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Edward David Dobbie (1857–1915)

by David L. Mulcahy

This article was published:

Edward David Dobbie (1857-1915), judge, was born on 22 February 1857 in Dublin, son of Richard Dobbie, upholsterer, and his wife Jane, née Gill. Migrating to Tasmania with his parents about 1858, he was educated at both state and private schools entering The Hutchins School, Hobart, in 1869. Articled to Charles Ball of the firm Gill & Ball, Dobbie was admitted to the Supreme Court of Tasmania in July 1882 and began his public service career as a parliamentary draftsman the following March. On 10 December 1887 at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church he married Alice Anne MacMillan; they had four daughters and two sons.

Dobbie had been appointed crown solicitor and clerk of the peace in March; he relinquished the former office in January 1895 when he became secretary to the Law Department. During this period he was also registrar of building societies. He held these places until his appointment as recorder and commissioner in bankruptcy, Launceston, and commissioner of the Court of Requests in January 1889. He became solicitor-general in April 1902.

Dobbie's career as solicitor-general was relatively undistinguished. Nevertheless he was involved in a number of cases which, if not of great legal import, did arouse considerable local interest. One macabre case concerned the closing down of the Queenborough cemetery when, after a series of heavy rains, corpses were washed out of the graves and it was discovered that as many as six bodies had been interred in a single plot. A highlight of his career as solicitor-general was his visit to the United Kingdom in 1904 as a result of an appeal to the Privy Council by the Van Diemen's Land Co., following a decision of the Supreme Court against the Marine Board of Table Cape. Dobbie presented the case on behalf of the Marine Board and the State government; the case went against him. During this period his many letters to his wife provide interesting comment on the social and political life of London.

Dobbie continued to read up constitutional law, and after 1901 became, with Herbert Nicholls, one of Tasmania's foremost exponents of Federation. He was a member of the royal commission on the charitable institutions of Tasmania (1888) and also of the controversial royal commission into the system of state school education (1907).

On 1 September 1913 Dobbie was appointed an acting puisne judge of the Supreme Court and was confirmed in the position on 1 January next year. His brief career as a judge (the shortest on record in Tasmania) ended with his death of heart disease on 23 August 1915 at Sandy Bay. He was buried in the Congregationalist section of Cornelian Bay cemetery. He probably never reached the pinnacle of his legal career. His judgments, although generally sound, lack the depth of experience which he might have acquired later. On the other hand his work as a parliamentary draftsman during his early years undoubtedly benefited him; a sincere, unostentatious man, he showed a thorough concern with detail as much as with broad principles. His estate was valued for probate at £1640.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania, vol 1 (Hob, 1900)
  • J. N. D. Harrison, Court in the Colony (Hob, 1974)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 24 Aug 1915
  • Mercury (Hobart), 24, 25 Aug 1915
  • private information.

Citation details

David L. Mulcahy, 'Dobbie, Edward David (1857–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


22 February, 1857
Dublin, Dublin, Ireland


23 August, 1915 (aged 58)
Sandy Bay, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

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