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Kinchela, John (1774–1845)

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

John Kinchela (1774?-1845), attorney-general and judge, was born at Kilkenny, Ireland, the second son of John Kinchela, merchant and bleacher, and his wife Rosina. After attending Dr John Ellison's Kilkenny College, he matriculated at Trinity College, Dublin (B.A., 1796; LL.B., LL.D, 1808). In 1798 he was called to the Irish Bar, practised in Dublin and in 1808 was admitted as an advocate in the 'Court of Prerogative and all other Ecclesiastical Courts'. By 1814 he had moved to Kilkenny where he became an alderman in 1817 and mayor in 1819 and also served in the Equity Courts and as county recorder. In 1824-25 he was in the West Indies as a commissioner of inquiry into the state of the captured negroes. On his return he moved to London.

At Dublin on 4 April 1796 Kinchela married Elizabeth Thornton, and after her death he married Anne Bourne on 19 February 1807. Although he inherited much property, out of kindness of heart he had mortgaged most of it by 1827. Afflicted by debt and increasing deafness he appealed to the marquess of Ormonde, lord lieutenant and keeper of the rolls of Kilkenny. In May 1829 Ormonde recommended him to the Colonial Office as an experienced lawyer or as a settler for the new Swan River settlement, and more urgently in June for 'any legal office' in the colonies, because 'his situation is truly distressing'. In August 1830 Kinchela was chosen to succeed Alexander Baxter as attorney-general in New South Wales at a salary of £1200 without the right of private practice. He was allowed £300 for his outfit but ran into more debt with a London tailor.

Kinchela arrived at Sydney June 1831 in the Renown and his wife and three children followed in the Curler in August. They lived first in the Glebe at Hereford House, probably its first tenants, and then on the South Head Road at Juniper House, which he renamed Ormonde House. Kinchela was also granted two lots of four acres (1.6 ha) at Rushcutters Bay, but his application for a land grant for his son was rejected.

As attorney-general Kinchela found his office in great disorder. He applied successfully for a clerk to sort and file its records and soon gave evidence of 'his great anxiety to discharge his duty to the satisfaction of the Government'. He discovered arrears of unsettled actions accumulated over ten years, chiefly in unpaid debts for the purchase of government cattle and sheep. His activity resulted in large sums being paid into the Treasury, and proved more effective than his work on the commission of inquiry, ordered by the Colonial Office, into means of reducing the legal business of the government. In September 1832 Governor (Sir) Richard Bourke praised Kinchela's high principles, legal knowledge and great anxiety to give satisfaction, but complained that his extreme deafness hindered his work and rendered him inefficient as a member of the Legislative Council. Kinchela's colleagues also found him difficult: in 1833 the crown solicitor, William Moore, was suspended for insulting the attorney-general in a protest against the clerical duties that were delegated to him, and the solicitor-general, John Hubert Plunkett, claimed that, although he conducted nearly a hundred cases in the Criminal Sessions for the attorney-general, Kinchela gave him no assistance in the civil matters. Kinchela maintained that his advice had kept every department of the government free from legal embarrassment and had saved the Crown from defeat in every civil case. His frequent requests for an increase of salary were of no avail and creditors in Britain were persistent in pressing their claims, to the embarrassment of the Colonial Office. However, Bourke was sympathetic and in April 1836 when the chief justice, (Sir) Francis Forbes, went on leave, Kinchela was appointed acting puisne judge in the Supreme Court. His deafness caused some delays when he was sitting alone, but Bourke reported that 'in all the other duties of his office … his legal Knowledge and persevering research have been of essential service', and pleaded with unusual warmth for his permanent appointment, if not in Sydney, then to the bench in Van Diemen's Land. However, Glenelg was dismayed by Kinchela's long-standing debts and insisted on 'some temporary office' until a pension could be arranged. In September 1837 Kinchela was retired from the bench and appointed deputy-commissary in the Vice-Admiralty Court; a year later he was given additional work as advising Crown counsel at a salary of £500. In November 1840 he became master in equity at £800 a year, but within ten months he was 'attacked by Paralysis' and obliged to resign all his public offices, retiring on a pension of £500.

In 1838 Kinchela had to sell Ormonde House and his persistent Irish creditors were finally satisfied by his wife while he was unable to move. He died at Liverpool on 21 July 1845 aged 72, survived by his wife; her appeal to the Colonial Office for a pension was refused in 1848. One of his two daughters, Mary, married Thomas Gore on 3 August 1837. His son John became a clerk in the crown solicitor's office and at 22 through his father's influence was appointed police magistrate at Bathurst. Because of his inexperience other magistrates refused to sit with him, and when James Mudie returned to Sydney after ridiculing his father in The Felonry of New South Wales (London, 1837), young Kinchela publicly horsewhipped him and was ordered to pay damages of £50. This was said to have been paid by public subscription, and soon afterwards he left the colony. He later returned, and died at Bathurst on 12 October 1849.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 15-24
  • miscellaneous microfilm, FM4/1627 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • manuscript catalogue under Kinchela (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 201/421, 318/85, 87, 323/135.

Citation details

'Kinchela, John (1774–1845)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kinchela-john-2305/text2983, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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