Archibald Paull Burt, “reputed to be the ablest lawyer in the West Indies”, arrived in Western Australia in 1861 at the age of 50 when bureaucratic disputes blocked his preferment in the Caribbean.
He came from a long established family of sugar planters in the Leeward Islands, where he himself was a slave owner for a short time. Educated in England, he was, by the age of 45, a West Indies QC, a Crown Law officer, and active in the legislature of St Kitts.
In 1861 he became Civil Commissioner and Chairman of Quarter Sessions at Western Australia, adapting himself and his family to the then isolation of Perth, and finding the climate beneficial to his health. He advised the government on the need for a Supreme Court of comprehensive jurisdiction and helped to see into place that and many other legal and constitutional changes. He was appointed first Chief Justice of the colony and, until his death in 1879, he was the Colony’s sole judge.
A commanding lawyer and a man of great independence and diligence, well versed in all aspects of colonial administration, he directed the court and the legal profession along English lines, having, at times, spirited differences with some free-thinking members of the Bar who were reluctant to conform. So strong were the foundations on which he set the law and its institutions in the colony that they survived the mischief worked by lesser lawyers who succeeded him in the nineteenth century.
“I ... enjoyed these new editions as much as their predecessors. Dr. Bennett has a way of bringing his characters back to life, with amusing little anecdotes, such as that Burt had, on occasion, to hold an umbrella up whilst sitting in Perth, due to the poor condition of the Court. ...
I sincerely believe that politicians, today, could do well to read these books. They might thereby gain some insight into the difficulties that judicial officers face in one of the most misunderstood vocations.
I would say the same for lawyers as well, who might obtain a greater sense of understanding of the difficulties faced in the mid 1800’s by judicial officers, and reflect on the fact that not much has changed in 150 years.” - Tasmanian Law Society Newsletter, March 2003
Table of Contents
Before the Beginning
“During the Pleasure of Her Majesty”
The Hampton Years
“A Peccant Practitioner of My Court”
“In the Hands of a Single Judge”
After the End