Open main menu

The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Hanson, Hon. Sir Richard Davies

< The Dictionary of Australasian Biography

Hanson, Hon. Sir Richard Davies, sometime Chief Justice of South Australia, was the second son of R. Hanson, and was born in St. Botolph's Lane, London, where his father was a fruit merchant and importer, on Dec. 6th, 1805. He was educated at a private school at Melbourne, in Cambridgeshire, and was admitted an attorney and solicitor in London in 1828. From 1830 to 1834 he co-operated with Mr. (afterwards Sir) George Kingston, Mr. (afterwards Sir) John Morphett, Mr. John Brown, and others, in promoting Mr. Wakefield's scheme for the colonisation of South Australia, and addressed meetings in its favour, until legislative sanction was at last given in the latter year. He contributed to the Globe and Morning Chronicle, and was appointed by Lord Durham Assistant Commissioner to inquire into Crown Lands and Immigration in Canada. In this capacity he accompanied Lord Durham to that colony, and conducted an investigation, the results of which were subsequently embodied in a report signed by the late Charles Buller, as head of the Commission, and laid before Parliament. On the death of Lord Durham, to whom he had acted as private secretary, in 1840, Mr. Hanson went with the first contingent of settlers to Port Nicholson (Wellington), N.Z., where he was one of the council appointed by the colonists to control the administration of justice in the infant community. British sovereignty was subsequently formally proclaimed, and at the end of 1841 Mr. Hanson was appointed Crown Prosecutor at Wellington. He also edited the New Zealand Colonist. Five years later he resigned that post, and settled in South Australia, where he practised at the Adelaide bar. In 1851 he was returned to the partially elective Legislative Council for Yatala; but before he could take his seat he was appointed Advocate-General, and thus became an official member of the Council. In Oct. 1856 he was appointed Attorney-General, and held the post under responsible government till August 1857. In March of that year he was returned to the Assembly for the city of Adelaide, and held the seat till his appointment to the bench in Nov. 1861. In Sept. 1857 Mr. Hanson became Premier of South Australia, with the portfolio of Attorney-General, and held office till May 1860. When Sir Charles Cooper, the first Chief Justice of the colony, retired in the next year, Mr. Hanson was appointed his successor. In 1869 he revisited England, and was knighted by the Queen in July. From Dec. 1872 to June 1873 he administered the government from the departure of Sir James Fergusson to the arrival of Sir Anthony Musgrave. In the following year, when the University of Adelaide was constituted, he was elected the first Chancellor, and held the office until his death on March 4th, 1876. Trained in Nonconformity (it being asserted that he was a pupil of the late Thomas Binney), Sir Richard was thoroughly in accord with the principles of civil and religions freedom which inspired the founders of South Australia, and only accepted the position of Advocate-General in 1851 on the understanding that he was permitted complete liberty of action in regard to the vexed question of State aid to religion. Voting against his official colleagues, he formed one of the triumphant majority which put an end to the grant in South Australia. In 1852 he passed the District Councils Act, which formed the basis of all subsequent measures of local self-government in the colony. He also carried the first act adopted in the Australian colonies for legalising marriage with a deceased wife's sister, and introduced the measure, since copied in England and the other colonies, abolishing the public execution of criminals. He at first opposed the Torrens Real Property Act, but directly the principle had been affirmed by the South Australian Legislature he exerted his utmost endeavours to effectuate its operation. It should have been premised that Sir Richard took a prominent part in the agitation for securing responsible government for South Australia, and drafted the act under which it was granted in 1856. He was the author of "Law in Nature, and other Papers read before the Adelaide Philosophical Society" (1865), "The Jesus of History" (Williams & Norgate, 1869), "Letters to and from Rome" (Williams & Norgate, 1869), and "The Apostle Paul and the Preaching of Christianity in the Primitive Church" (1875). In all of these works the criticisms of modern rationalism were applied to the miraculous narratives of the Biblical writers.