Introducing his May it Please Your Honour, a history of the Supreme Court of Western Australia (with Geraldine Byrne, 2005), the eminent Australian historian Geoffrey Bolton wrote that readers would “encounter the law in Western Australia not as a bloodless study … but as a vigorous and lively contributor to the health of a democratic society”.
The present authors confront a similar problem as readers in the early 21st century seem to find judicial biography of distant Australian years to be too remote to be interesting and to be too legal for historians and too historical for lawyers. That prima facie impression has proved repeatedly to have been an error of judgement – especially when made without reading the relevant volumes.
That is a pity as, of the 17 subjects in this series, nearly all lived interesting lives in exciting times that contain many lessons for the future. Sir Francis Villeneuve Smith, the present subject, is no exception. But, unlike other Australian Chief Justices of the 19th century, he was the offspring of an English merchant and a very dark-skinned Haitian woman. He inherited her sable complexion and suffered outrageous taunts and slurs on that account throughout his remarkable career.
Born in Haiti (1819) but educated in London and called to the English Bar he was a prize-winning scholar who, to general surprise, returned to the semi-rural estate his father created near Hobart.
Admitted to the Tasmanian Bar, F. V. Smith was an immediate success professionally and politically, being fourth Premier (post Responsible Government); Supreme Court Judge 1860-1870; and Chief Justice 1870-1885. His adventures along the way make for absorbing reading while again revealing important ingredients in the “health of a democratic society”.
This book celebrates the bicentenary of Sir Francis Villeneuve Smith’s birth.
**Listen to interview: Professor Stefan Petrow on ABC Radio Hobart What made our 4th premier so controversial?, Weekends with Joel Rheinberger_20 April 2019 Click here
The Tasmanian State Set of Lives of Australian Chief Justices, which includes, Sir John Pedder, Sir Valentine Fleming and Sir Francis Villeneuve Smith is available for $130.00 – to order the Tasmanian State Set, click here.