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Cheeke, Alfred (1810–1876)

by H. T. E. Holt

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Alfred Cheeke (1810-1876), by unknown photographer, 1870s

Alfred Cheeke (1810-1876), by unknown photographer, 1870s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24152668

Alfred Cheeke (1810-1876), judge, was born on 10 March 1810 at Evesham, Worcestershire, England, youngest of eight children of John Mosley Gilbert Cheeke, solicitor and senior magistrate for the County of Worcester, and a lineal descendant of Sir John Cheke, first regius professor of Greek in the University of Cambridge, tutor and later secretary of state to Edward VI. After education by private tutors and at the University of Cambridge, Alfred was called to the Bar of the Middle Temple on 29 January 1836, joined the Oxford Circuit but, finding the English forensic arena overcrowded, determined to seek one less thronged.

With prospects of advancement in New South Wales, he arrived there in October 1837 with a strong letter of commendation from Lord Glenelg to Sir George Gipps. On 10 November he was admitted to the Bar of New South Wales and made a magistrate in 1838. In March 1841 he was appointed a commissioner for reporting upon claims to grants of land and in June was appointed a crown prosecutor in the Courts of Quarter Sessions. In this position he had to attend country districts and was able to indulge his fondness for equestrian travel. In January 1844 he and other public officers were displaced when the estimates were reduced by the Legislative Council but he continued to perform the duties of crown prosecutor and in the supplementary estimates the council again voted him his full salary of £600. In September and in 1851-57 he was chairman of Quarter Sessions and in February 1845 appointed commissioner of the Court of Requests for the County of Cumberland. In these positions his justice, patience and mildness won him public acclaim and his conduct was said to have brought him more friends and fewer enemies than any other public officer in the colony. When the District Courts' Act of 1858 came into force he was the first judge appointed and presided mainly in the Sydney District Court until 1865. The only time that Cheeke sought to enter politics was in 1856 when he unsuccessfully contested the Cook and Westmoreland electorate against James Martin. Always a keen patron of the turf, he bred and raced horses under the assumed name of 'A. Chaffe' and about 1855 entered into partnership with 'Honest' John Tait; their most successful horses were Zoe and Zingira. When the Australian Jockey Club initiated the Derby in 1865 his horse Clove won the event.

On 22 June 1865 Cheeke was appointed a puisne judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. He and John Fletcher Hargrave were sworn in together by the chief justice; the appointments were against the wishes of the Bar and, although forty attorneys attended the swearing-in ceremony and the court was crowded with members of the general public, the barristers' table remained empty. The conduct of the Bar was described as an 'exhibition of disappointed vanity and unavailing ill-temper' arising from the ambition of certain members of the Bar for the vacant judgeships. Cheeke's genial disposition and worldly wisdom, however, prevented the incident from adversely affecting him and his reported judgments indicate a sensible and practical approach. He presided at many civil and criminal trials, including that of Henry O'Farrell whom he sentenced to death for seriously wounding the Duke of Edinburgh at Clontarf in 1868.

Before leaving for Europe on sick leave in 1875 he received an illuminated address signed by fifty-eight prominent solicitors, conveying their felicitations, thanking him for his invariable kindness and courtesy, and expressing their appreciation of his uprightness and sense of honour which had been characteristic of the whole of his judicial career. Soon after his return and before resuming his judicial duties, he became seriously ill and on 14 March 1876 died from 'suppressed gout' at his residence in Darling Point Road, adjoining the rectory of St Mark's Church. He was unmarried and his name incorrectly appears as Cheek on his tomb in St Jude's cemetery, Randwick.

Cheeke was not reputed to be a great lawyer but to possess great experience, a large share of common sense and a knowledge of the world. He was noted for his punctuality in court, expected others to be equally so and dispatched an enormous amount of work each day with satisfaction to the profession and suitors.

Select Bibliography

  • ‘The Commissioner of the Court of Requests’, Heads of the People, vol 2, 4 Mar 1848, pp 151-52
  • New South Wales Government Gazette, 22 Dec 1858 extraordinary
  • J. A. Dowling, ‘Potts' Point, Darling Point and Neighbourhood: In the Early Days’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 2, part 3, 1906, pp 52-69
  • J. A. Dowling, ‘The Judiciary’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 2, part 4, 1906-07, pp 89-93 and vol 2, part 5, 1907, pp 97-116
  • Empire (Sydney), 27 June 1865
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6 Feb 1875, 18 Mar 1876
  • Governor's dispatches 1841-43 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Governor Gipps, Dispatches 1841, 1845 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • J. S. Dowling, Reminiscences of Judge Dowling, 1827-1890 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Alfred Cheeke papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

H. T. E. Holt, 'Cheeke, Alfred (1810–1876)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cheeke-alfred-3197/text4801, published in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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