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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sorell, William (1800–1860)

by R. M. H. Garvie

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

William Sorell (1800-1860), registrar, was the eldest son of Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell who, when taking his appointment in Van Diemen's Land, had left his family in England. Sorell junior resented his father's disregard of his career and wrote in 1822 to Commissioner John Thomas Bigge stating his determination to go to the colony to assert his claims on his father's attention in person. To save the lieutenant-governor this embarrassment, Bigge appealed on the son's behalf to the Colonial Office. There his resentment was appeased and, with the blessing of Earl Bathurst and a recommendation to the notice of Colonel (Sir) George Arthur, Sorell reached Hobart Town in December 1823. Next month he received 1000 acres (405 ha) of land in the Hamilton district and in 1828 a town allotment. On the sudden death of the officer chosen by the Colonial Office to be registrar of the new Supreme Court of Van Diemen's Land, Sorell senior suggested his son to Lieutenant-Governor Arthur and to Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane. His qualifications and capacity for the position were approved by Chief Justice (Sir) John Pedder and as nominee he duly read the royal charter when the Supreme Court, separated at last from the court of New South Wales, was first opened on 10 May 1824. His appointment at £600 was confirmed by the Colonial Office in December.

In the next thirty-six years his worth in the public service was shown in the variety of his additional posts. In 1836 he was appointed registrar of deeds and master of the Supreme Court. Four years later he became commissioner of the Supreme Court and commissioner of insolvent estates. From 1847 to 1854 he was on the commission investigating titles to land. For some time he was a member of the Board of Education and from 1847 to 1859 was a commissioner of the Bridgewater bridge. In 1849 he served on the boards for disposing of crown waste lands by sale and licence and for creating a fund to provide retiring allowances to officers in the colonial service. A year later he joined the board formed to inquire into the Registrar-General's Department. In 1852 he became registrar of the Vice-Admiralty Court, in 1854 curator of intestate estates, and in 1856 member of the board that reported on colonial revenue. In 1857 he was made registrar of births, deaths and marriages and deputy-registrar for the Hobart district. He was well liked by all members of the legal profession and their respect for his judgment brought him many commissions as an arbitrator. On his death on 17 November 1860 the public offices were closed in respect. He was a member of the Church of England and was buried in the family vault in St David's Park cemetery.

In 1825 Sorell had married Elizabeth Julia, the daughter of Captain Anthony Fenn Kemp of Mount Vernon, Kempton. They had five children, one of whom, Julia, married Thomas Arnold. A man of great integrity, Sorell's domestic life was very unhappy because of the collapse of his marriage, the removal of his children to Paris and his worry in achieving their return to him.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Sorell diary, Aug 1823–Aug 1825 (privately held)
  • correspondence file under William Sorell (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

R. M. H. Garvie, 'Sorell, William (1800–1860)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 29 October 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]




17 November 1860
Tasmania, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence