Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Charles Edward Herbert (1860–1929)

by Peter Elder

This article was published:

Charles Edward Herbert (1860-1929), politician, judge and administrator, was born on 12 June 1860 at Strathalbyn, South Australia, eldest son of Lloyd Herbert, surgeon, and his second wife Mary Ann, née Montgomery. Educated at the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide, Herbert was articled to his uncle, Henry Hay Mildred, in 1877 and in 1883 was admitted as practitioner to the Supreme Court of South Australia. He went to Palmerston (Darwin) in October as the only lawyer in the Northern Territory, but joined J. J. Beare's practice at Moonta, South Australia, next year. On 15 August 1885 in Adelaide Herbert married Anna Emilia Augusta, daughter of M. R. Schomburgk. He practised in Sydney from 1889 before returning to Darwin in 1896.

At a by-election on 20 October 1900 Herbert was elected to the South Australian House of Assembly as a Conservative for the Northern Territory; he was re-elected in 1902. In 1905 he was appointed Northern Territory government resident, succeeding C. J. Dashwood, of whom he had been highly critical. From September 1906 until the following March Herbert served on the Commonwealth royal commission on the Territory of Papua. During his investigations he walked from Buna across the Owen Stanley Range to Port Moresby. His 1906 annual report on the Northern Territory emphasized the need for increased European settlement; next year he pleaded for legislation for the 'removal of aborigines from the Territory into other States'.

In 1910 Herbert was appointed deputy chief judicial officer for the Territory of Papua. As the second judge of the Port Moresby Central Court, under the lieutenant-governor and chief judicial officer (Sir) Hubert Murray, he heard cases referred from the resident magistrates' courts. An ex officio member of the Legislative and Executive councils he was also responsible for drafting ordinances. For eighteen years Herbert backed Murray, sometimes in controversial decisions. In 1926 he supported Murray's White Women's Protection Ordinance which carried the death penalty for rape of a European woman or girl, although he opposed the same penalty being inflicted for attempted rape. At least twice Herbert held concurrent judicial appointments in separate Australian territories: late in 1918 he heard criminal matters in Darwin arising from the attempt to depose the administrator J. A. Gilruth and in May to October 1921 he was an acting judge of the Northern Territory.

A reclassification of the Papuan public service in 1926 removed Herbert from its ranks with the title of judge, thus severing the conflict of interests between the judicial and administrative areas of government that had dogged him throughout his official career. The effects of his long tropical service now began to show: he was physically unable to attempt the long walk to conduct a hearing in the hinterland during Murray's absence. In 1928 he accepted the post of administrator of Norfolk Island in preference to the more highly paid position of judge of North and Central Australia. He died of pneumonia on 21 January 1929 on Norfolk Island, where he was buried. He was survived by his wife, two sons—the owners of Koolpinyah station in the Northern Territory—and a daughter. His eldest son had been killed in action in Belgium in 1917. An active Anglican, Herbert had supported the building of St John's Church in Port Moresby; in 1932 a sanctuary lamp in that church was dedicated to his memory.

Select Bibliography

  • R. T. Gore, Justice Versus Sorcery (Brisb, 1965)
  • I. Stuart, Port Moreby, Yesterday and Today (Syd, 1970)
  • A. Inglis, Not a White Woman Safe (Canb, 1974)
  • Northern Territory, Annual Report, 1906-08
  • Territory of Papua, Annual Report, 1925-26, 1927-28
  • Northern Territory Times, 13 Oct, 3 Nov 1883, 31 July 1896, 21 May 1921
  • Observer (Adelaide), 4 Feb 1905
  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 26 Jan 1929
  • CRS A52 07/4458, A56, A518 624/35 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Davies newsclippings (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

Peter Elder, 'Herbert, Charles Edward (1860–1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 15 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


12 June, 1860
Strathalbyn, South Australia, Australia


21 January, 1929 (aged 68)
Norfolk Island, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.