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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Blacket, Wilfred (1859–1937)

by J. M. Bennett

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Wilfred Blacket (1859-1937), barrister and littérateur, was born on 27 September 1859 in Sydney, son of Russell Blacket, clerk and later a schoolmaster, and his wife Alicia, née Jackson. For much of his youth he lived at Keira Vale near Wollongong where his father conducted a school at which Wilfred was educated. At 15 he became a bank clerk; after nearly ten years service with the English, Scottish and Australian Chartered Bank he briefly pursued mining ventures. Throughout these early years he contributed paragraphs and verses to journals, notably the Bulletin which published the whole of his 1600-line 'Hymn to humbug'. His literary bent led to appointment as the Bulletin's first formally styled sub-editor, in which he exhibited 'a pungent gift in knocking other people's work into shape'. He was also an occasional leader-writer for several newspapers.

Meanwhile he began to read for the Bar, to which he was admitted on 27 August 1887. His early work was at common law especially on District Court circuits — those at Newcastle, Maitland, Cobar and Bourke being favourites of his. In those days he often conducted successful defences of Aboriginals brought before the courts. On 24 April 1894 at Marrickville he married Gertrude Louisa, daughter of William Lovegrove, and granddaughter of Prosper de Mestre. He was by that time well established at the Bar and said to be 'doing three or four men's work' and 'carrying a large and varied practice'.

At the turn of the century Blacket was appointed part-time secretary to the Statute Law Consolidation Commission. The commissioner Judge C. G. Heydon thought him 'a model of industry and intelligent care' and, being often absent from Sydney, imposed on him a heavy administrative responsibility. Mr Justice A. B. Piddington rightly said that for this 'colossal labour [Blacket] never received his due meed'. Extraordinarily, the State government did not appoint him to the bench, for which experience equipped him well. In 1916-17 he conducted the royal commission on the Federal capital administration and inquired into charges of extravagance against W. B. Griffin; at other times he presided or assisted at various inquiries or tribunals.

Blacket took silk in 1912 at which time he commanded an extensive High Court practice. With radical leanings, he sympathized with industrial aspirations and the advanced or experimental side in politics, and was recognized by trade unionists as a 'very sound legal adviser'. Of spontaneous wit, he was said to be 'inexhaustible, whether your need was a good case or a good story'. His entertaining reminiscences, May it please your Honour, were published in 1927. In them he also expressed some of his attitudes to the law, including the view that 'the jury system now in force in the British Empire is the most perfect guarantee of liberty that human wisdom has ever devised'.

Survived by his wife, Blacket died childless and intestate at Lindfield on 6 February 1937. He was privately interred in the Anglican section of Northern Suburbs cemetery, with Methodist rites.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • A. B. Piddington, Worshipful Masters (Syd, 1929)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1902, 2, 39
  • Punch (Melbourne), 10 Aug 1916
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Feb 1937
  • Bulletin, 10 Feb 1937.

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Citation details

J. M. Bennett, 'Blacket, Wilfred (1859–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 31 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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