The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/a'Beckett, Sir William

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For works with similar titles, see William à Beckett.

a'Beckett, Sir William, first Chief Justice of Victoria, was the eldest son of William a'Beckett, and the brother of T. T. a'Beckett (q.v.). He was born in London on July 28th, 1806, and educated at Westminster School, where, in conjunction with his brother Gilbert Abbott a'Beckett, he started two periodicals of very promising ability, entitled the Censor and Literary Beacon. He was called to the English bar in 1827, went to New South Wales in 1837, and was in 1841 appointed Solicitor-General, and subsequently Puisne Judge. He became judge of the Supreme Court for the district of Port Phillip on Feb. 3rd, 1846, and on Jan. 19th, 1851 was made first Chief Justice of the newly constituted colony of Victoria. In the same year the reckless abandonment of the population to the excitement of the gold fever called forth a cautionary pamphlet from Sir William. It was published under the pseudonym "Colonus," and was entitled, "Does the Discovery of Gold in Victoria, viewed in relation to its Moral and Social Effects as hitherto developed, deserve to be considered a National Blessing or a National Curse?" The judge evidently leant to the latter view. The experiences of a holiday trip to Europe are contained in a volume by Sir William, published in London in 1854 entitled "Out of Harness," containing notes on a tour through Switzerland and Italy. Sir William's health failed, but he postponed his retirement to suit the convenience of the Haines Ministry. In 1857, however, he left the bench and returned to reside in England in 1863, where he published in London "The Earl's Choice, and other Poems." Sir William died at Upper Norwood, in Surrey, on June 27th, 1869. In 1832 he married Emily, daughter of Edward Hayley, who died in 1841. In addition to the works already mentioned, Sir William published "The Siege of Dumbarton Castle and other Poems," 1824, a large number of biographies in "The Georgian Era" (4 vols., 1834-4): "A Universal Biography; including Scriptural, Classical, and Mythological Memoirs, together with Accounts of many Eminent Living Characters" (3 vols., London, 1835); and "The Magistrates' Manual for the Colony of Victoria" (Melbourne, 1852).