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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Windeyer, Charles (1780–1855)

by J. B. Windeyer

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Charles Windeyer (1780-1855), by unknown artist

Charles Windeyer (1780-1855), by unknown artist

City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 54/552

Charles Windeyer (1780-1855), magistrate, was born on 1 July 1780 in Staffordshire, England, the son of Walter Windeyer (1751-1801) and grandson of John Windeyer (1714-1794) who had left Switzerland, and married and settled in England about 1735. After some training in law he became a journalist and publisher. From 1815 to 1819 he was publisher and proprietor of the weekly Law Chronicle and Estate Advertiser, and later a parliamentary reporter for The Times. In 1825 he was chosen for the staff of the Representative. It soon ceased publication and the outlook became dreary for Windeyer who, by his marriage in London on 8 August 1805 to Ann Mary Rudd of Rochester, now had ten children. His thoughts turned to New South Wales where his friend James Dowling had been appointed a judge, and the opportunity of taking up land was attractive.

Leaving his eldest son Richard in England, Windeyer sailed in the Sarah with his wife and other children, arriving at Sydney in July 1828. His capital was sufficient to entitle him to a maximum grant of 2560 acres (1036 ha) which he located on the upper Williams River opposite Dowling's grant. This property, Tilligra, was worked by one of his sons. Windeyer himself had to find employment in Sydney to maintain his family. His appointment as chief clerk to the bench of magistrates in September 1828 was grudgingly confirmed by the Colonial Office intent on economy. But Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling was desperately in need of respectable officers, especially those with legal knowledge. Windeyer was soon acting as chief clerk of the police and in October 1830 was promoted assistant superintendent of police. In August 1833 he applied for appointment as principal superintendent of police in place of Francis Rossi who was about to retire, but Governor (Sir) Richard Bourke reported, 'I do not think he would succeed in the organization or command of a Police Force, for which his previous habits have in no respect qualified him … it will be more for the good of the service to leave Mr Windeyer on the Bench'. He was therefore appointed second police magistrate for the town and port of Sydney at a salary of £400, sitting regularly either in the George Street Police Court or, when dealing with convict offenders, in the Hyde Park Barracks. In 1839 he became officially known as senior police magistrate.

His knowledge of law was competent and he applied it with common sense. Educated, painstaking and kindly, he won general respect. In October 1832 he approved Bourke's policy on the jurisdiction of unpaid magistrates over convict servants, but those who disapproved and thought that discipline could only be maintained by ruthless use of the lash complained of Windeyer's leniency. In March 1834, when he awarded only eighteen lashes to a man who had wilfully destroyed two blankets, the Monitor violently criticized him and claimed that fifty lashes were deserved. In these and other disputes Windeyer's refusal to be overborne was resentfully attacked by James Mudie in The Felonry of New South Wales (London, 1837). Windeyer bore criticisms and disappointments without bitterness. His only direct incursion into politics was in 1843 when he stood for election to the Legislative Council but was defeated by Alexander McLeay.

In addition to his other duties Windeyer was from 1837 a commissioner for examining claims for crown lands, and often served on other official inquiries. In 1842, when Sydney was incorporated as a city, he was appointed its first mayor, filling the office until the first city council was elected. In March 1848 he retired from the bench with a pension of £180. With other members of the family he also had pastoral interests, but these were lost when his son Richard's financial affairs collapsed in 1848. After the gold discoveries, however, he was granted an increase in his pension. He died at Newtown on 30 January 1855, survived by his wife, ten children and numerous grandchildren. Mount Windeyer near Dungog was named after him. A small portrait is in the Mitchell Library and others are in the possession of his descendants.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 14-18
  • J. Wade, British History, Chronologically Arranged (Lond, 1839)
  • Windeyer family papers (privately held).

Citation details

J. B. Windeyer, 'Windeyer, Charles (1780–1855)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 2 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

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