in a ministry which lasted until May 1860, and passed much useful legislation. Among the acts passed were the first patents act, an insolvency act, a partial consolidation of the criminal law, and the Torrens real property act, though he was at first opposed to this measure. He also passed an act legalizing marriage with a deceased wife's sister, the first of its kind in the Empire, but the royal assent was refused on this occasion. In 1861 Hanson was appointed chief justice of South Australia, and proved to be an admirable judge whose summings up were often masterly. It has been suggested that at times he may have had an undue impatience of the forms and rules of law, and that on the very few occasions in which his judgments were reversed by the privy council he may have been deciding as the law ought to have been, rather than as it was. In 1869 he visited England and was knighted by Queen Victoria. He was acting-governor of South Australia from 11 December 1872 to 9 June 1873, and when the university of Adelaide was founded in 1874 he was appointed its first chancellor. He died at Woodhouse near Mount Lofty on 4 March 1876, and was survived by Lady Hanson, a son and four daughters. In his spare time Hanson gave much time to theological studies. His publications include Law in Nature and Other Papers (1865), The Jesus of History (1869), Letters to and from Rome (1869), The Apostle Paul, and the Preaching of Christianity in the Primitive Church (1875).
Hanson had a calm and equable temperament, and as an advocate endeavoured to win over a jury by a clear and concise statement of his case, rising on occasions to eloquence if he feared some injustice might occur. He was a fine constitutional lawyer, a good judge, and in politics a first rate leader of the house, who admirably laid the foundations of legislation in his colony. South Australia owed much to his powerful intellect, and his love of truth and justice, so often evident in his moulding of its future.
The South Australian Register, 6 and 25 March 1876; F. Johns, A Journalist's Jottings; Miss C. H. Spence, The Melbourne Review, October 1876; B. T. Finniss, The Constitutional History of South Australia; E. Hodder, The History of South Australia; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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