John Pedder, a shy, ascetic, "gentlemanly" personality, was appointed first Chief Justice of Tasmania in 1823. Even he was surprised; he had been only three years in practice. Probably, his loyalty to the Church of England appealed to the Colonial Office.
The new Chief Justice was shocked by the cost of living in the convict colony of Van Diemen’s Land, the reduced state of society, and the harshness of the dominant penal system. He was acutely conscious of the finality of the death penalty and publicly protested the ill-treatment of Tasmanian Aborigines. In his very first trial, the first held in any Australian Supreme Court, a white man was convicted of the manslaughter of an Aboriginal.
Pedder was, Sir Guy Green states in his foreword, "a competent and enlightened trial judge" whose work had a great impact on the everyday life of the colony.
He was less successful when confronted by the novel and extremely difficult questions of public law which arose as the rule of law was established and challenged in the small and remote colony. As an Executive Councillor, he was notorious for diffident and ambivalent opinions.
Other criticism, that he was a hectoring bully in court, that he "ducked and delayed decisions" in the civil jurisdiction, is shown to be false. His 30 years on the Bench were remarkable for his industry and conscientiousness.
"a most comprehensive and thorough account of Pedder’s life and times [which] makes a significant contribution to the history of Tasmania and Australia generally."Sir Guy Green
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.