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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Dashwood, Charles James (1842–1919)

by Graham Loughlin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Charles James Dashwood (1842-1919), lawyer, politician, public servant and judge, was born on 17 July 1842 at Dashwood's Gully near Kangarilla, South Australia, second son of George Frederick Dashwood, and his wife Sarah, née Loine. In 1852, after attending the Collegiate School of St Peter, Dashwood went overseas and in 1858 studied civil engineering for a year at the University of Ghent, Belgium. He returned to South Australia and worked on the land and as a clerk of courts from 1865. In 1868 he was articled to (Sir) W. H. Bundey and was admitted to the Bar in 1873. They were partners until 1884, then Dashwood practised alone till entering into partnership with C. G. Varley in 1890.

In 1887 Dashwood had won the seat of Noarlunga in the House of Assembly with a parochial but fairly progressive programme. He was a fluent and forceful debater, but reluctant to accept party discipline and rather impulsive. In 1892 he was appointed government resident and judge of the Northern Territory. Next year he authorized the public execution of a convicted Aboriginal, Wandy Wandy, at the scene of his crime and ordered that the gallows should remain standing as a warning.

Dashwood later became dubious of the justice of trying blacks in a language and under a system which they did not understand. He grew concerned to curb their ill treatment by Europeans; by 1896 the Northern Territory Times and Gazette was describing him as 'the personification of kindness in his dealing with aborigines' and in 1898 it applauded his 'practical commonsense' in this area. However, he was often powerless to punish offences because special protection was not afforded to Aborigines under the law; he drafted a bill to regulate and supervise their conditions of employment and to prevent the violation of black women. After a first reading in 1899 in Adelaide, the bill was severely criticized by a select committee, before which Dashwood appeared, and it then lapsed. Pastoralists had lobbied against it. Thereafter Dashwood angered landholders by defending Aboriginals' right to retain access to their hunting-grounds and watering-holes. He also alienated 'White Australia' supporters, by advocating limited Asian immigration to the Northern Territory to an 1895 South Australian commission and in a 1902 report on pearl-shelling. The Commonwealth's subsequent policy of allowing the licensed entry of non-European divers stemmed from this report.

In 1904 Dashwood resigned, after a longer administration than any other government resident. Next year he became South Australia's crown solicitor, 'to the surprise and disappointment of the legal profession'. In 1906 on Sir Samuel Way's recommendation he was appointed K.C., which was equally surprising in view of Way's earlier opinion that he was 'scatter-brained'. Dashwood performed creditably until his retirement in 1915.

On 5 February 1916 he married Martha Margarethe Johanna Klevesahl; the marriage was childless. He had earlier fathered an ex-nuptial son who was born in 1892. Dashwood died on 8 July 1919 and was buried in Meadows cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £3867. His nature, though satirical, was kindly, but he generally favoured a 'picturesque method of denouncing everything of which he disapproved'.

Select Bibliography

  • Observer (Adelaide), 3 May 1890, 27 July 1895, 12 July 1919
  • Northern Territory Times and Gazette, 27 Mar 1896
  • G. Loughlin, South Australian Queen's Counsel 1865-1972 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Adelaide, 1974)
  • P. Elder, Northern Territory Charlie: Charles James Dashwood in Palmerston 1892-1905 (B.A. Hons thesis, Australian National University, 1979).

Citation details

Graham Loughlin, 'Dashwood, Charles James (1842–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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