About Me

This blog is written by Janine Rizzetti . It commenced life as a research blog to support the PhD thesis I completed in 2015 on the colonial career of Justice John Walpole Willis, the first Resident Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales for the District of Port Phillip between 1841-1843.  Hence, the name of this blog.

Blogs do tend to take on a life of their own, and since 2008 this blog has expanded its focus from Judge Willis and colonial Port Phillip to include book reviews, brief comments about films I have seen, conferences I’ve attended and podcasts and lectures that I’ve listened to.  Having lived nearly all my life in and around Heidelberg, and as secretary of the local Heidelberg Historical Society, there’s an emphasis on Heidelberg in particular.

If you’d like to email me, my address is ‘residentjudge’ (one word, lower case) then @ symbol ‘gmail.com’.


While writing my thesis over the past several years, I’ve made several presentations at various conferences and events.   These ones have made it into the cyberworld, and are available either through direct links, or through a State or University library.

‘Judging Boundaries: Justice Willis, Local Politics and Imperial Justice’ Australian Historical Studies, Volume 40, Issue 3, 2009 pp. 362-375 [You will need to log in to a State or university library to access this article]

I was delighted to be awarded the K. S. Inglis prize for this paper, which I presented to the Australian Historical Association conference in 2008.  It was early in my research: hence my error in stating that Willis was exonerated by the Privy Council after his dismissal from Upper Canada.  I console myself that others have made the same error.

Abstract: Justice John Walpole Willis arrived in Melbourne in March 1841 as its first Resident Judge. After just over two years he was removed from office by Governor Gipps and the Executive Council and returned to England to pursue justice through the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. His career exemplifies the colonial civil servants’ dilemma: ‘thinking globally’ by maintaining connections in the wider imperial circuit, but ‘acting locally’ by keeping boundaries in the local and interpersonal colonial sphere. The dismissal of Justice Willis reflects the tensions between colonial authority and politics and the broader transnational nature of imperial justice.

Sifting to the Bottom of Financial Impropriety: Judge Willis and Insolvency in Port Phillip’ Journal of Historical and European Studies Vol 2, 2009

I gave this paper at an internal La Trobe conference and it was published in this journal of postgraduate student work published by La Trobe University.  The journal used to be open-access, but it doesn’t appear to be now.

Abstract: As we have seen in recent months, a financial crisis can re-order institutional and personal relationships, and prompt a re-evaluation of political priorities and imperatives. This was true, too, in Port Phillip in 1841-43 during John Walpole Willis’ appointment as the first residential Supreme Court judge of the district.  This paper examines the experience of insolvency in the young, strongly entrepreneurial community, and the relationship between Willis’ avowal to sift to the bottom of financial impropriety and the political manoeuvres that led to his removal from office.

‘Judge Willis, Bonjon and the Recognition of Aboriginal Law’ ANZLHS- e journal

Paper given at the Australian and New Zealand Law and History Society Conference (ANZLHS), 2010  Available free as downloadable PDF at :


Abstract: In September 1841, Mr Justice John Walpole Willis, the first Resident Judge of the Port Phillip district of the Supreme Court delivered an address to the court in the district’s first case of inter-tribal murder, R.v Bonjon. In examining the question of the court’s jurisdiction, Willis held that he, as a single judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, was not bound by the decision of his brother judges in R v Murrell five years earlier. New South Wales was not unoccupied on discovery, he argued, and Aborigines had not consented to British occupation or sovereignty. In crimes committed among themselves, they were not amenable to British law and were entitled to exercise their own usages and laws.

His stance was over-ruled, both locally and by the Colonial Office, and R v Bonjon was relegated to the status of a footnote in later discussions of Supreme Court thinking on indigenous legal autonomy.

This paper examines the context in which Willis’ address in R v Bonjon was delivered, and the links between its arguments and other developments and policies in the empire. In it, Willis presented his own historical story of Australia’s settlement, an account that interwove other historical and political narratives of Empire and fed into local debates of how the settlement of the nascent colony of Port Phillip was to be framed historiographically. The paper argues that R v Bonjon, as a piece of judicial theatre, was more about Willis than it was about Bonjon. It was another manifestation of Willis’ rivalry with his brother judges in Sydney and can be seen as part of his ongoing attempt to position himself as an authority in the debate over sovereignty and imperial policy more generally.

‘Global Positioning Systems: Circuits of Empire Large and Small’

This paper was given at the La Trobe postgraduate conference in 2012.  The spoken version of the paper is available for free through I-Tunes (where it is titled ‘Movement around the Empire’) at:


Abstract: A quick survey of the biographies of colonial officials featured in the Australian Dictionary of Biography highlights the mobility inherent to the careers of British civil servants. In the first half of the nineteenth century, it was common for governors, judges, surveyors and other office-holders to circulate between postings in North America, the sugar colonies, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, with occasional periods of leave back ‘home’ before embarking on yet another position.

Within these larger circuits, however, were the smaller social circuits that colonial civil servants needed to negotiate once they had been appointed to a position. In a small colonial outpost, the official circle which gathered around the governor had its own hierarchies, rules and performances which were superimposed, socially and spatially, onto the townscape. For colonial judges, in particular, there was a tension between the maintenance of dignity and authority through a self-imposed separateness and the equally important need for visibility in the act of performing British justice far from the metropole.

This paper uses the career of one such judge, Justice John Walpole Willis, as a “window on an age” to examine the negotiation of the circuits of empire, both large and small, in the differing environments of Upper Canada, British Guiana and Port Phillip. Through diary entries and newspaper reports, it examines Willis’ own responses to the tension between separateness and visibility in three very different geographical, political milieu that were bound together by the Britishness that he, in his his role as British judge, embodied.

Rare Books Week 2014 – RHSV

As part of Rare Books Week for 2014, the Royal Historical Society featured the casebooks of Justice John Walpole Willis.  My paper, in two parts, can be found on the Judge Willis CaseBooks Page as two downloadable Word documents:

Judge Willis: A Career of Contradictions – A talk given for Rare Book Week 2014 (Part 1)

Judge Willis: a Man of Books – A talk given for Rare Book Week 2014 (Part 2)

Judge Willis Case Books Website- RHSV

I was delighted to be asked to provide some of the Support Materials on the Judge Willis Casebooks site, hosted by the Royal Historical Society of Victoria. This invaluable site provides transcripts of some of the casebooks written up by Judge Willis while sitting on the bench in Port Phillip.  His Honour Paul Mullaly QC has provided a commentary, explaining the legal considerations that lay behind Willis’ summary of the case.

I wrote the following sections under the Support Materials section:

  • The Colonial Judicial Career of Mr. Justice Willis
  • The Supreme Court And Its Functions
  • The First Two Courthouses Of The Supreme Court – Port Phillip
  • Port Phillip On Judge Willis’ Arrival
  • A Supreme Court Judge In A Small Society

Launch of the Judge Willis Casebooks website

The Judge Willis Casebooks site was launched in September 2014 by the Chief Justice Marilyn Warren at the RHSV.  The podcast of the occasion is available at

http://www.historyvictoria.org.au/whats-on/lectures/podcasts and a link is available here.

The podcast starts with the Chief Justices’ presentation that runs to the 35 minute mark, followed by Paul Mullaly QC to about 1:06:30, then my presentation from that point on.

Conversation Hour with Jon Faine 19 September 2014

Well, THAT was an experience!


Our section starts as 12.12   The earlier segment involves assisted suicide in Belgium, so if you find that distressing, you may wish to skip ahead.


(Simon Smith, Richard Broome, me and Damien Carrick)

28 responses to “About Me

  1. Great looking blog – I especially like the picture up top.

  2. I believe the North Melbourne lake was around where the North Melbourne rail station and train lines now are, stretching up to Arden Street, where the football oval and pool are.

    There are quotes from white settlers around the 1850s, in Mr Hannan’s book, which attest to its beauty. It was pumped full of human waste and was eventually deemed unsanitary by the North Melbourne (then Hotham) council, and hence drained.

    There were huge sanitary problems (and deaths) in the area due to human waste (feces).

  3. My Myers-Briggs assessed me as a researcher!
    I could have told them that beforehand.

  4. Like the site.
    A pity I didn’t find it long ago as I have been researching Willis, The Twelve Apostles and 416 others who lived in Melbourne during Willis’ reign for many (too many) years and may have been able to assist.

  5. I have that many pieces of original correspondence personally signed by Port Phillip residents who lived here at the time.

    I have spent the last ……… (too many) years researching them and attempting to establish where they fitted in to the PP fabric of the time.

    Ten of the 12 Apostles, Three Resident Judges (including Willis), Solicitors, Doctors, Merchants, Squatters, Bakers, Innkeepers, Poundkeepers, Brick Makers, Street Sweepers and just plain settlers – you name it I have them.

    I am in the process of putting together a biographical tome of about 850 pages that I hope to publish within the next 12 months.

    Excluding the obvious standouts, very little, if anything, has ever been written about the vast majority of my subjects.

    • What an undertaking! That was one of the things that I wondered about with the Twelve Apostles- what was the web of connection that brought them to all be involved in this? Are there any collections of correspondence specifically about Judge Willis that you could point me to? My email address is at the top of the page if you’d prefer. I started doing a similar thing with the petitions signed for or against him, but found myself uncertain about duplicated and misspelled names. I hope you get it published- I’m sure that many people doing family history research would be interested in it.

  6. The email address it shows is
    which does not accept mail.


    The Royal Historical Society of Victoria have an extensive collection on Willis (‘The Willis Papers’) – I’m sure you already know this. Paul Mullaly used them extensively in his work.

    My personal collection also includes some documents written by Willis but nothing that really gives much insight into ‘what made him tick’.


    I have an interesting seven page handwritten affidavit made by James Purves in January 1843 which outlines the establishment of the 12 Apostles and their indemnifying Rucker.

    It mentions all 12 but doesn’t really give much insight into how the 12 came together – to me it appears that they were drawn by a common interest – self protection (effectively offering indemnity to one another to aid business expansion and making money). How they socially met is another question.


    As a point of interest I also have a piece of correspondence from him which he signs MacKillop.

    In the correspondence I have from him he describes himself as a ‘Yeoman’ (owner of free title to land) so he clearly was a man of some means prior to the depression. He arrived on 12 November 1838 so he didn’t have a great deal of time to accumulate wealth – I would assume he was not wealthy when he arrived.


  7. What an undertaking! That was one of the things that I wondered about with the Twelve Apostles- what was the web of connection that brought them to all be involved in this? Are there any collections of correspondence specifically about Judge Willis that you could point me to? My email address is at the top of the page if you’d prefer. I started doing a similar thing with the petitions signed for or against him, but found myself uncertain about duplicated and misspelled names. I hope you get it published- I’m sure that many people doing family history research would be interested in it.

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  9. Janine
    Who were the resident gossips in Port Phillip in the 1840s and 50s who left records of their gossip?
    Is the McKillop related to the George McKillop and Smith who held Strath Downie (later Glenormiston from early 1840 when Niel Black bought the rights to the run and some of the sheep) McKillop arrived in VDL in 1835 and came to PP in 1836. I have just started at Unimelb on the Black papers and there is stuff hidden in the odd comment on which I would like to expand. Trove is good for some things, but I was wondering if in your travels you had come upon any/one /thing particularly useful as a source outside the usual suspects like Garryowen etc. Or are these sources all in the etc.?

    • No- Alexander arrived in Sydney in January 1838, then came to Port Phillip after that. There seem to be many MacKillops (and many variations of the spellings!) but no, he was not involved with Niel Black.

      Garryowen is the main gossip (and what a gossip he was!), although in the newspapers there are other gossipy little features like “Bob Short” which appeared regularly in the Port Phillip Patriot. It’s a strange little paragraph of a string of observations and allusions that don’t make much sense now. e.g.
      Alack and well-a-day! Criminal Court- awful- learned Judge, robed &c &c- barristers- pretty horse-haired heads- full of- what? query- full of law, logic or lackadaisy- Judge Willis- suits Melbourne- straightforward, upright, plain, vigorous, painstaking, anxious to see awarded real justice- too hard on the C.P.- quite so”

      The Bunbury letters are online at SLV, and while not gossip as such, they are very newsy and good value.

      • I now find Alexander McKillop knew Black, as the shipping lists have them on the Ariadne arriving in Sydney in 1839. AMcK is implied to have come from Adelaide..

  10. Port Phillip settlement enthusiast

    what an exciting blog to discover 🙂 I too am very interested in this – particularly so the cultural shift for gentlewomen arriving in Port Phillip 🙂 we should start a messageboard and a coffee meetup for Port Phillip enthusiasts 🙂

  11. Shannon McKeogh

    I look forward to reading more of your book reviews!

  12. Hi Janine, we’re having a conversation about Women Writing History over on my blog and we need some input from a real-live historian. Can you join us, if you have time? See http://anzlitlovers.com/2012/09/18/women-and-nonfiction-overland-literary-journal/#comments

  13. Janine, have you come across a man named William Houstoun in your travels. I have a letter in the Niel Black papers (MS8996, Box 20) in which he mentions the Resident Judge of Port Phillip (sometime before 1843) in such a way as to suggest he knew him well. Houstoun ended up in Glasgow, where his brother John G Houstoun was a writer and Procurator Fiscal for Barony, writing to Black to ask him to use his (Black’s) powerful friends for patronage purposes in his favour. The letter is dated 26 Sep 1843 and the relevant para is “You are aware that I also brought a letter from the Resident Judge to Mr. Gladstone of the Board of Trade and others, members of the Legislature and it may be proper for you also to keep in view that the Judge at Port Phillip referred Lord S[tanley]. and the others to me for all information as to the administration of justice//Justice in the colony and the state of the colony generally. I had a letter from Mr. Gladstone acknowledging receipt of this letter, and referring me to Lord S[tanley]. I had a letter from the colonial office acknowledging receipt of the dispatches and a letter from me, stating my readiness to execute my commission. I mention these matters as it may be proper for your friends to know and to refer to them.”

    Kevin Brewer

  14. Meant to mention Houstoun was admitted to the colonial bar, and had spent some time in Sydney and Port Phillip, but I don’t as yet know much about him.

    Kevin Brewer

  15. Hi Janine, Congratulations on your blog! I have nominated you for a Liebster Blog Award. You can visit my blog page for the details. http://branchesofourfamily.wordpress.com/
    Cheers Susan

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  18. hello -enjoyed your comments upon EGW.
    Despite the balanced work of Temple Egw has been largely dismissed by hagiologists such as Moon .
    The anticolonial cringe is strong here in NZ ‘ .Its a pity that our much needed Maori renaissance should seem to require such polarisation.
    Historical perspective is a fascinating thing. Best Wishes – Ray Caird

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  20. Dear Janine – I’ve just found reference to a small collection of letters between JWW and John Gladstone (WEG’s father) that you may not know about in Gladstone’s Library – GG/322 Letters from JWW (judge in Demerara and NSW), 1837-41, 18 letters. I realise I don’t have an email address for you, but I can give you more details if you can contact me off line
    m dot diamond at uq dot edu dot au

    Cheers – Marion

    • Do you have copies of the letters? Why not post them on this site if you do? I am interested in WEG’s cousin Thomas Steuart Gladstone, who was partner in Niel Black and Co at Glenormiston, The Sisters, and Warreanga, among other places. TSG knew Thos Carlyle, so the Carlyle letters might have references to JWW.

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