This blog is written by Janine Rizzetti . It commenced life as a research blog to support the PhD thesis I completed in 2015 on the colonial career of Justice John Walpole Willis, the first Resident Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales for the District of Port Phillip between 1841-1843. Hence, the name of this blog.
Blogs do tend to take on a life of their own, and since 2008 this blog has expanded its focus from Judge Willis and colonial Port Phillip to include book reviews, brief comments about films I have seen, conferences I’ve attended and podcasts and lectures that I’ve listened to. Having lived nearly all my life in and around Heidelberg, and as secretary of the local Heidelberg Historical Society, there’s an emphasis on Heidelberg in particular.
If you’d like to email me, my address is ‘residentjudge’ (one word, lower case) then @ symbol ‘gmail.com’.
MY PAPERS AND PODCASTS
While writing my thesis over the past several years, I’ve made several presentations at various conferences and events. These ones have made it into the cyberworld, and are available either through direct links, or through a State or University library.
‘Judging Boundaries: Justice Willis, Local Politics and Imperial Justice’ Australian Historical Studies, Volume 40, Issue 3, 2009 pp. 362-375 [You will need to log in to a State or university library to access this article]
I was delighted to be awarded the K. S. Inglis prize for this paper, which I presented to the Australian Historical Association conference in 2008. It was early in my research: hence my error in stating that Willis was exonerated by the Privy Council after his dismissal from Upper Canada. I console myself that others have made the same error.
Abstract: Justice John Walpole Willis arrived in Melbourne in March 1841 as its first Resident Judge. After just over two years he was removed from office by Governor Gipps and the Executive Council and returned to England to pursue justice through the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. His career exemplifies the colonial civil servants’ dilemma: ‘thinking globally’ by maintaining connections in the wider imperial circuit, but ‘acting locally’ by keeping boundaries in the local and interpersonal colonial sphere. The dismissal of Justice Willis reflects the tensions between colonial authority and politics and the broader transnational nature of imperial justice.
‘Sifting to the Bottom of Financial Impropriety: Judge Willis and Insolvency in Port Phillip’ Journal of Historical and European Studies Vol 2, 2009
I gave this paper at an internal La Trobe conference and it was published in this journal of postgraduate student work published by La Trobe University. The journal used to be open-access, but it doesn’t appear to be now.
Abstract: As we have seen in recent months, a financial crisis can re-order institutional and personal relationships, and prompt a re-evaluation of political priorities and imperatives. This was true, too, in Port Phillip in 1841-43 during John Walpole Willis’ appointment as the first residential Supreme Court judge of the district. This paper examines the experience of insolvency in the young, strongly entrepreneurial community, and the relationship between Willis’ avowal to sift to the bottom of financial impropriety and the political manoeuvres that led to his removal from office.
‘Judge Willis, Bonjon and the Recognition of Aboriginal Law’ ANZLHS- e journal
Paper given at the Australian and New Zealand Law and History Society Conference (ANZLHS), 2010 Available free as downloadable PDF at :
Abstract: In September 1841, Mr Justice John Walpole Willis, the first Resident Judge of the Port Phillip district of the Supreme Court delivered an address to the court in the district’s first case of inter-tribal murder, R.v Bonjon. In examining the question of the court’s jurisdiction, Willis held that he, as a single judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, was not bound by the decision of his brother judges in R v Murrell five years earlier. New South Wales was not unoccupied on discovery, he argued, and Aborigines had not consented to British occupation or sovereignty. In crimes committed among themselves, they were not amenable to British law and were entitled to exercise their own usages and laws.
His stance was over-ruled, both locally and by the Colonial Office, and R v Bonjon was relegated to the status of a footnote in later discussions of Supreme Court thinking on indigenous legal autonomy.
This paper examines the context in which Willis’ address in R v Bonjon was delivered, and the links between its arguments and other developments and policies in the empire. In it, Willis presented his own historical story of Australia’s settlement, an account that interwove other historical and political narratives of Empire and fed into local debates of how the settlement of the nascent colony of Port Phillip was to be framed historiographically. The paper argues that R v Bonjon, as a piece of judicial theatre, was more about Willis than it was about Bonjon. It was another manifestation of Willis’ rivalry with his brother judges in Sydney and can be seen as part of his ongoing attempt to position himself as an authority in the debate over sovereignty and imperial policy more generally.
‘Global Positioning Systems: Circuits of Empire Large and Small’
This paper was given at the La Trobe postgraduate conference in 2012. The spoken version of the paper is available for free through I-Tunes (where it is titled ‘Movement around the Empire’) at:
Abstract: A quick survey of the biographies of colonial officials featured in the Australian Dictionary of Biography highlights the mobility inherent to the careers of British civil servants. In the first half of the nineteenth century, it was common for governors, judges, surveyors and other office-holders to circulate between postings in North America, the sugar colonies, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, with occasional periods of leave back ‘home’ before embarking on yet another position.
Within these larger circuits, however, were the smaller social circuits that colonial civil servants needed to negotiate once they had been appointed to a position. In a small colonial outpost, the official circle which gathered around the governor had its own hierarchies, rules and performances which were superimposed, socially and spatially, onto the townscape. For colonial judges, in particular, there was a tension between the maintenance of dignity and authority through a self-imposed separateness and the equally important need for visibility in the act of performing British justice far from the metropole.
This paper uses the career of one such judge, Justice John Walpole Willis, as a “window on an age” to examine the negotiation of the circuits of empire, both large and small, in the differing environments of Upper Canada, British Guiana and Port Phillip. Through diary entries and newspaper reports, it examines Willis’ own responses to the tension between separateness and visibility in three very different geographical, political milieu that were bound together by the Britishness that he, in his his role as British judge, embodied.
Rare Books Week 2014 – RHSV
As part of Rare Books Week for 2014, the Royal Historical Society featured the casebooks of Justice John Walpole Willis. My paper, in two parts, can be found on the Judge Willis CaseBooks Page as two downloadable Word documents:
Judge Willis: A Career of Contradictions – A talk given for Rare Book Week 2014 (Part 1)
Judge Willis: a Man of Books – A talk given for Rare Book Week 2014 (Part 2)
Judge Willis Case Books Website- RHSV
I was delighted to be asked to provide some of the Support Materials on the Judge Willis Casebooks site, hosted by the Royal Historical Society of Victoria. This invaluable site provides transcripts of some of the casebooks written up by Judge Willis while sitting on the bench in Port Phillip. His Honour Paul Mullaly QC has provided a commentary, explaining the legal considerations that lay behind Willis’ summary of the case.
I wrote the following sections under the Support Materials section:
- The Colonial Judicial Career of Mr. Justice Willis
- The Supreme Court And Its Functions
- The First Two Courthouses Of The Supreme Court – Port Phillip
- Port Phillip On Judge Willis’ Arrival
- A Supreme Court Judge In A Small Society
Launch of the Judge Willis Casebooks website
The Judge Willis Casebooks site was launched in September 2014 by the Chief Justice Marilyn Warren at the RHSV. The podcast of the occasion is available at
http://www.historyvictoria.org.au/whats-on/lectures/podcasts and a link is available here.
The podcast starts with the Chief Justices’ presentation that runs to the 35 minute mark, followed by Paul Mullaly QC to about 1:06:30, then my presentation from that point on.
Conversation Hour with Jon Faine 19 September 2014
Well, THAT was an experience!
Our section starts as 12.12 The earlier segment involves assisted suicide in Belgium, so if you find that distressing, you may wish to skip ahead.
(Simon Smith, Richard Broome, me and Damien Carrick)