J M Bennett’s new biography shows the mercurial figure of Lilley to be one of the giants of colonial Australia, a politician who took on the squatter class and forced democratic reform, earning the enduring, virulent hatred of his opponents; a Chief Justice of brilliant calibre until his one disastrous mistake.
“Sir Charles Lilley has proven a polarising figure, often subject to caricature and ridicule. As Dr Bennett observes, the record of Lilley’s formidable achievements has been distorted by adversaries, particularly the mostly hostile press of the time, or overshadowed by some infamous errors of judgment. All of this has to date inhibited a balanced appraisal of his life. Dr Bennett’s biography goes a long way towards redressing the imbalance.
The author’s narrative reveals a man of accomplishment: newspaper editor, a “founding father” of the legal profession, the first Queen’s Counsel in Queensland, reformist politician, Attorney-General, Premier and Chief Justice.”
The Hon Paul de Jersey, AC, Chief Justice of Queensland (from the Foreword)
Foreword by the Hon Chief Justice Paul de Jersey AC
List of Illustrations
1. “What a Radical He was Cherishing”
2. “I Came Poor and Unbefriended”
3. Editorial Themes
4. “His Views are Strongly Liberal”
5. “The Coming Man”
6. A Militia Bill – “Perfectly Uncalled For”
7. “No Gentleman had Higher Claims”
8. “Criminations and Recriminations”
9. “Fighting Hard Battles”
10. “In Opposition, One of the Most Valuable Members”
11. “The Ministry Obtained Their Position by Fraud”
12. The Lilley Court
13. Some Causes Célèbres
14. The Court and the Legal Profession
15. Storm Clouds Gathering
16. The Tempest
17. A Troubled Retirement and Reluctant Departure
18. Reserved Judgement
A Note on Two Lilley Portraits in Oils
Dr John Bennett’s biography of Sir Charles Lilley is a magnificent achievement and a stimulating addition – remarkably, the fourteenth – to the Lives of the Australian Chief Justices Series.
This is an important book about an intriguing man. For those who might consider that legal historical biography is dry, Bennett’s Lilley is the perfect antidote. It is doubtful whether any other historian has contributed as much to our understanding of Australian colonial legal history as John Bennett. With such an interesting, multi-talented, controversial, but flawed, man of integrity as a subject matter, Bennett’s skilled hands weave a fascinating story. It is the story of a man who is one of the most important figures in early Queensland’s political and legal landscape. The reviewer can only hope that Bennett’s account will go a long way to addressing Lilley’s tainted reputation and will firmly re-establish him as a champion of the rule of law, the legal profession, and democracy. Read full review…
Joachim Dietrich, Australian Bar Review, May 2015
The book is, as one would expect, very readable and is of the same high quality as the other books in the series. It is a good book to take away on vacation. Read full review…
Peter W Young, Australian Law Journal, May 2015
Not many Australian historians have written as prolifically and at such a consistently high standard as John Bennett. His life work is a series of biographies of the colonial Australian Chief Justices. Although primarily a legal historian, Bennett is also a master of nineteenth-century history in general. This biography of Sir Charles Lilley is the fourteenth in the series and Bennett shows no sign of flagging.
Bennett’s biography of Lilley is lucidly and learnedly written. His erudition about his subject and the era is remarkable. It is a “life and times” in the traditional sense. Reading Bennett’s Lilley is rather like a walk through historic countryside with a knowledgeable guide pointing out the byways, features and prospects. This is a work to which historians of colonial Queensland and its legal system will have constant recourse. Read full review…
David Clune, Australian Journal of Politics and History, March 2015
This is Dr Bennett’s 14th biography of Chief Justices of colonial Australia. It was, perhaps, the most difficult of those assignments. Few personal papers survive, and the author has had to breathe life into parliamentary papers, law reports and the often jaundiced opinions of contemporaries.
Dr Bennett has successfully, but not uncritically, freed Lilley from “the stain of the many personal and vicious attacks upon him by his political opponents”. Despite a dearth of personal papers, the author has skillfully drawn upon new material to craft an engaging biography of a complex man who was so much more than a lawyer.
This learned and eminently readable work, vividly depicting Queensland’s colonial lawyers and politics, is a fitting addition to Dr Bennett’s lives and times of early Australian Chief Justices. Read full review…
John R S Forbes, Australian Law Journal, March 2015
The writer was careful to provide a rounded view and interpretation of events that occurred and goes some way to explain many misconceptions about Sir Charles. You will be impressed with the strength of will, forward thinking and personal beliefs that defined Sir Charles. He did much to reform the practice of law, bring forward free public education and break the domination of the so-called squatters in parliament. Given another time and better support, he may well have been one of Australia’s best and most progressive politicians.
This is a well written and researched book. The reader is left in no doubt as to Sir Charles’ progress through the law and politics. Read full review…
Steven Milicevic, InPrint, Law Institute Journal Victoria, December 2014
In colonial Queensland, two legal figures stood out from their contemporaries—Sir Charles Lilley (1827-1897) and Sir Samuel Griffith (1845-1920).
We know a great deal about Griffith. His public life, as barrister, statesman and judge, was well-documented. … Lilley is a more elusive and difficult figure.
… In Dr Bennett’s new biography of Sir Charles Lilley, he has been careful not to be distracted by the ‘many personal and vicious attacks upon [Lilley] by his political opponents’. He has marshalled the objective evidence which is available about Lilley’s personal and professional life, and applied his deep knowledge of this period of Australian history to make considered and judicious assessments. In the result, a great deal of misinformation about this important figure has been exposed, and Lilley rightly emerges as ‘one of the leading statesmen of colonial Australia’ and ‘as one of the most accomplished lawyers of his generation’. Read full review…
John McKenna QC, Queensland Legal Yearbook, 2014
The author of this book, Dr JM Bennett, is a highly respected scholar and has extensively published in the field of Australian legal History… Dr Bennett traces, in great and meticulously well-researched detail, Lilley’s childhood in England, his early influences and exposure to legal practice as a law clerk, his voyage to Australia, his early years in legal practice in the Australian colonies, his life at the bar, his political life and views… and his well-received appointments as a Judge and later as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Queensland. Dr Bennett also notes Lilley’s eccentricities and the controversies leading up to his retirement and last days.
[T]he book gives us great insight into the man, his principles and his judicial approach and methods.
The book is a great contribution to judicial biography, and to Australian legal and political history. It is highly recommended to all practitioners.” Read full review…
Basem Seif, Ethos, ACT Law Society, December 2014
Sir Charles Lilley was appointed as Queensland’s second Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Queensland in 1879. Dr Bennett has meticulously catalogued Lilley’s life from his early days in Newcastle-upon-Tyne through to his departure from the law on the wake of the Grimley debacle. At the time of his death, his contribution to providing a free and secular education to all primary age boys and girls in Queensland was seen as his enduring legacy. Lilley, whether by reason of his politics or his overt errors of judgment, will always be a figure that divides opinion. Dr Bennett exposes a man who was one of a select few to have held the offices of Premier of Queensland and that of Chief Justice – an achievement that seems impossible today. In so doing, Dr Bennett provides a balanced assessment of a man who is remembered more today for scandal than the real contribution he made to Queensland.
Queensland Law Reporter – 8 August 2014 –  30 QLR