Page:A colonial autocracy, New South Wales under Governor Macquarie, 1810-1821.djvu/56

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A COLONIAL AUTOCRACY.

With him there went as Judge-Advocate, Ellis Bent, Barrister-at-law and member of the Northern Circuit. The Judge-Advocate was the one judicial officer in the Colony, presiding in Civil and Criminal Courts, acting as chief judge and chief prosecutor. The appointment of Ellis Bent, a man learned in the law, to this post, marked an important development in the history of the settlement. Collins, who held the office first, was a captain of Marines,[1] and Gore, who succeeded him, had been without either legal or military knowledge. Then had come Richard Atkins, a hard drinker and a born fool. King had put the case in strong language. He had felt it "indispensable as well for the benefit of the inhabitants as for a guide to the Governor that a professional man be appointed, either as Judge-Advocate or Chief-Justice, who can give the Governor (who cannot be supposed to be a lawyer) that conclusive information which is so requisite, and who is able to counteract the chicane and litigious conduct of a few transported practisers, who have practised sufficient of the laws of England to know the chicanery and evil purposes a bad man can turn them to".[2] But the matter rested until the Bligh affair gave conclusive proof of the need, and Ellis Bent, apparently at the suggestion of Nightingall, obtained the appointment.[3] He was a Master of Arts of Cambridge and had been a gentleman commoner at Peterhouse. Some calamity involved his family in a ruin which induced him, while still under thirty, to give up his position and prospects at the Bar and accept this post in a far-off country for the sake of his wife and young family. He was a man of singularly sweet disposition, and for the four years which preceded his early death he fulfilled the multifarious tasks allotted him with justice, dignity and ability. There is little to be found which tells of him directly, but his judgments and expositions of the law, his official letters, and the opinions held of him by all sorts and conditions of men, all alike suggest a man of great delicacy of mind, gentleness of bearing and acuteness of intellect.

  1. He was afterwards Lieutenant-Governor at the Derwent, Van Diemen's Land, from 1803 to 1810.
  2. H.R., V., p. 188, 7th August, 1803.
  3. See Bent's letter to Castlereagh, 30th November, 1811. H.R., VII., p. 641.