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Member Details

Sir William Westbrooke BURTON (1794 - 1888)

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Date of Birth: 31/01/1794
Place of Birth: Daventry, Northamptonshire, England
Date of Death: 06/08/1888
Place of Death: London, England
Parliamentary Service
Position Start End Period Notes
Member of the NSW Legislative Council 11 Aug 1857 10 May 1861 3 years 9 months Quinquennial appointment under the Constitution Act; Date of Writ of Summons 9 July 1857
President of the Legislative Council 09 Feb 1858 10 May 1861 3 years 3 months 2 days
Political Party Activity
Community Activity
Qualifications, occupations and interests
Lawyer (barrister). Educated at Daventry Grammar School. Was a retired Judge when he was appointed to the Legislative Council. Early career was in the Royal Navy, which he entered as a midshipman in 1807. Sailed to Lisbon, Cadiz, the Canaries, the Mediterannean, West Indies, China and the East. Called to the Bar at Inner Temple in 1824. Recorder at Daventry and President of the Local Court of Quarter Sessions 1826 - 1827. Conveyancer and a special pleader. Became a second puisine judge at the Cape of Good Hope in 1828 and a judge to the New South Wales Supreme Court in 1832. Took leave to travel to Great Britain in 1839 to 1841. Returned to New South Wales in 1832 and became a judge of the Supreme Court in Madras in 1844 . Returned to Sydney in 1857. Resigned from the Legislative Council after the 'swamping' in 1861 and left New South Wales in disgust.
Military Service
Active service in the Royal Navy at New Orleans and Toulon, where he was wounded.
Honours Received
Knight Bachelor in 1844.
Membership of other Parliaments & Offices Held
Local Government Activity
Son of Edmond Burton, solicitor and town clerk, and Elizabeth Mather. Married (1) Margaret Smith on 15 April 1827 and had no issue. Married (2) Maria Alphonsine West and had no issue. Church of England.
Additional Information
Biography and portrait in ‘Australian Men of Mark’, Volume 1. Sydney, [?1889] , page 57 Personal papers in the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales: Sir William Westbrook Burton - correspondence 1832 - 1838 (MLMSS 834); Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume one Text from the book "The Presiding Officers of Parliament of New South Wales" Sydney 1995 William Burton was born on 31 January 1794 in Northamptonshire, England. He married twice, first to Margaret Smith in 1827 and secondly (date unknown) to Maria West. He had no children. Educated in England, Burton served in the Navy for several years before completing his legal studies. During his appointment to the Supreme Court at the Cape of Good Hope, he met Governor Bourke and accepted his offer of a position on the Supreme Court of New South Wales. Upon arriving in New South Wales in 1832, Burton was appalled by what he considered a lack of religious direction in the colony. Yet despite his religious fervour Burton came under attack for intolerant displays towards Catholics in his court room. He played an important role in the formation of early colonial law, although he tended to adhere closely to examples as set by English law. Burton provided two important judicial decisions in relation to the status of Aboriginals under English law, arguing through his rulings that if Aboriginals were to be subject to English law, then they should also be protected by it. Burton left New South Wales for India for a period of thirteen years, as a Judge of the Supreme Court in Madras, and although little is known of his life throughout that period, his first wife died suddenly and he remarried. Returning to Australia in 1857, he was appointed to the Legislative Council and the following year was appointed President. His dramatic resignation as both President and a Member of the House caused a great sensation. In an attempt to ease the Robertson Land Bill through the upper house, Premier Cowper attempted to appoint twenty one new members to the Legislative Council without consulting Burton. Although the Bill had successfully passed through the lower house it had been rejected by the upper house. Following Burton's resignation, John Robertson resigned his lower house seat and was nominated to the Legislative Council where he secured the passage of the Bill. Burton left Sydney in disgust in 1861 and returned to London where he died on 6 August 1888. Politics, Ideology and the New South Wales Legislative Council 1856-72 (PhD thesis, University of Sydney, 1962.)