Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Norton (1795–1862)

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James Norton (1795-1862), solicitor, was born on 27 July 1795, the third son of John Norton, of Hastings, England, and his wife Mary, née Bradford. He received a legal education and was admitted to practise as an attorney. He decided to try his fortune as a lawyer in New South Wales and sailed as captain's clerk in the Maria, which arrived at Sydney in September 1818. He brought with him £800. Only four other solicitors were then practising in the colony. His father, a brother and three sisters followed him to Sydney and the family received a large grant of land in the Mulgoa district with a six-mile (9.6 km) frontage to the Nepean River where James Norton also was granted 950 acres (384 ha), which he farmed. The legal practice flourished and in 1826 he took William Barker into partnership. Norton was counsel for the Crown in many big cases.

In his first year in Sydney he became an active member of a committee to form a savings bank. In May 1825 he became first registrar of the archdeaconry of Sydney, and served in it for thirty years. In 1834 he bought Elswick, a 100-acre (40 ha) property on the Parramatta Road. There he had an old-world garden with groups of roses, bamboos and gardenias, peacocks, a pond rich in eels, and an orchard. A row of cottages stood behind the house for the convict servants. He won several prizes for his flowers and plants at the Australian Floral and Horticultural Society Exhibition in 1841.

Norton was a shareholder in the Australian Agricultural Co. and a director of the Bank of Australia from April 1826 until its collapse in 1843. He was also director of the Bank of New South Wales from February 1823 until May 1826, when he resigned. He was nominated to the first Legislative Council under responsible government on 16 September 1856 and framed many bills of a legal character. He took little part after 1859 because of ill health and his term of five years lapsed on 13 May 1861. Among his many pamphlets he published Essays and Reflections in Australia (Sydney, 1852) and Australian Essays on Subjects Political, Moral, and Religious (London, 1857). He declared himself undeluded 'by the clap-trap of free trade', and wrote Facts for the Protectionists (Sydney, 1857) in refutation of John Dunmore Lang's article of the same name. In support of the Protectionists he also published Free Trade and Protection (Sydney, 1857) and The Condition of the Colony of New South Wales (Sydney, 1860).

On 10 January 1824 he married Jane, daughter of Alexander McKenzie, cashier of the Bank of New South Wales. They had eight sons and two daughters. His wife died on 23 March 1840 at Elswick and on 1 February 1843 he married Marian, only daughter of John Backhouse, of Ipswich, England, by whom he had three sons and two daughters. Norton died on 31 August 1862 at Elswick, and a few months later his widow sailed for England where she settled.

Norton had a rough manner and was very outspoken but was kind and conscientious and regarded with affection by those in close contact with him.

Select Bibliography

  • The Nortons of Sussex and New South Wales (Syd, 1912)
  • A. Halloran, ‘Some Early Legal Celebrities’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 10, part 6, 1924, pp 301-47.

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

'Norton, James (1795–1862)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 24 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


27 July, 1795
Hastings, Sussex, England


31 August, 1862 (aged 67)
Leichhardt, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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