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Sir William Henry Bundey (1838–1909)

by Robin Millhouse

This article was published:

William Henry Bundey (1838-1909), by unknown photographer, c1905

William Henry Bundey (1838-1909), by unknown photographer, c1905

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 430

Sir William Henry Bundey (1838-1909), lawyer, was born on 30 January 1838 at Blacklands Farm in the parish of Exbury, Hampshire, England, the second son of James Bundey, yeoman farmer, and his wife Harriett, daughter of James Gower Lockyer. Although apparently in comfortable circumstances, the family lost its money and the only way to restore its fortunes seemed to be emigration. Leaving the eldest son in England, the family came to South Australia in 1848. Within a few weeks James Bundey died, leaving his widow to bring up five children. Mrs Bundey married John Ross Sinclair in December 1849. Bundey, whose formal education had lasted for about a year in Hampshire, went to work at 10 in a solicitor's office for 7s. 6d. a week. In 1857 he was articled to Erasmus Gower, solicitor, of Woodside, but interrupted his articles to act for two years as clerk of the local court. His articles were assigned in 1863 to John Tuthill Bagot of Adelaide. He was admitted as a practitioner to the Supreme Court in 1865. His practice, especially in criminal jurisdiction, grew quickly. He was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1878 and in 1888 acted as deputy-governor for twelve days.

In 1871 Bundey was elected to the House of Assembly for the Onkaparinga district. From July 1874 to May 1875 he served in Blyth's government as the first minister of justice and education and he was in charge of the bill to establish the University of Adelaide. His health frequently gave way through overwork. For this reason he had to resign in May 1875 but he stood for election again in 1878 and became attorney-general in 1878-81 in Morgan's ministry. He was responsible for a number of measures of legal reform including the Supreme Court Act of 1878. The controversy over the route of the Adelaide Hills railway contributed to another breakdown in his health although his opinion prevailed. He resigned early in 1881 and to recuperate he took his wife and daughter by sea to Europe and the East. On his return he was gazetted permanently as 'Honourable'. In 1884, after some demur because the salary was much lower than his income from private practice, he accepted appointment as the third judge in the Supreme Court of South Australia; he retained office until December 1903 when he retired on a pension of £1300.

Bundey was knighted in 1904. He lived in retirement until his death on 6 December 1909 at his home, Stonehenge, Mount Lofty. He was survived by his widow Ellen Wardlaw, second daughter of (Sir) William Milne, whom he had married in 1865, and by their only child Ellen.

Bundey was handsome, and well known for his fine presence, equable temper and courtesy to all. Very sensitive to noise and turmoil, he once collapsed because of a row outside his chambers; next day he sent for the culprits and apologized for his own behaviour. Many of his addresses and articles were published. He strongly advocated education for both sexes and all classes of the community to go beyond the basic requirements of reading, writing and arithmetic and to include some technical training. In 1875 he drafted an education bill; many of its principles were rejected despite his prophetic foresight that the minister of education would clash with the education board unless their powers were clearly defined. He opposed capital punishment although statutory law forced him as a judge to impose that sentence. He told the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science in 1893 that 'punishment should be just, but not vindictive, its certainty being of far greater importance than its severity'. He was accused by some of dangerous radicalism in his proposals for land reform. His attitude towards trade unions was sympathetic and in 1876 and 1877 he was asked to address the annual dinner of the Working Men's Association of Port Adelaide. From January 1895 he served for fifteen months as the first president of the State Board of Conciliation, the first of its kind in Australia to compel the enforcement of collective agreements, and he drafted its rules under the terms of the 1894 Act to facilitate the settlement of industrial disputes.

Apart from his interest in law and politics, Bundey was a great advocate of what he termed 'manly outdoor sports'. In his young days he was a cricket enthusiast and possibly the first in the colony to score a century. In later life his passion was yachting and he is reputed to have been one of the founders of the South Australian Yacht Squadron. He was its vice-commodore in 1870-74 and commodore in 1874-84. He was regarded as an expert in admiralty law. He took an active interest in the Volunteer Military Movement, was a prize rifleman and for some years captain of a company at Woodside.

Select Bibliography

  • A. J. McLachlan, McLachlan: An F.A.Q. Australian (Melb, 1948)
  • Parliamentary Debates (South Australia), 1875, 1878
  • Register (Adelaide), 27 Nov 1874, 27 July 1875, 31 Aug 1877, 7 Dec 1909.

Citation details

Robin Millhouse, 'Bundey, Sir William Henry (1838–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 21 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

William Henry Bundey (1838-1909), by unknown photographer, c1905

William Henry Bundey (1838-1909), by unknown photographer, c1905

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 430

Life Summary [details]


30 January, 1838
Exbury, Hampshire, England


6 December, 1909 (aged 71)
Mount Lofty, South Australia, Australia

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