Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Randolph John Want (1811–1869)

by Richard Want

This article was published:

Randolph John Want (1811-1869), solicitor, was born in London, eldest son of John Want, surgeon and co-editor of The Medical and Physical Journal, and his wife Mary, née Nott. He arrived in Sydney on 8 May 1829 in the Swiftsure and received a grant in the County of Camden. Articled to F. W. Unwin he was admitted as a solicitor on 25 February 1837. In 1841 he took over Unwin's practice and became an examiner for aspirants to law. Among his clients were the wealthy emancipists Samuel Lyons and Samuel Terry. Acting for merchants seeking an equitable distribution of a bankrupt's assets, he was consulted about a new insolvency Act and in 1843 gave evidence about it to a Legislative Council select committee. He also appeared before select committees on Supreme Court rules and orders (1845), the Preferable Lien on Wool Act (1845) and the division of the legal profession abolition bill (1846).

In 1843 Want acted for the Bank of Australia when it met difficulties; he briefed counsel in the two famous trials, Bank of Australasia v. Breillat, and assisted the select committee that inquired into the proposed lottery to dispose of its assets. He became secretary of the Sydney Law Library Society which developed as a forum for professional discussion. When it was reconstituted in 1862 as the Law Institute of New South Wales, he became its second president; he drafted a bill of incorporation but it was not enacted for fifteen years. In the 1850s Want was a member of the Australian Philosophical Society, a committee-man of the Australasian Botanical and Horticultural Society, an elective trustee of the Australian Museum, a councillor of the Philosophical Society of New South Wales and later a fellow of St Paul's College within the University of Sydney. A committee-man of the Union Club and a member of the Australian Yacht Club, in 1862 he was a founding member of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron.

Want was appointed in 1856 for five years to the new Legislative Council and in its first year sat on ten select committees; on 10 May 1861 he resigned with the president Sir William Burton to prevent the 'swamping' of the council to pass (Sir) John Robertson's land bills. In 1860 he was a member of the general committee of the New South Wales Constitutional Association. Interested in mining and mining law, he was a pioneer of shale-mining and in the 1860s was chairman of the Ophir Copper Mining Co., the Moruya Silver Mining Co. and the Hartley Kerosene Oil and Paraffin Co., and solicitor for the Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney and the Peak Downs Copper Mining Co. Aged 57, Want died of haemorrhage of the stomach on 28 June 1869 and was buried in Ashfield cemetery. He was survived by his wife Harriette, née Lister, whom he had married at Christ Church St Laurence on 28 September 1839, and by five sons and four daughters. His son John Henry, Q.C., was attorney-general of New South Wales in 1885, 1886-87 and 1894-99.

Select Bibliography

  • S. E. Napier and E. N. Daly, The Genesis and Growth of Solicitors' Associations in New South Wales (Syd, 1937)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1843, 15, 1845, 727, 853, 1846, 2, 383
  • J. M. Bennett, ‘The Law Institute of N.S.W. 1862-1884’, Sydney Law Review, Mar 1960
  • Deane papers (University of Sydney Library)
  • Minter, Simpson & Co. papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Richard Want, 'Want, Randolph John (1811–1869)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


London, Middlesex, England


28 June, 1869 (aged ~ 58)
New South Wales, Australia

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