PEDDER, Sir John Lewes (1784-1859)


PEDDER, Sir John Lewes (1784-1859)
first chief justice of Tasmania
eldest son of John Pedder, a barrister, was born in 1784. He was admitted to the middle temple in 1818 and called to the bar in 1820. He graduated LL.B. at Cambridge in 1822, and was appointed chief justice of Tasmania on 18 August 1823. He arrived at Hobart with his wife, a daughter of Lieut.-colonel Everett, on 15 March 1824. On 24 May J. T. Gellibrand (q.v.), the first Tasmanian attorney-general, in an inaugural address at the supreme court, spoke of trial by jury as being "one of the greatest boons conferred by the legislature upon this colony". It was questioned, however, whether this right was not taken away by section 19 of the "act for the better administration of justice in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land", and Pedder in a long and weighty judgment took this view. He became a member of the legislative council and the executive council, which brought him into very close relationship with Governor Arthur (q.v.) and has even led to him being spoken of as having belonged to the "government party". He should never have been put into such a position. In 1851, when the new legislative council was formed, the chief justice was no longer a member. Fenton referring to this says that although Pedder was "a very useful member of the old council" he was "now wisely removed from the disturbing arena of political strife". In July 1854 Pedder had a paralytic seizure while on the bench, and shortly afterwards retired on a pension of £1500 a year under an act passed in the previous May. He returned to England and died in 1859. He was knighted in 1838. As a judge he has been called slow in decision and fearful of over-stepping the written word of a statute. He was certainly not a great lawyer, but he was upright and thorough, always careful that the accused should suffer no injustice. In estimating his career it must be remembered that his being both a member of the executive and chief justice made his position a difficult and anomalous one. Fenton, who had personal knowledge, says that his "prudence and foresight often prevented grave injustice and dangerous blunders in the administration of affairs under the peculiar and difficult conditions of a colony half bond and half free".
R. P. Dod, The Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage, 1857; R. W. Giblin, The Early History of Tasmania, vol. II; J. Fenton, A History of Tasmania; The Argus, Melbourne, 9 and 24 August 1854.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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