This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969
Charles William Blakeney (1802-1876), judge and politician, was born at Cooltigue Castle, County Roscommon, Ireland, and baptized on 15 July 1802, the eldest son of Rev. Thomas Blakeney, rector of Roscommon, and his wife Alicia, daughter of Archbishop William Newcome, primate of Ireland. In January 1820 he entered Trinity College, Dublin, but left without taking a degree. In 1826 he married Ellen Frances, daughter and coheir of John Jeffries of Blarney Castle, County Cork. He was called to the Bar in London in 1831 and became a barrister in Ireland in 1836. In 1845 he inherited the family property, Holywell, in Roscommon, but his extravagance and gambling debts forced him to place it with the Encumbered Estates Court. Joining his eldest son William Theophilus (1832-1898) in New South Wales in 1859, Blakeney quickly achieved success in the Northern Circuit Court of Moreton Bay as a barrister.
In mid-1859 Blakeney settled in Brisbane and was elected to the first Legislative Assembly in May 1860 for the Brisbane electorate. As a 'legal member' Blakeney invariably debated judicial matters before the assembly and served as chairman of committees in 1861-63. As a 'liberal' he believed in National education but also advocated state aid to denominational schools, attempted to introduce triennial parliaments and pressed for electoral reform, arguing that in this squatter-dominated parliament Brisbane had a third of the population but only a quarter of the representatives. In the 1863 select committee on the operation and working of the Immigration Acts Blakeney joined the chairman, George Raff, in recommending the continuance of a land order system which brought men with some capital to the colony, but the government wanted only labouring immigrants. Blakeney was elected to the second parliament in July 1863, but resigned on 1 December 1865 on being appointed first judge of the Western District Court which covered Condamine, Roma and Dalby. As presiding judge Blakeney was involved in the notorious Bowen Downs cattle-stealing case on which Rolf Boldrewood based an episode in Robbery Under Arms.
In 1870 over a thousand cattle disappeared from the Bowen Downs station, near Longreach. Six men were indicted; at the first trial they were acquitted by the jury on the grounds that the evidence was largely circumstantial; at the second trial the case broke down and did not go to the jury. One of the accused, Henry Redford, could not be traced for the first two trials but was finally apprehended in 1872. After detention for a year he was brought to trial in February 1873 and refused bail by the Roma bench, an action which Judge Alfred Lutwyche considered to be 'grievous oppression'. At the trial the case against Redford seemed clear. It was supposed that he and others took the cattle from Bowen Downs but only one beast, a valuable white bull, was identified. It was seen by an agent for Bowen Downs in South Australia in the possession of Walke, who swore that he bought the bull from Redford and that Redford signed a receipt as Henry Collins. When the jury returned a verdict of not guilty, Blakeney commented: 'Thank God, gentlemen, that the verdict is yours, not mine'.
The southern press, particularly the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Argus, attacked the verdict. In letters to the Brisbane press members of the jury justified their verdict on the grounds that the witnesses were unreliable. One juryman blamed the judge, claiming that he was prejudiced and too severe. In parliament William Miles claimed that 'Judge Blakeney tried his cases in the coffee rooms of public-houses, and made remarks as to what he should do with certain persons if they came before him'.
In April 1873 the government reacted to these adverse comments by depriving Roma of criminal jurisdiction in the District Court for eight months. This deprivation roused much criticism of government interference, the Roma juries and the unsuitability of Blakeney as judge. In August 1875 Blakeney resigned after a paralytic stroke. He wandered from his son's home, Cooltigue, at South Brisbane on 12 January 1876 and his body was found in the Brisbane River two days later. The coroner returned an open verdict.
Blakeney's wife, Ellen, died in Queensland on 7 April 1897, aged 96. Of their three children, William Theophilus became registrar-general in Queensland in 1883, Charles John was admitted to the Queensland Bar in 1871 and represented Redford in the Bowen Downs case, and a daughter Alicia died in 1876.
Jacqueline Bell, 'Blakeney, Charles William (1802–1876)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/blakeney-charles-william-3012/text4409, published in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 8 March 2014.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969