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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Willis, John Walpole

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Willis, John Walpole, first resident judge of Victoria, second son of Captain William Willis, of Badsworth, co. York, by Mary, only daughter and heiress of Robert Hamilton Smyth, of Lismore, co. Down, was born on Jan. 4th, 1793, and educated at the Charterhouse and Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He was called to the English Bar, and married, firstly, on August 8th, 1824, Lady Mary Isabella Lyon, daughter of Thomas, 11th Earl of Strathmore. This marriage was dissolved in 1833; and Mr. Willis married, secondly, on Sept. 15th, 1836, Ann Susanna Kent, eldest daughter of the late Colonel Thomas Henry Bund, of Wick House, co. Worcester. Mr. Willis was author of a well-known treatise on "Equity Pleading"; and in 1827 was appointed Judge of the Supreme Court or Upper Canada. He was deposed from the bench by the Governor, who dissented from a judgment which he delivered impugning the legality of detaining certain political prisoners. He was, however, reinstated on appeal to the King in Council; but did not return to Canada. Mr. Willis was subsequently employed in the West Indies in the adjustment of compensation claims under the Slavery Emancipation Act, and was a judge in British Guiana. He returned to England in 1836; and was subsequently appointed second Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, where he arrived on Nov. 3rd, 1837; and where, whilst his uprightness and legal acumen were respected, his eccentricities were constantly bringing him into collision with the Bar and the authorities. He was appointed Resident Judge of Victoria, where he arrived on March 10th, 1840. In a short time he aroused the ire of the local magnates by attempting to compel the attendance of justices of the peace at the criminal sittings of the Supreme Court, in order that they might be instructed in the exercise of their magisterial functions. He also lectured the members of the Bar upon their private and pecuniary concerns; and at last excited so much hostility that, upon a petition from a number of influential residents, Sir George Gipps summarily suspended him from his judicial functions. This exercise of power was anything but popular with the mass of the population; and when Mr. Willis left Melbourne, on Feb. 13th, 1843, he was escorted to the ship by some four hundred of the inhabitants, who expressed sincere sorrow at the departure of one whom they regarded as no respecter of persons, and an eminently impartial administrator of justice. Mr. Willis, on his return, appealed to the Home Government for redress; but received no compensation beyond the heavy arrears of salary which accrued whilst his case was under consideration. He retired from the practice of the law in 1852, and spent the last years of his life in retirement at Wick House, Worcester, of which county he was a J.P. and D.L. He died on Sept. 10th, 1877.