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Hodges, Sir Henry Edward (1844–1919)

by J. McI. Young

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Henry Edward Agincourt Hodges (1844-1919), by unknown engraver

Henry Edward Agincourt Hodges (1844-1919), by unknown engraver

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN09/03/89/39

Sir Henry Edward Agincourt Hodges (1844-1919), judge, was born on 14 October 1844 in Liverpool, England, fifth child of Henry Hodges and his wife Eliza, née Van Wyck. The father, formerly a ship's captain, brought his family to Australia in 1854 and went to the Bendigo goldfields, where he took up teaching. After early education in the Bendigo district Hodges entered Melbourne Church of England Grammar School in 1863 where he spent two years and played in the first XI. In 1865 he enrolled at the University of Melbourne to study arts and law but completed only the arts course, having been delayed for one year by his rustication for assisting a fellow student in an examination; he graduated B.A. in April 1870. He then acted as private tutor to the families of J. G. Francis and Sir William Stawell and, although he had originally intended to enter the Anglican ministry, resumed study of the law. In 1873 he became a member of Trinity College in the University of Melbourne and on 9 December was called to the Bar. He read as a pupil in the chambers of (Sir) Hartley Williams and at a time when there was much legal business in the colony quickly established a substantial practice. He showed marked ability and became a strong advocate.

Hodges was appointed an acting judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria on 12 February 1889 during the absence on leave of Mr Justice Webb. His appointment, made permanent on 20 January 1890 on the death of Mr Justice Kerferd, was well received. He became a strong judge, clear and definite in his opinions. His judgments were severely logical. A rapid worker, he took notes of evidence in shorthand, a practice not common among judges. He could sit for long hours without showing fatigue. Yet he did not escape criticism from the Bar. His temper could be violent and he had little sense of humour. He had developed a sharpness of manner, sometimes extending to biting sarcasm, which on occasion made the presentation of argument difficult, and he was quick to resent whatever he perceived as impertinence. In spite of his demeanour, he was often emotional and this quality, whilst it led to humane sentences in criminal cases, also led to unwarranted outbursts in court. He was apt to react most strongly against any witness who was thought to have departed from the truth.

In 1913 the committee of the Bar on the motion of (Sir) Hayden Starke and W. J. Schutt passed a resolution deploring the violent discourtesy of Hodges towards litigants, witnesses and members of the legal profession and recording the opinion that his conduct was most detrimental to the administration of justice. A copy of the resolution was forwarded to Hodges and thereafter there were no more formal complaints. The same qualities however led to his being conspicuously fair when presiding over a criminal trial: his responsibilities bore heavily upon him. In 1892 he presided over the trial of the notorious murderer F. B. Deeming.

In 1901 whilst on a visit to England Hodges represented the Commonwealth government at a conference in London on the establishment of an Imperial Court of Federal Appeal. He advanced the view that there should be only one court of final appeal which should have vested in it the jurisdiction of the House of Lords and of the Privy Council.

A staunch Anglican and a very religious man, he was chancellor of the diocese of Melbourne from 1889 until 1909 and made many earnest fearless addresses to synod. Virtute officii he was a member of the Council of Melbourne Grammar for the same period. Hodges became first president of the Old Melburnians' society in 1895 and made many brilliant speeches at its gatherings. He chaired and addressed the first Pleasant Sunday Afternoon in Wesley Church, Melbourne, in 1893. At all times he spoke deliberately, earnestly and incisively. He was knighted in June 1918 and was a member of the Melbourne Club.

Hodges married on 8 January 1879 at Chalmers Presbyterian Church, East Melbourne, Margaret, sister of William Knox. They had two sons, one of whom died on active service in World War I, and two daughters who married and lived in England. His first wife died in 1908 and he married on 27 November 1909 Alice Belinda, widow of Robert Chirnside of Caramballac and daughter of Joseph Ware.

Hodges lived in a substantial mansion, Homeden, Lansell Road, Toorak. He was a keen gardener and played a little tennis. He also had a country house, Dreamthorpe, Macedon, and was a popular and respected figure in that district. He died at Dreamthorpe on 8 August 1919 after a short illness and was buried in Boroondara cemetery after a service at St Paul's Cathedral.

Select Bibliography

  • J. L. Forde, The Story of the Bar of Victoria (Melb, 1913)
  • Melb C of E Grammar School, Liber Melburniensis (Melb, 1914)
  • P. A. Jacobs, Judges of Yesterday (Melb, 1924), and A Lawyer Tells (Melb, 1949)
  • M. B. Brookes, Riders of Time (Melb, 1967)
  • J. S. O'Sullivan, A Most Unique Ruffian (Melb, 1968)
  • A. Dean, A Multitude of Counsellors (Melb, 1968)
  • J. A. Grant (ed), Perspective of a Century (Melb, 1972)
  • Australian Law Times, 19 Apr 1902
  • Punch (Melbourne), 24 Sept 1903
  • Argus (Melbourne), 9 Aug 1919.

Citation details

J. McI. Young, 'Hodges, Sir Henry Edward (1844–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hodges-sir-henry-edward-1092/text11549, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 23 October 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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