Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edward Broadhurst (1810–1883)

by J. M. Bennett

This article was published:

Edward Broadhurst (1810-1883), barrister, was born on 2 July 1810 at Bath, England, son of Rev. Thomas Broadhurst and his wife Frances, née Whittaker. His father conducted Edward's early education with greater success as pedagogue than as parent: the son rebelled against his family's religious adherence. After three years at Shrewsbury School, and a brilliant academic career in mathematics and classics at Magdalene College, Cambridge, he forfeited his degree rather than make the religious declaration required of the university's graduates. He seems then to have maintained little connexion with his family, excepting his sisters, and less after leaving for Sydney in 1837. In that year he had been called to the Bar at the Middle Temple on completing studies under W. O. Edye.

On 5 February 1838 he was admitted to the Bar of New South Wales, being twenty-second on the roll. His advocacy was forceful and soon won him a large and varied practice. Financial success followed: in two weeks alone in 1841 his fees brought him £200, while his total income that year was about £2000. One of his most notable early briefs was on his appearance with (Sir) William à Beckett and (Sir) John Darvall 'in professional costume' before the Legislative Council to make submissions that the municipal corporation bill was unconstitutional. However, the bill was passed in 1842 and Broadhurst took an active part in proposing candidates for election to the first City Council. As a nominee he sat in the Legislative Council in 1851-56 and after responsible government in 1856-61. In parliament he was 'more noted for the excellence of his bon mots than for his qualities as a legislator'. He was nominated to the first senate of the University of Sydney in 1850.

The most intimate surviving account of Broadhurst's personality while a junior barrister is in the diary of Thomas Callaghan. Of similar age, the two enjoyed a fraternal association, strained at times by Callaghan's envy of Broadhurst's financial successes. In 1843 when the diarist lamented that there was 'no chance, no fair play, for a young man' at the colonial Bar, he criticized Broadhurst as 'a man of the world, full of selfishness and jealousy'. This assessment seems coloured by Callaghan's despondency. His own indebtedness to Broadhurst for help in his career supports the recognition by other contemporaries of Broadhurst's altruism, gentle nature and freedom from prejudice.

Broadhurst himself admitted, somewhat facetiously, that his temperament was prone to 'flare up with igneous coruscation'. It did so in 1844 when Robert Lowe, a fellow barrister and neighbour (both lived in Horbury Terrace, Macquarie Street), publicly denounced the virtue of one of Broadhurst's sisters, who had come to Sydney in 1842. Rumours of a duel came to the ears of the police who intervened, and in April the disputants were bound over to keep the peace for twelve months. After fourteen months Broadhurst, who still expected an apology, published placards and a provocative letter to Lowe asserting 'I have already defied you as a slanderer; I now denounce you as a coward'. Lowe's second attempted to present a challenge but Broadhurst had already been arrested and charged with inciting a breach of the peace. The case was heard before Mr Justice (Sir) John Dickinson and a jury on 12 July 1845, a verdict of guilty being returned with recommendation to mercy. Six days later Broadhurst came before the chief justice, (Sir) Alfred Stephen, for sentence. Stephen regretted that a man known to the court as one 'of strong mind—of education and intellect' should have been unable to rise above the 'prejudices and absurd usages of society'. After deprecating the code of duelling as unchristian, the chief justice sentenced Broadhurst to pay a fine of £100, enter into a bond of £200 and furnish sureties of £100 to keep the peace for two years.

The press agreed that duelling was evil but declared that public sympathy lay with Broadhurst. A correspondent to the Australian predicted that Broadhurst would benefit from increased professional practice. Briefs certainly did not decline and he was constantly sought as counsel, particularly at common law and in commercial matters. Whatever his financial gain the blotted escutcheon did nothing to further Broadhurst's public career: the only service sought from him by the government was as a commissioner in 1848 to inquire into the constitution, practice and proceedings of the local courts. When he became Queen's Counsel about ten years later many of his contemporaries had risen to distinguished public positions. Although his intellectual qualities were, in William Bede Dalley's opinion, 'precisely those which would have made him a Judge of whom the country might have been proud', no elevation was offered. This was a disappointing summit for a man whose long and successful practice had earned him the affectionate title of 'father of the Bar', and whose abilities might have been applied to greater things in the public interest. Yet it was consonant with his character; he reaped the life of independence he had sown from his youth.

A severe bronchial ailment compelled Broadhurst to retire from practice some years before his death on 7 April 1883. He was survived by his wife Harriet Lucy whom he had married at St Laurence's Church of England, Sydney, on 7 May 1853. She was the second daughter of Stephen Greenhill, a wealthy gentleman who settled upon them a house at 72 Macleay Street, Potts Point; it remained their matrimonial home, except when they visited England in 1859. They had one son, who predeceased his parents, and a daughter, Frances Harriet.

Select Bibliography

  • A. E. Stephen, ‘The Diary of Thomas Callaghan, B.A., District Court Judge in New South Wales’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 34, part 5, 1948, pp 261-89 and vol 34, part 6, 1948, pp 358-85
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 June, 14, 18 July 1845, 10 Apr 1883
  • Australian, 14 June, 15, 19 July 1845
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 11 Apr 1883
  • Old Times (Sydney), July 1903
  • T. Callaghan diary (Royal Australian Historical Society, Sydney).

Citation details

J. M. Bennett, 'Broadhurst, Edward (1810–1883)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 13 June 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

Life Summary [details]


2 July, 1810
Bath, Somerset, England


7 April, 1883 (aged 72)
New South Wales, Australia

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