Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Robert Patten Adams (1831–1911)

by E. R. Pretyman

This article was published:

Robert Patten Adams, by William Bradley

Robert Patten Adams, by William Bradley

State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001125299891

Robert Patten Adams (1831-1911), judge, was born on 4 March 1831 at Martock, Somerset, England, the third son of James White Adams and his wife Mary Ann, née Patten. He was educated at the Martock Grammar School and later at King's College, London. In 1851 he entered the Middle Temple and was called to the Bar on 1 May 1854. For nearly two years he practised as a conveyancer and equity draftsman in Chancery Lane, London. He decided to emigrate to Tasmania, probably because of reports from his brother there. On 25 September 1856 he was admitted to the Tasmanian Bar and commenced to practise as a barrister. He was engaged in many leading cases tried by the Supreme Court. From 28 February 1857 he was briefly chairman of Quarter Sessions and commissioner of the Court of Requests for the northern division of Tasmania, and a justice of the peace from 2 March to 7 December.  

On 30 June 1859 Adams won one of the seats for Hobart Town in the House of Assembly. On 15 August he was appointed to the select committee on the education system. He retained his seat in the assembly until October 1866. He was solicitor-general from December 1867 until 14 March 1887 when he was sworn in as third puisne judge of the Supreme Court. According to 'Lex' in the Mercury, 7 March, 'As a Crown Prosecutor, while he has industriously worked up his cases and used his best efforts to present them for the decision of the Court in the interests of justice, he has never brought to the work, a love of obtaining convictions described in some circles by the sporting phrase of “bagging the game” … It cannot be alleged that at any time he failed to protect the rights of the Crown or resenting any attempt to screen crime with eloquence and dignity, or as occasion may require with his ever-ready wit'. As a judge Adams was held in high esteem and won more praise for his strict probity, courage and lively sense of humour. He retired in 1898 on a pension of £600.

Adams was prominent in the Anglican Church as a member of synod, church advocate, and chancellor of the diocese. On 10 August 1857 at St David's Cathedral he had married Mathilde Adelaide, second daughter of Captain George King, R.N., port officer at Hobart, and his wife Harriet Matilda; they had five children. Mathilde died on 31 March 1867. At St Matthew's Church, New Norfolk, on 13 December 1870 he married Kate, daughter of Dr George Francis Huston, superintendent of the asylum and a parliamentarian. Predeceased by his second wife, Adams died in his eightieth year at his home, Birlingham, Macquarie Street, Hobart, on 24 February 1911, and was buried in the Queenborough cemetery. He was survived by his brother George, registrar of the Supreme Court, and by several sons and daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • Hobart Town Gazette, 8 Dec 1857
  • Mercury (Hobart), 5 Mar 1887 supplement, 25 Feb 1911
  • Examiner (Launceston), 25 Feb 1911
  • Tasmanian Mail, 2 Mar 1911
  • Beattie's photographs of members of parliament (Royal Society of Tasmania, Hobart)
  • J. M. Browne, family notes (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

E. R. Pretyman, 'Adams, Robert Patten (1831–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Robert Patten Adams, by William Bradley

Robert Patten Adams, by William Bradley

State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001125299891

Life Summary [details]


4 March, 1831
Martock, Somerset, England


24 February, 1911 (aged 79)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

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