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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gurner, John (1792–1882)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

John Gurner (1792-1882), solicitor, was born on 3 August 1792 in England of East Anglian stock. In 1816 he was appointed clerk to Barron Field, the newly appointed judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, and arrived in Sydney with his wife in the Lord Melville in February 1817. He immediately took up his position and was paid a salary of £80, with a sixth of the court fees received by him, and single rations as a civil officer. Field recommended him to Governor Lachlan Macquarie in April 'as a small settler, for he is a very respectable man and has a very nice wife'. Accordingly he received a grant of 400 acres (162 ha) at Cabramatta together with other benefits in the way of stock and assigned servants.

On the closure of the old court in 1824 Gurner was appointed chief clerk of the new Supreme Court where he temporarily performed the duties of master and registrar in lieu of the unfortunate G. G. Mills. He left the service of the Crown early in 1841 and entered into partnership with a practising solicitor, much to his pecuniary advantage. Gurner was a very conscientious official and several judges paid tribute to his industry and ability. (Sir) Francis Forbes warmly supported his application for a salary increase in February 1829; the judges of the Supreme Court recommended him to Governor Sir George Gipps for promotion in June 1838, and in December 1841 Sir James Dowling suggested to Gipps that Gurner, admirably qualified by 'his long service, indefatigable industry, ability and experience', be appointed prothonotary. In spite of these strong representations Gurner was not appointed to a higher office and remained in private practice. In February 1842 he was gazetted to practise in the Court of Requests and was appointed a commissioner of the Supreme Court in July 1844. His advice and opinion were often sought on the administrative side of the legal profession. He was examined in detail by the select committees of the legislature on insolvent debtors and imprisonment for debt bills in 1838, and in 1846 on the division of the legal profession abolition bill, which he favoured. In September 1848 as an attorney and solicitor of the Supreme Court he was appointed to the commission for inquiry into the constitution and practice of the law courts.

In December 1826 Gurner sought an additional land grant, claiming that he had cultivated 40 acres (16 ha), and cleared and fenced about 80 acres (32 ha) of his original grant on which he was running cattle and horses; he also had a house and premises in Sydney which cost more than £900. He solicited further indulgences in October 1831 and in September 1832 he received a small grant at Rushcutters Bay in place of a Sydney allotment promised by Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane. In 1835 and 1836 he bought some seven acres (2.8 ha) also at Rushcutters Bay for about £280. In private life he was a close friend of Dr William Bland and a collector of Australiana, especially early newspapers.

He had at least eight children by his wife, Rebecca Ann, whom he married in 1814; his second child, Henry Field (1819-1883), was the first attorney admitted to practise on the inauguration of the Supreme Court in Melbourne in 1841, sometime clerk and deputy-registrar of that court and clerk of the peace and first crown solicitor of Victoria from 1842 to 1880. A daughter, Mary (1822-1872), married William Charles Wills (1807-1871), a secretary to the Board of National Education. John Gurner died a wealthy man at his home, Duxford, Glenmore Road, Paddington, on 17 July 1882 and was buried in the Congregational section of the old Devonshire Street cemetery. His wife, aged 92, died on 9 June 1881.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 9-10, 13-16, 19, 21, 25-26, series 4, vol 1
  • J. A. Gurner, Life's Panorama (Melb, 1930)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1838, p 373-78, 1846, p 387-99
  • CSO, letters re land, 2/2067 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Gurner, John (1792–1882)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 27 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

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