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Nepean History

First settler family across the river Sir Francis and Lady Amelia Forbes

By Rev Russell Davies

Sophie shows just how bitter and vindictive Governor Darling was in this quote. “To be a friend or even an acquaintance of the Chief Justice was suffi cient to place the culprit so offending upon the black books at Government House. As nearly all the offi cials in the crown colony days held their appointments at the Governor’s pleasure, it was scarcely to be wondered at that many people fought shy of our friendship, and sought rather to avoid than seek our society.” She goes on to describe how petty and vindictive this could become. When the Governor heard that the Forbeses were giving a dinner party on a particular night, he would issue his own invitation at the last moment to the guests, headed ‘The governor commands your attendance at dinner…’ As a result,

the embarrassed guests would make their apologies to Francis and Sophie, ‘so that they might obey His Excellency’s mandate.’ In the end Sophie comments, “In order to save ourselves and our friends from this humiliation, we ceased to entertain.” It took a direct threat from the Secretary of State for the Colonies that he would recall the judge and relieve the governor of his command to resolve their differences. This only happened when Richard Bourke took over as governor in 1831. That is not to say that Francis didn’t indulge in a little game playing of his own. The famous William Charles Wentworth and his crony Robert Wardell had started a newspaper, ‘The Australian,’ through which they tried, like the present owner of The Australian, to make changes in the colony to the benefi t of themselves and other wealthy free citizens. They did this by regularly challenging the governor. Finally they found the issue on which to go all out. Two soldiers, Joseph Sudds and Patrick Thompson, felt that soldiers were treated even more cruelly than convicts, but there was no way to get out of the army. Their solution was to steal a bolt of cloth, so that after their seven year prison term they would be free men. Aware of what they were up to, Governor Darling ordered that they serve their seven years in chains on a road gang, then, be returned to the regiment as soldiers when the seven years were up. The problem was that Sudds died in his cell with a spiked collar round his neck, and the newspaper whipped up public opinion into a frenzy against the governor. Darling’s response to this was to write two bills severely restricting the freedom of the press and imposing a overnment stamp duty on them. Francis was absent from the executive council when this was presented, but the clerk of the council reported that he was verbally satisfi ed with the bills’ contents. The newspaper’s barrister pointed out that without Francis’ signature the bill was invalid, and a great argument ensued.

PART 3... continued from 17 November

Rather than resolving it, Francis retired to Edinglassie for three weeks, and only three days before the bill was due to become law he publicly expressed his doubts about its propriety and refused to sign it. Darling was forced to back down, so it is little surprise that he hated Francis.

Most of his rulings were progressive and popular, particularly his introduction of trial by a jury of 12 free settlers, and his proposal to enlarge the legislative assembly to 48 by the addition of 12 members to be elected by the people. He also opposed the awarding of land grants to infl uential people, and preferred rather the sale of land, profi ts going to fund more desirable residents.

When Francis retired from the position of Chief Justice in 1837, his farewell had to be held at Hyde Park racecourse because no public building was large enough to hold the crowds who wanted to pay tribute to him. He was described as a kind and courteous man with a warm and actively benevolent disposition. The governor of the day, Richard Bourke, recommended him for a knighthood, which was duly conferred on him on 5 April 1837 A portrait was commissioned by the Sydney College, of which he was a patron, and now adorns the main assembly room of Sydney Grammar School. Following his Hyde Park farewell, Francis and Sophie left for Cambridge, UK, by ship, and were welcomed there. However, his health was not good. He had postponed his leave too long because of his busy schedule, and it was now affecting him. Even here, he continued to work on a proposal from the new NSW Governor, Richard Bourke. Bourke proposed that the legislative council should have 24 members, of whom 16 should be elected by the colonists of the populated areas and eight by the Crown. The president should be appointed by the Crown. Francis proved more conservative than Bourke on this issue. While he was happy to see former convicts sit on juries once they had been emancipated, he did not approve of them being eligible to stand for the legislative council. No criminals in parliament! Mind you, Governor Bourke was also opposed to the election of clergymen to the council on the grounds that they would stir up sectarian passions. The draft of his proposed bill said that “no person under the age of 21, no minister of religion, and no person convicted of treason, felony or other infamous crime” should be eligible for election.

Francis asked that his leave be extended, which was granted. However, he was never to return to full time work again. He retired on a pension, and died on 8 November 1841 at Leitrim Lodge, Newtown, survived by his mother, his wife and two sons. Emu Plains has had many fi ne residents since, but none has proved greater than its fi rst residents, Lady Amelia Sophia and Sir Francis Forbes.

Nepean News 29 December 2011 Issue 65 | 29

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