Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hugh Cokeley Ross (1795–1869)

by Hugh D. Ross

This article was published:

Hugh Cokeley Ross (1795-1869), lawyer, came of an Episcopalian family of Aberdeen, Scotland. He received his primary education at Morden Academy, Morden, Surrey, England, and later qualified as barrister, solicitor and conveyancer at the Courts of Westminster. He reached Hobart Town in the Regalia in December 1822, was admitted to the Lieutenant-Governor's Court on 1 April 1823, and next day to the Supreme Court of Civil and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction for New South Wales. In June he entered into partnership with George Cartwright, and together they acted as solicitors to the Bank of Van Diemen's Land on its formation in August. In October 1824 he applied for a land grant and, on the strength of his capital of £7500, received 1000 acres (405 ha) at Bothwell, on which to graze livestock received in payment for legal services.

When (Sir) Alfred Stephen, solicitor-general and crown solicitor, took leave of absence in 1832-33, Ross acted at first in both positions and later as crown solicitor only. He continued his private practice, until given onerous duties with the commission inquiring into the titles of land, the remuneration for which was always in arrears and poor compensation for that of his private practice. On the dismissal of Henry Emmett, Ross became clerk of the peace, confirmation of the appointment being strongly recommended by Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur, who expressed himself very satisfied with his past services to the government. Later Ross was given the additional duties of conducting jury cases at the Quarter Sessions, until such cases were discontinued. At the suggestion of Stephen, then attorney-general, he was appointed crown solicitor at a salary of £500. Until the arrival of Herbert Jones as solicitor-general, Ross acted competently in his positions but his inability to work harmoniously with Jones brought complaints of his attitude and efficiency.

Ross was in financial difficulties in 1840. His family was increasing, his salary fell by £100 and his large residence in Hobart was sold for £1000 less than its value in the depressed colonial economy. Ross found it necessary to borrow from Crown debts which it was his responsibility to sue for, but not collect. Hoping to find more remunerative work in Port Phillip, he asked for leave, and when refused, absented himself. Not until six days after his departure was the extent of his defalcations realized. Warrants immediately sent to other colonial ports determined Ross on taking a ship for Singapore. He went from there to Batavia, and in May 1841 appeared in Western Australia, whence after some difficulty with an extradition warrant he was brought back to Hobart in custody, to the regret of the colonists who sympathized with Ross's difficulties and those of his wife and family. He was committed for trial on 8 March 1842, charged with embezzlement of £2021 belonging to the Crown. Edward Macdowell, formerly attorney-general until he too had disagreed with the solicitor-general, shattered the prosecution's case on a legal point and won a verdict of not guilty. Ross then free, sailed with one son for Sydney and New Zealand, where he set up as a lawyer in Lambton Quay, Wellington, that year. In February 1844, after a legal dispute, he mortally wounded a fellow lawyer, W. V. Brewer, in a duel. Ross served as a lieutenant in the militia during the disturbances in the North Island in 1846. In the early 1850s he retired from his legal practice and settled at Cokeley, on the Rangitikei River, where his wife died in September 1853. He died on 27 August 1869, aged 73.

Ross was twice married. Left with four small children on the death of his wife Sarah in 1825, he married Anna Maria, daughter of James Boteler Wood, in 1829, and by her had four sons, three of whom survived.

Select Bibliography

  • L. E. Ward, Early Wellington (Wellington, 1928)
  • correspondence file under Ross (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Hugh D. Ross, 'Ross, Hugh Cokeley (1795–1869)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 16 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 August, 1869 (aged ~ 74)
New Zealand

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