Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Alfred Wearing (1816–1875)

This article was published:

William Alfred Wearing (1816-1875), by S. Solomon

William Alfred Wearing (1816-1875), by S. Solomon

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 7711

William Alfred Wearing (1816-1875), judge, was born on 12 November 1816 at St Paul's Churchyard, London, eldest son of Christopher Hammond Wearing, merchant, and his wife Elizabeth Augusta, née Soulsby. Educated at St John's College, Cambridge, from 1837 (B.A., 1843), he was admitted to Lincoln's Inn on 30 December 1841 and called to the Bar on 4 May 1847. Wearing arrived in Adelaide in the Sibella on 2 February 1850 to rejoin his family who had preceded him in the Recovery in 1839. Admitted to the colonial Bar in April, he went into private practice with Charles Fenn. In 1856 he was appointed crown solicitor and public prosecutor at a salary of £600, but also continued private practice. On 4 October 1860 he married Jessie Clark of Adelaide.

Appointed a Q.C. on 13 March 1865, next year Wearing served on the secret court of inquiry which recommended the resignation of Peter Warburton as commissioner of police. He took an active part in the amoval from the bench of Mr Justice Benjamin Boothby and in 1867 became third judge of the Supreme Court and judge of the District Courts at Mount Gambier and Robe at a salary of £1300. It was claimed in parliament in 1869 that he 'was so mixed up with so many companies', that 'he seldom could sit in matters of the greatest importance'. But (Sir) James Boucaut retorted that Wearing had shown 'extraordinary delicacy in not sitting where interested' and that company shares had come to him through his wife's marriage settlement.

Wearing was described by Governor (Sir) James Fergusson as a 'somewhat impetuous and obstinate, though a useful and estimable' judge, and there were complaints that he was too lenient; but others found him unassuming with a vivacious and spontaneous wit both on and off the bench. These qualities, coupled with a considerable fluency, led him to contribute numerous anonymous articles and letters to the editor in the South Australian Register. An Anglican, he was a Freemason and member of the Provincial Grand Lodge of South Australia; he was also a justice of the peace.

Early in 1875 Wearing was asked by the government to open the first sessions of the Circuit Court at Palmerston (Darwin). Offered a bonus he declined it but asked that the extra payment on his insurance policy be made good. In Darwin he stayed with the government resident George Byng Scott; when he was returning to Adelaide in the Gothenberg with his staff, the ship was wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef, Torres Strait, on or about 25 February and Wearing was drowned. He was survived by his wife, three daughters and two sons. His estate was sworn for probate at £6500 and the government voted £4000 to his widow who moved with her children to London.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Lockwood, The Front Door, Darwin 1869-1959 (Adel, 1968)
  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1866-67, 3 (191), 1867, 2 (22), 1870-71, 3, 82-82b (159), 1875 (14)
  • Parliamentary Debates (South Australia), 1868-69, 1414, 1875, 214-221
  • Solicitors' Journal (London), 15 May 1875
  • Register (Adelaide), 2 Feb 1850, 8 Mar 1875
  • Appointments to public office, GRG 24/91/2 (State Records of South Australi)
  • private information
  • CO 13/125/404.

Citation details

'Wearing, William Alfred (1816–1875)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 16 June 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

William Alfred Wearing (1816-1875), by S. Solomon

William Alfred Wearing (1816-1875), by S. Solomon

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 7711

Life Summary [details]


12 November, 1816
London, Middlesex, England


February, 1875 (aged 58)
at sea

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