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Chomley, Arthur Wolfe (1837–1914)

by A. L. Read

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

Arthur Wolfe Chomley (1837-1914), judge, was born on 4 May 1837 at Wicklow, Ireland, the fifth son of Rev. Francis Chomley, vicar of Wicklow, and his wife Mary Elizabeth, née Griffith, ward of Lord Downes, chief justice of Ireland, with whom she resided after her father's death until her marriage. After eighteen years of happy married life Francis Chomley died in 1847 and his widow decided to take her seven sons to Australia. She arrived at Port Phillip in February 1849 in the Stag with her sons, and soon afterwards built a home in High Street, Prahran, where the family lived for some years.

Like his brothers, Chomley was educated at Richard Budd's school, St Peter's, on Eastern Hill, Melbourne. In 1853 he joined the public service of Victoria as a cadet in the Crown Law Department. He studied law at the University of Melbourne and was called to the Victorian Bar in 1863. In February 1862 he had been appointed secretary to the Crown Law Department, an office he held for eight years. In July 1870 he was appointed a Crown prosecutor and soon won distinction by the fair manner in which he carried out his duties. In one action the prisoner tried to establish an alibi by claiming that he was at a certain hotel when the alleged crime was committed. In cross examination Chomley asked how he was so sure of the time he was at the hotel. In reply the prisoner distinctly remembered looking at the clock on the wall of the hotel. He was then invited to look at the clock in the court and say what time it was. After some hesitation he had to admit that he could not tell the time on any clock.

On 28 July 1885 Chomley was appointed a County Court judge. Outside his strictly judicial duties he was appointed chairman of the Board of Examiners of the Public Service and of the Public Service Reclassification Board. However, he was best remembered as a judge not only by the legal profession but by the community in general. Patient and courteous to all who appeared in his court, he was also a sound lawyer and a good judge of facts. Nothing seemed to ruffle his judicial serenity and in his court displays of ill temper were rare. His only idiosyncrasy appears to have been his avidity for taking notes, his court notebooks giving a full record of cases that came before him. In May 1906 he was appointed an acting justice of the Supreme Court while the chief justice, Sir John Madden, was on six months leave. Chomley returned to the County Court bench and in November 1910 retired after fifty-seven continuous years in the public service.

On 4 September 1867 he had married Juliana Charlotte Hogg; they had four sons, two of whom died in infancy, and five daughters. His wife died on 14 August 1896. Chomley died at his home in Bruce Street, Toorak, on 25 November 1914. Next day in the Supreme Court and in the County Court high tributes were paid to his memory.

Select Bibliography

  • J. L. Forde, The Story of the Bar of Victoria (Melb, 1913)
  • P. A. Jacobs, Judges of Yesterday (Melb, 1924)
  • A. Henderson (ed), Australian Families, vol 1 (Melb, 1941)
  • Age (Melbourne), 26 Nov 1914
  • Argus (Melbourne), 26 Nov 1914.

Citation details

A. L. Read, 'Chomley, Arthur Wolfe (1837–1914)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/chomley-arthur-wolfe-3204/text4817, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 19 November 2017.

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

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