BENT, Ellis (c.1783-1815)


BENT, Ellis (c.1783-1815)
judge-advocate of New South Wales
was probably born in 1783. His date of birth is sometimes given as 1779, but he was the second son of Robert Bent, and his elder brother, Jeffery Hart Bent (q.v.), who was born in 1780, stated in February 1816, that when Ellis Bent died he was "little more than thirty-two years old" (H.R. of A., ser. IV, vol. I, p. 181). Educated at Peterhouse, Cambridge, he graduated B.A. in 1804, and M.A. in 1807, was called to the bar in November 1805, and in May 1809 was appointed judge-advocate of New South Wales. He arrived at Sydney on 1 January 1810 on the same Vessel as Governor Macquarie (q.v.) and found that his incompetent predecessor, R. Atkins, had left his office in much confusion. Bent set himself to clear this up, and in the following year addressed a letter to the Earl of Liverpool describing the administration of justice in the colony, and making many suggestions for its betterment. The most important of these were that a supreme court should be established with a judge and two magistrates sitting with him, and that there should be trial by jury. Macquarie, who had found Bent most helpful to him, recommended that if the plan were adopted, Bent should be made the first judge. At a later date he suggested that Jeffery Hart Bent (q.v.), a brother of the judge-advocate, should be appointed an assistant-judge. Ellis Bent was, however, passed over, and the position of judge was given to his brother. Ellis Bent had been treated with great consideration by Macquarie in connexion with the erection of a house for his use, but became at odds with the governor on account of the delay in building a suitable court house. Macquarie also considered that Bent did not treat him with proper respect, and he could not persuade him to frame port regulations in accordance with his wishes. Like his brother, Bent disagreed with Macquarie on the question of the treatment of emancipists, and in February 1815 the governor, after setting out the position in a dispatch to Earl Bathurst, asked that Bent should be instructed to treat him with "more respect and deference, and that Your Lordship will define in express terms how far Mr Bent is subject to my orders and control and how far he is bound to assist me with his legal advice when called upon for that purpose". As a result Bent was recalled, but before the news of this could reach Sydney he died there on 10 November 1815. He left a widow and four children, and a fifth was born subsequently. A pension of £200 a year was granted to Mrs Bent in 1817 and she returned to England.
Ellis Bent was an amiable, hardworking and competent official. He was no doubt encouraged by his brother in his opposition to the governor, and the fact that he was in bad health from the time of his arrival, and often overworked, did not help matters. Macquarie appears to have acted with both moderation and consideration.
Admissions to Peterhouse, p. 373; Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vols. VII, VIII, IX; ser. IV, vol. I; The Gentleman's Magazine, vol. 87, p. 636; Marion Phillips, A Colonial Autocracy.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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