Archibald Burt

Archibald Burt

Sir Archibald Paull Burt Kt QC (1810 - 21 November 1879) was a British lawyer from the colonies of the West Indies and was the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Western Australia, which is the highest ranking court in the Australian State of Western Australia.


Archibald Paull Burt was born in 1810, in St Christopher (present day St Kitts and Nevis) in the West Indies. He was the son of Hon. George Henry Burt, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of St. Christopher and a sugar planter. He was educated in England where he qualified as a lawyer at the Middle Temple. He returned to his native island in 1835 where he practised as a barrister. In 1848 he was made Attorney General of St Christopher and Anguilla and Queen's Counsel.

In 1857 he briefly occupied the position of Chief Justice on his native island but the appointment was not confirmed by the Colonial Office as policy did not favour the appointment of locally born barristers to the judiciary. Sir Archibald began to look elsewhere for judicial office, eventually accepting the post of Civil Commissioner and Chairman of Quarter Sessions in Western Australia. He had hoped that this would be a stepping stone to returning to his native island at a later date.

He arrived in Western Australia with his wife, Louisa Bryan, and six children (he would have a seventh in Western Australia) on 29 January 1861. In June of that year the Supreme Court ordinance was proclaimed, thus establishing the Supreme Court of Western Australia. Sir Archibald was appointed Chief Justice and Advocate General.

The initial years of the Supreme Court were characterised mainly by the lack of work. Western Australia was a small colony with few legal issues. Civil work consisted mainly of insolvency and probate and criminal offences were rare. The size of the profession was so small that only four barristers actively practised in Perth in the early 1860s.

In the early years of the court Sir Archibald was conspicuous for his support of maintaining the division between barristers and solicitors and also for his domination of the legal fraternity. He often gave advice to the Governor and Executive Council that was at odds with that of the Attorney General, George Stone.

As Chief Justice Sir Archibald gained a reputation for applying the letter of the law. However, considering the conditions of a frontier colony like Western Australia this was necessary and gained Burt widespread respect. He was no stranger to controversy in his time as Chief Justice. In 1869 he jailed three newspaper owners for criticism of his handling of the revocation of an ex-convict's ticket of leave. Despite widespread criticism of this action Sir Archibald remained implaccable in his defence of his duty to protect the integrity of the Court.

As his tenure continued Sir Archibald gave up any hope of returning to the West Indies and, despite failing health during his last years, remained Chief Justice until his death in November, 1879. He had been a towering figure in Western Australian society and had left an indelible mark on the legal profession. Sir Archibald had not courted popularity but he had earned, for himself and the new Supreme Court, widespread respect.

The Burt family would continue to be part of Western Australia's legal profession for years to come. Sir Archibald's son, Septimus, would serve as Attorney General and sometime Acting Premier in the early years of responsible government in Western Australia and a century later his great-grandson, Sir Francis Burt would serve as Chief Justice, Lieutenant Governor and Governor. The family also continued its influence and presence in Perth society in inter-marriage with other members of the Six hungry families.


* Geoffrey Bolton & Geraldine Byrne, "May it Please Your Honour: A History of the Supreme Court of Western Australia from 1861-2005", Supreme Court of Western Australia, Perth, 2005

Further reading

* (1989) "Archibald Burt - detailed biography" Brief (Law Society of Western Australia), June 1989, p.24-27
* McClemans, Sheila Mary (1966) "Archibald Paull Burt, first Chief Justice of Western Australia". Journal and proceedings (Western Australian Historical Society), Vol. VI Pt. V (1966), p. 65-83,

Family papers

* Burt, Archibald Paull, Sir, "Papers, 1861-1895 [microform] " Battye Library, MN 736, Papers of Sir Archibald Paull Burt, ACC 2829A, 2850A, 2855A Library catalogues descriptin: Business and official letter books (1861-1895), the copy letters written after 4 November 1879 being written by his son and executor Septimus Burt; indexes to Supreme Court Civil Sittings and Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Books 1-11 (incomplete); notebooks of Supreme Court Civil Sittings (1861-1867), of Supreme Court Civil Sittings and Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes (1867-1879) and of Supreme Court Criminal Sittings (1861-1879)

ee also

* Judiciary of Australia

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