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Ernest Brougham Docker (1842–1923)

by Stewart J. Woodman

This article was published:

Ernest Brougham Docker (1842-1923), judge and photographer, was born on 1 April 1842 at Thornwaite, near Scone, New South Wales, the eldest son of Joseph Docker and his second wife Matilda, née Brougham. Educated at the Collegiate School, Cook's River, in 1860 he won the [Sir William] Denison scholarship to enter St Paul's College, University of Sydney, where he lived up to his early promise, winning the University Medal for English verse in 1861 and the Wentworth medal for an English essay in 1862. He graduated B.A. in 1863 and M.A. in 1865, then turned his attention to the law.

Admitted to the colonial Bar on 28 June 1867, Docker advanced steadily in his profession, becoming crown prosecutor for the northern district in 1875, the south-western district in 1878, and judge of the District Court and chairman of Quarter Sessions for the north-western district in 1881. In 1884-1912 he was in the western district. He was conscientious on the bench, working long hours, arranging his sittings conveniently for suitors, and taking additional courts, often without remuneration. His legal knowledge was sound but his forthright manner, cutting wit and severe sentences upon hardened criminals drew criticism. He was concerned, however, that justice should always be done. He opposed shorthand writers in the court but urged the adoption of English criminal law reforms, changes in the perjury law, and an end to restrictions upon the competency of witnesses to give evidence; he also wanted public prosecutors instead of the police for Crown cases in the lower courts. In 1894 he was appointed to hold a murder trial on Norfolk Island and in 1912 he transferred to the metropolitan District Court. He retired in 1918 after the passage of the Judges Retirement Act.

Docker was a notable amateur photographer. He took lessons from William Hetzer and in 1858, with his father, began experiments with a wet-plate process. Between 1860 and 1868 Docker was sensitizing his own dry plates by the tannin-collodion-albumen process, although dry plates were not widely used until the early 1880s. Joining the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1876, he used his own extensive collection of photographs for many illustrated addresses before it. He did much to promote photography through his articles in overseas and Australian journals, particularly in the British Journal of Photography, and as president of the Photographic Society of New South Wales in 1894-1907.

Docker also devoted much time to the Church of England and was a synodsman for the Sydney and Bathurst dioceses. He was a council-member of The King's School, Parramatta, and a member of the Royal Australian Historical Society. Attracted to literature, he published several volumes of sacred hymns and poems; Henry Kendall praised them and valued Docker's opinions of his own work and the judge's faith in his 'attempts to initiate a purely Australian literature'. A keen sportsman, Docker enjoyed cricket, tennis and duck-shooting and whist or bridge in the evenings. On 25 June 1873 at Wangaratta, Victoria, he had married Clarissa Mary, daughter of Archdeacon J. K. Tucker. She died on 3 June 1918, the judge at his waterfront home, Mostyn, Elizabeth Bay, on 12 August 1923. He was survived by seven daughters and two sons; the younger son Ernest won the Military Cross in World War I.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • J. Cato, The Story of the Camera in Australia (Melb, 1955)
  • H. T. E. Holt, A Court Rises (Syd, 1976)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1883, 1, 477-97, 599
  • Law Chronicle, 30 June 1897
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Nov 1895, 1 Aug 1916, 9 Apr, 30 Nov, 21 Dec 1918, 13, 14 Aug 1923
  • Town and Country Journal, 12 June 1918
  • H. C. Kendall-Docker letters 1865-81, AK 39/12 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • G. Lissant, notes on the Docker family of Westmorland (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Stewart J. Woodman, 'Docker, Ernest Brougham (1842–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 30 May 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]


1 April, 1842
Scone, New South Wales, Australia


12 August, 1923 (aged 81)
Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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