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Innes, Sir Joseph George (1834–1896)

by K. G. Allars

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

Joseph George Long Innes (1834-1896), by unknown photographer

Joseph George Long Innes (1834-1896), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 2 - 08204

Sir Joseph George Long Innes (1834-1896), politician and judge, was born on 16 October 1834 in Sydney, the eldest son of Major Joseph Long Innes, superintendent of police, and his wife Elizabeth Anne, daughter of Thomas Reibey and his wife Mary. Educated at William Timothy Cape's school and The King's School, Parramatta, he became a clerk in the Survey Department at 17 and in December 1851 clerk of Petty Sessions and of Gold Commissioner Henry Zouch at Sofala. He won repute as an amateur cross-country rider and once used a belt filled with gold dust to adjust his weight. In 1854 he became associate to Chief Justice (Sir) Alfred Stephen and in 1856 entered Lincoln's Inn, London. He was called to the Bar in 1859 where he practised until he returned to Sydney in 1862. He was admitted to the New South Wales Bar on 28 February 1863. On 5 July 1865 he married Emily Janet, daughter of John Smith, pastoralist.

Innes became a Queensland District Court judge. Despite promises of promotion he returned to the New South Wales Bar in 1869 and sometimes acted as crown prosecutor. In 1870 he presided at the royal commission on the working of the Gold Fields Act; many of its recommendations, such as the establishment of a Department of Mines, were embodied in the 1874 Mining Act.

In March 1872 Innes was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Mudgee and in May joined (Sir) Henry Parkes's first ministry as solicitor-general. Stephen described Innes as 'a man of undoubted integrity and talent … a staunch Churchman and, if the term be permissible in Australia, a conservative'. In September 1873 he was appointed to the Legislative Council to represent the government and in November replaced Edward Butler as attorney-general. Attached to Parkes, Innes was impressed by 'the cordial character of the relations—official and private—existing' in the ministry. In 1874 he went with Governor Sir Hercules Robinson to Fiji for the cession of the islands to Britain. He was responsible for vesting in the Crown the absolute ownership of all lands not the bona fide property of Europeans or other foreigners or needed for the maintenance of chiefs and tribes. A member of the temporary Fijian Executive Council he drafted the provisional code for the administration of justice and was knighted in January 1875.

In 1875-80 Innes was chairman of committees in the Legislative Council and in 1878 president of the royal commission on Berrima gaol. In 1880-81 he was minister of justice in the Parkes-Robertson coalition. Openly ambitious for promotion to the bench, he became a puisne judge of the Supreme Court on 14 October 1881. His appointment was criticized by the Bulletin which asserted that he had 'never attained eminence at the Bar'. In 1883 the Sydney Morning Herald and Echo 'indulged in a string of invective' against Innes after he had convicted the Herald of contempt of court. Known as a judge with deep sympathy and strong emotion, he was once so agitated after pronouncing the death sentence that he told the defence counsel to discover for the prisoner something of benefit which he could report to the Executive Council. Chief Justice Sir Frederick Darley claimed that he had a singularly acute mind, was a well-read and able lawyer, a learned and fearless judge, and at all times a genial and cultured gentleman.

Innes negotiated with the government the acquisition of Chisholm House, settled on his mother by Mary Reibey, as the site for the present Sydney General Post Office. In 1889-90 he visited England and restored his health in 'the quiet and homely life' of an Inverness-shire cottage with grouse shooting. He told Parkes that he had 'not the ability or the inclination for the society of very distinguished men. If I could shine like you, my dear old Chief, and teach them all a thing or two I might like it better'. Devoted to sport, Innes hunted in the 1870s and played cricket until the 1880s. Interested in drama and art, he was a trustee of the Free Public Library from 1879 and of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales. He was also on the committee of the Goodenough Royal Naval House. Innes died in England on 28 October 1896. He left his estate of £34,414 to the 'unfettered discretion' of his wife, who survived him with five sons and one daughter. His son, Reginald Heath Innes, became chief judge in equity of the New South Wales Supreme Court.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • W. Blacket, May It Please Your Honour (Syd, 1927)
  • Correspondence on the Cession of Fiji, Parliamentary Papers (Great Britain), 1875 (Cmd 1114)
  • C. H. Bertie, ‘Pioneer families … Long Innes’, Home (Sydney), June 1932
  • Bulletin, 6 Nov 1880, 22 Oct 1881, 21 July 1883
  • Norton Smith & Co. papers, Reibey estate, A5327 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 201/569, 599.

Citation details

K. G. Allars, 'Innes, Sir Joseph George (1834–1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/innes-sir-joseph-george-3836/text6091, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 1 September 2014.

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

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