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Horne, Thomas (1800–1870)

by Mary Nicholls

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Thomas Horne (1800-1870), judge, was born on 8 June 1800 at Chiswick, Middlesex, England, eldest son of Rev. Thomas Horne and his wife Cecilia Clementina Eliza, née Zoffany; his grandfather was keeper of the Manor House School, Chiswick. Educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford (B.A., 1822; M.A., 1825), he entered Lincoln's Inn and was called to the Bar in February 1827. Recommended by the Colonial Office through his uncle Sir William, he arrived at Hobart Town in the William on 31 January 1830 with his wife Maria née Hyriott, whom he had married in 1826, and two daughters. He was admitted to practise in the Supreme Court and set up chambers in Murray Street. Within a year he was engaged in lively politics. At first he supported Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur's campaign against the Aboriginals but soon joined the anti-Arthurites after a slight at Government House. He was a leader of every movement against the government and was editor of the malcontents' Colonist until March 1833. At a meeting on 28 February 1835 'he proposed to bring here and set at liberty every man who was convicted of crime in England', a statement that shocked even his radical friends.

This recklessness also pervaded Horne's business affairs. His speculations led him into debt and to pay one creditor he had to borrow from another. He was forced to sell his grant at Cape Portland and purchased lots at Battery Point and Glenorchy, and later admitted to losses of £20,000 in trading with New Zealand and £2000 in other investments. His brother Alfred, who arrived at Hobart in November 1831, was also involved and when his capital was lost he too sold his grant at Cape Portland.

Increasing debts and the needs of his large family forced Horne to accept the post of solicitor-general in January 1841; he also acted as attorney-general when Edward McDowell was dismissed in July until Thomas Welsh was appointed in November. Erstwhile friends of the True Colonist claimed that his financial troubles had placed him in the power of the ruling clique, but he was even more deeply in debt when in December 1843 he offered his resignation to Lieutenant-Governor Sir Eardley Wilmot in order to claim the benefit of the Insolvent Act. The lieutenant-governor refused to accept his resignation and offered him every possible assistance, including the post of attorney-general next March when Welsh was dismissed for duelling.

With a salary of £900 and the right to private practice, Horne's prospects seemed more settled but, when he replaced Algernon Montagu as puisne judge in January 1848, much criticism was levelled at his financial embarrassment. The appointment was challenged in the press and the Supreme Court, but upheld by the chief justice, Sir John Pedder. Lieutenant-Governor Sir William Denison ignored the criticism of his puisne judge but in 1854 when Pedder retired Denison recommended the solicitor-general, Valentine Fleming, as chief justice, arguing that Horne's independence of judgment was threatened by his precarious finances. Despite Horne's protests and a petition with more than 2500 signatures, Fleming's appointment was confirmed by the Colonial Office.

With the advent of responsible government, Horne was elected to the Legislative Council as member for Hobart, and a special Act was passed in January 1857 to enable him as a judge to be also president of the council without salary. In September 1860 he was attacked in the council by William Archer over the judgment of the acting chief justice, Robert Molesworth in the case of Horne v. Gilles in the Supreme Court of Victoria. The judge found that Horne and his cousin Francis Sharpe Horne had exerted undue influence on the latter's father in the execution of his will. At the same time Joseph Solomon alleged that, while a plaintiff in a suit to be heard before Horne, he had been approached by Horne for a loan of £500 which he had refused. To prevent his amoval, Horne resigned and an Act was hurriedly passed to grant him a full pension of £800 though he had been a judge for only thirteen of the fifteen statutory years.

This unusual action caused some indignation but did not prevent Horne from topping the poll for Hobart in the House of Assembly elections in May 1861. In July an appeal by F. S. Horne against the judgment in Horne v. Gilles was upheld and with his cousin he was cleared of any fault but imprudence. Horne served in the assembly until 1866. Aged 70 he died at his home in Collins Street on 23 September 1870 and was buried at St David's burial ground. He left no real property; his large house in Fitzroy Place had been sold in 1857 and other investments had gone to pay creditors. Even his detractors acknowledged his 'benevolence and kindness of character' and although not brilliant as lawyer or judge he was competent and painstaking in his profession.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Murray (ed), Horne v. Gilles (Melb, 1860)
  • E. M. Miller, Pressmen and Governors (Syd, 1952)
  • R. W. Baker, ‘The Early Judges in Tasmania’, Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), vol 8, no 4, Sept 1960, pp 71-84
  • Hobart Town Courier, 2 Sept, 11 Dec 1830
  • Colonial Times (Hobart), 13 July 1831, 24 Jan 1857
  • Colonist (Hobart), 15 Mar 1833
  • True Colonist (Hobart), 8 Sept 1835, 1 May 1840
  • Examiner (Launceston), Oct 1860
  • Mercury (Hobart), 15 July, 9 Nov 1861, 26 Sept 1870, G. T. W. B. Boyes diary (Royal Society of Tasmania)
  • CSO 1/612/13968, 657/14745, 5/281/7385 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • GO 33/10/318, 33/12/69, 33/81, 45/1 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Mary Nicholls, 'Horne, Thomas (1800–1870)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/horne-thomas-3798/text6013, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 25 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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