Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sir Henry Thomas Wrenfordsley (1825–1908)

by T. S. Louch

This article was published:

Sir Henry Thomas Wrenfordsley (1825-1908), judge, was born in Middlesex, England, son of Joseph Wrenfordsley, an Irish solicitor, and his wife Louisa, née Bywater. His father was known also as Wrendfordsley, Wransfordsley and Wrenford Sly. Educated privately in France, he entered Trinity College, Dublin, in March 1841 as Henry Wransfordsly but took no degree. Qualifying as a solicitor after serving articles in Dublin to his father and wealthy legal friends, he advertised as an independent practitioner from 1849. In 1854 he published a legal text and in 1859 a translation of a French evangelical sermon by Adolph Monod. In June 1860 he entered the Middle Temple and was called to the Bar on 30 April 1863.

Wrenfordsley was junior counsel in 1868 for the Privy Council office in House of Commons inquiries into the foreign cattle market. He stood unsuccessfully for Peterborough in 1868 and 1874. In 1876 he became a deputy-judge of County courts at Marylebone, Brompton and Brentford and in 1877 was appointed as puisne judge in Mauritius. In September 1878 he exchanged into the office of procurer-general where he was commended for his labour code and his review of Supreme Court procedure. Disappointed by failing to become chief justice of Mauritius he was appointed attorney-general of Jamaica but on the death of Sir Archibald Burt he was made chief justice of Western Australia; he arrived there in the Bangalore on 5 March 1880 accompanied by a lady, probably his sister. He represented the colony at the Intercolonial Conference in 1881. Next year he was appointed chief justice of Fiji but remained in Western Australia as administrator until June 1883 when he was knighted.

In Fiji he sought a specious popularity by siding with the planter community against the government defence of native rights. Admirers asserted that his judicial virtues had enhanced property values by 25 per cent. Plagued by his creditors, the Colonial Office thought his vanity and his debts were 'not a credit to us', and considered his speech attacking government policy at a valedictory banquet 'injudicious to say the least'. He left Fiji early in 1884 on sick leave, alleged to be spurious, and was acting judge in Tasmania from March 1885 to February 1887. Going to Melbourne he took silk, accepted a temporary seat on the bench and was described by Victorian barristers as 'a journeyman judge who went about with robes in his carpet bag'.

In 1891 Wrenfordsley returned temporarily to Western Australia. Chief Justice Onslow, at loggerheads with Governor Sir Frederick Broome, had been given leave till the end of Broome's term. Wrenfordsley acted until Onslow's return then went as chief justice to the Leeward Islands. In all his judicial appointments he was uniformly undistinguished as a lawyer. He retired to the south of France in 1901 and, aged 81, died unmarried at Antibes on 2 June 1908.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Foster, Men-at-the-Bar (Lond, 1885)
  • Dictionnaire de Biographie Mauricienne, vol 2 (Port Louis, 1945-52)
  • A. Dean, A Multitude of Counsellors (Melb, 1968)
  • Law Times, 12 Feb 1887
  • Inquirer (Perth), 10 Jan 1883
  • Australasian, 17 May 1884, 2 Apr 1887
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 10 June 1908, p 13
  • OC 18/200/143-146, 224, 83/36/393, 37/13, 304
  • information from King's Inns Library, Dublin, and Middle Temple Library, London.

Citation details

T. S. Louch, 'Wrenfordsley, Sir Henry Thomas (1825–1908)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 19 May 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]


Middlesex, England


2 June, 1908 (aged ~ 83)
Antibes, France

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