James Cockle was a brilliant mathematician, a future Fellow of the Royal Society, appointed Chief Justice of Queensland in the most stormy and unpromising of circumstances.
When he came to Queensland in 1863, relations between the government and A.J.P Lutwyche, the resident Supreme Court Judge, were in a state of turmoil. Lutwyche, whose expectation of promotion to Chief had been dashed, had recently declared Queensland’s infant Parliament and all its Acts invalid. The Law Officers in England agreed and Lutwyche continued to attack the government, looking for other legislation to invalidate. The Queensland Government begged the Colonial Office to find a Chief Justice in England and Cockle was appointed.
Conciliatory, dignified, scrupulously impartial, and proficient as a lawyer, Cockle calmed the storms left by Lutwyche - and calmed Lutwyche who continued to sit on the bench as junior judge. Yet he was an enigmatic figure who was poorly recognised by Queensland governments. Poorly paid (Lutwyche had the higher salary), he resigned and returned to England and mathematical studies shortly after he qualified for a pension in 1878.
“He was a rare instance of true human virtue. Jane Austen has taught us that tales of virtue can make absorbing reading. In this account, Dr Bennett has done as much for Sir James Cockle.”Justice B H McPherson
A brilliant mathematician, conciliatory, dignified, scrupulously impartial and proficient as a lawyer, Cockle seems to have been the right man for the job. He was appointed Chief Justice of Queensland in the most stormy and unpromising of circumstances when the resident Supreme Court judge, supported by the Law Officers in England, had declared all the legislation of the new colonial parliament invalid. Poorly paid and poorly recognised, Cockle [was] “a truly great and remarkable man” in this assessment and undeservedly forgotten. - DK Australian Historical Studies, Vol 36 Issue 125 (April 2005) 189
Like their predecessors, [Bennett’s biographies of Pedder and Cockle] are thorough and sympathetic, enlivened with dry wit. They extend the picture of the colonies as small, faction-riven, rancorous, isolated, litigious communities with judges frequently at odds with government over legal issues and their own entitlements.
Cockle makes quite a contrast [to Pedder]. He had a respectable length of practice behind him when he was chosen to sort out the mess created by Queensland’s first judge and government. Almost half the book details the background to his arrival, with the combative Justice Lutwyche, intractably in dispute with government over pay and status, publicly attacking politicians opposed to him and then hearing defamation proceedings concerning his own article!
With much tact, Cockle pacified Lutwyche and politicians. He was a much more flexible lawyer than Pedder, holding that English precedents had little useful application in colonial circumstances. He steadily built up Queensland’s legal infrastructure. Yet he was treated shabbily by government, and retired as soon as his pension was grudgingly granted. It is pleasant to consider him retiring to the clubs of London and the abstruse pleasure of his study of algabraic equations.
Bennett succeeds in bringing alive both Pedder, wracked by doubt, and Cockle, firm and practical. - Law Society Journal (New South Wales), Vol 42 No 7, August 2004
What makes the lives of Sir John Pedder and Sir James Cockle, Chief Justices of Tasmania and Queensland respectively, compelling reading is the glimpse they offer of the establishment of the rule of law in colonial Australia. The experiences they faced are simultaneously at odds with contemporary judicial practices and indicative of recurrent tension that exists between the judiciary and the other arms of the state. ...
Often men with limited talent or experience are thrust into intolerable circumstances where governors with military inclinations sought to impose their authority.
Under Bennett’s pen, these lives are critically, though with sympathy, described and evaluated. The series and these two volumes in particular, make a valuable contribution to the stock of Australian history. - Dr John Williams, The Canberra Times
All of these histories have been compelling reading and this is no exception. If you have one ounce of interest in the history of our profession, you will enjoy this book immensely. I was unable to put it down, so well does the author place us into the reality of the characters about whom he writes. - Tasmanian Law Society Newsletter, August 2004
In his own way [Cockle] contributed significantly to the development of the rule of law in the Australian colonies. ... Cockle was an exemplary judge.
... In a small community with a small and close-knit legal profession, the personality as well as the judicial temperament and legal ability of Cockle did much to set the foundations of the Supreme Court and of the Queensland legal profession upon a firm and sound footing.
... Queensland’s first Chief Justice was a truly great and remarkable man.
In [this volume] ... the meticulous research, the scholarly integrity and the elegance of style which have long been associated with the writings of Dr Bennett are manifest. [The book is] replete with erudition and scholarship, yet easy to read and creates for the modern reader, especially the modern lawyer, a clear picture of how justice was administered in the early days of our nation .... - John Kennedy McLaughlin, (2004) 78 ALJ 243 [Australian Law Journal, April 2004]
This work displays Dr Bennett’s meticulous scholarship, lucid prose and gentle humour. He has coped remarkably well with a dearth of personal material. ... Sir James Cockle fills a long-standing gap in our State’s legal history ... . - John Forbes, Queensland Bar News, No 14, December 2003
Table of Contents
Foreword by the Hon. Mr Justice McPherson
List of Illustrations
A tale of two cities
“Always on the watch”
“Correcting the blunders of the Colonial Office”
“A noble career of usefulness will be open”
“He set out in troubled waters”
“Keeping steadily to the performance of his duty”
“Sympathy must not be allowed to distract my judgement”
The machinery of the law
“I claim the character of a Queenslander”