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Dewigged, Bothered and Bewildered

Dewigged, Bothered and Bewildered

British Colonial Judges on Trial, 1800-1900

By John McLaren


Throughout the British colonies in the nineteenth century, judges were expected not only to administer law and justice but also to play a significant role within the governance of their jurisdictions. British authorities were consequently concerned about judges’ loyalty to the Crown and on occasion removed or suspended those who were found politically subversive or personally difficult. Even reasonable and well-balanced judges were sometimes threatened with removal.

Using the career histories of judges who challenged the system, Dewigged, Bothered, and Bewildered illuminates issues of judicial tenure, accountability, and independence throughout the British Empire. John McLaren closely examines cases of judges across a wide geographic spectrum – from Australia to the Caribbean, and from Canada to Sierra Leone – who faced disciplinary actions. These riveting stories provide helpful insights into the tenuous position of the colonial judiciary and the precarious state of politics in a variety of British colonies.


Colonial Judges in Trouble: Setting the Scene
Judicial Tenure, Accountability, and Independence in the Common Law World before 1800
The Administration of Colonial Justice and Law in the Nineteenth-Century British Empire: General Contours
The Perils of the Colonial Judiciary: Courting Reform in a Counter-revolutionary Empire, 1800-1830
The Perils of the Colonial Judiciary: Ultra-conservative Judges in an Era of Developing Reformist Sentiment in the British Empire, 1810-1840
The Perils of the Colonial Judiciary: Guarding the Sanctity of the communal law from Local ‘Deviations’ in a Convict Colony, 1800-1830
The Perils of the Colonial Judiciary: English Legal Culture and the Repugnancy Card in the Australian Colonies, 1830-1850
Repugnancy in Australia after 1850: Shoot-out in Adelaide, 1854-1868
The Perils of the Colonial Judiciary: The Incubus of Slavery in the West Indian Colonies and West Africa, 1800-1834
The Perils of the Colonial Judiciary: The Indelible Stain of Slavery in the West Indian Colonies, 1834-1900
Judges, Courts, and Empire in the nineteenth Century and Beyond


Achieving a balance of lively narrative and insightful analysis, this book is a true tour de force. John McLaren applies care and wisdom as he shows colonial judges as aspiring individuals with assorted quirks and personal problems, excellently illustrating the muddle of principles, special interests, and grumpy personalities that characterized a messy and unstable empire. Original, creative, thoroughly researched, astutely argued, and smoothly written, this study is sure to attract favourable attention and acclaim from legal scholars and historians of the British Empire.

John Weaver, Department of History, McMaster University

Dewigged, Bothered, and Bewildered is a comprehensive, very important achievement. More than just an entertaining collection of stories about cranky judges, it provides and excellent history of the British legal empire from the late eighteenth century onward. As all the best histories to, this book brings out a pattern of threads in its analysis rather than a single uniform line. John McLaren is the only perosn I know with sufficiently broad legal historical knowledge to attempt such a huge task, and he succeeds at it remarkably well.

Bruce Kercher, School of Law, Macquarie University

The impressively researched and ambitious Dewigged, Bothered, and Bewildered makes an important contribution to the growing field of comparative legal history. Through well-selected judicial examples, John McLaren provides rich illustrations of many important constitutional and rule of law themes. This lively, engaging book promises to stimulate reflection and new debate on colonial development and the relationship between law and politics.

Barry Wright, Departments of Law and History, Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Carleton University


Published 1 November 2011
Published on behalf of The Francis Forbes Society for Australian Legal History
ISBN 9781442644373
Australian RRP $69.50
International Price $64.50
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