à BECKETT, Sir Thomas (1836-1919)

à BECKETT, Sir Thomas (1836-1919)
was born in London on 31 August 1836. His father, Thomas Turner à Beckett (1808-92), brother of Sir William à Beckett (q.v.), was educated at Westminster School. He came to Australia on a visit to his brother, arrived at Melbourne in January 1851, and, deciding to stay, practised as a solicitor. He was nominated to the legislative council in 1852, and after responsible government came in was elected for the Central Province in 1858. He held this seat for 20 years, was a minister without portfolio in the Heales (q.v.) ministry from November 1860 to November 1861, and commissioner of trades and customs from April 1870 to June 1871 in the third McCulloch (q.v.) ministry. He was the author of several pamphlets on legal and other subjects, and was registrar of the diocese of Melbourne from 1854 to 1887, a member of the council of the university, and a trustee of the public library.
His eldest son, Thomas, came to Australia with his father in 1851, returned to London in 1856, and entered as a student at Lincoln's Inn. He won a studentship and was called to the bar in November 1859. Returning to Victoria in 1860 he quickly established a practice, specializing in equity. He was lecturer in the law of procedure for several years at the university of Melbourne from 1874 onwards, and had been leader of the equity bar for some time when he was appointed a supreme court judge in September 1886. He was just 50 years of age and did not retire until 31 July 1917, nearly 31 years later. In 1916 the bar of Victoria presented his portrait by Max Meldrum to the supreme court library, and the opportunity was taken to express the affection in which à Beckett was held. He died at Melbourne on 21 June 1919. He married in 1875 Isabella, daughter of Sir Archibald Michie (q.v.), who survived him with two sons and three daughters. He was knighted in 1909. A younger brother, Edward à Beckett (1844-1932), was a portrait painter. Examples of his work are at the supreme court, Melbourne.
à Beckett was an active man and continued to play tennis until an advanced age. Like other members of his family he had a keen sense of humour, and many stories are told of him and his sayings, both on and off the bench. He was very popular with the bar, though counsel did not always appreciate his direct methods, which were aimed at preventing the unnecessary prolongation of cases. Occasionally he would deliver what he called an "interim judgment" when he considered one party had a hopeless case. Though good-tempered, obliging and courteous, he could be called a strong judge, and he was never afraid to dissent from his colleagues in the full court. It was found that no judge of the period had his decisions less often upset by the high court or the privy council, and he ranks as one of the finest equity judges Australia has known.
The Age, Melbourne, 23 June 1919; The Argus, Melbourne, 23 June 1919; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography; Burke's Colonial Gentry, 1891.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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