John Bigge

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

John Thomas Bigge
John Bigge.jpg
Portrait of John Thomas Bigge
Born8 March 1780
Northumberland, England
Died22 December 1843
Grosvenor Hotel, London, England
Cause of deathaccidental death
OccupationJudge and royal commissioner
Parent(s)Thomas Charles Bigge

John Thomas Bigge (8 March 1780 – 22 December 1843) was an English judge and royal commissioner.


Bigge was born at Benton House, Northumberland, England,[1] the son of Thomas Charles Bigge, High Sheriff of Northumberland in 1780. He was educated at Newcastle Grammar School and Westminster School (1795), and in 1797 entered Christ Church, Oxford (B.A., 1801; M.A., 1804).[1]

Bigge was called to the Bar in 1806 and was appointed Chief Judge of Trinidad in 1814, a post he held for the next four years.[2]

The Bigge Inquiry[edit]

Since 1817, Lord Bathurst had wanted to examine whether transportation was an effective deterrent to crime. The commissioner may also have been appointed in response to complaints to London from leaders of the community of free settlers including John Macarthur.[1]

On 5 January 1819, Bigge was appointed a special commissioner to examine the government of the Colony of New South Wales by Lord Bathurst, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. His brief was to determine how far the expanding colony of New South Wales could be "made adequate to the Objects of its original Institution", which were understood to be purely to be a penal colony. He was to come to Australia to investigate all aspects of the colonial government, then under the governorship of Lachlan Macquarie, including finances, the church and the judiciary, and the convict system.

Together with his secretary Thomas Hobbes Scott, Bigge arrived in Sydney on 26 September 1819, by the ship John Barry. Bigge finished gathering evidence February 1821 and on 10 February, sailed back to England aboard the ship Dromedary.[3]

While Bigge was in Australia, there was noticeable friction between himself and Governor Macquarie and he spent much time in the company of the Macarthurs.

Bigge's first report was published in June 1822 and his second and third reports in 1823. Elements of Bigge's reports criticised Governor Macquarie's administration including his emancipist policy, expenditure on public works and management of convicts. Macquarie answered criticisms to the secretary of state, Lord Bathurst in 1822. Bigge's reports are now viewed as not showing sufficient detachment and, although there were many excellent recommendations, there were also trifling recommendations and hyper-critical detail.

Many of the recommendations from Bigge's second report were incorporated into the New South Wales Act 1823, which reformed the colony's government and judicial system. It also provided for a separate administration for Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania).

Bigge's third report was the most impartial and least contentious. It afforded a generally clear picture of farming and grazing in the Sydney district and west of the Blue Mountains. It did not sufficiently acknowledge the important developments of the Illawarra district and tended to suggest falsely that agriculture was drooping under Macquarie. Otherwise it was well presented and included useful accounts of the state of revenue, trade and the country's economic position.[1]

In 1824, Governor Brisbane approved the sale of crown land in accordance with one of Bigge's recommendations. Previously only a nominal quit rent was required for grants by the crown. The establishment of the limits of location, also known as the Nineteen Counties, also resulted from Bigge's recommendations.

From 1823, Bigge was given a similar appointment to examine the government of the Cape Colony, Mauritius and Ceylon.


The arduousness of travel and climate told heavily on Bigge after he suffered a leg injury in falling from his horse at the Cape, for which, it is reported, he was treated by a transgender male doctor who turned out to be a quack. In 1829 he had returned to England for the last time. He continued in poor health and was too indisposed to accept a position to report on clerical establishments in 1832. He never married and lived a solitary life in retirement until his accidental death on 22 December 1843 at the Grosvenor Hotel in London. He was buried as directed by his will "without ceremony or superfluous expense".[1]

His nephews Frederick William Bigge and Francis Edward Bigge were pioneer pastoralists in Queensland.


  1. ^ a b c d e J. M. Bennett (1966). "'Bigge, John Thomas (1780–1843)". Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1. MUP. pp. 99–100. Retrieved 12 February 2008.
  2. ^ Joseph (1970), p. 113
  3. ^ Serle, Percival (1949). "Bigge, John Thomas". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 12 February 2009.


  • Joseph, Edward Lanzer (1970). History of Trinidad. Routledge. ISBN 0-7146-1939-6.
  • Richards, D. Manning (2012). Destiny in Sydney: An epic novel of convicts, Aborigines, and Chinese embroiled in the birth of Sydney, Australia. First book in Sydney series. Washington DC: Aries Books. ISBN 978-0-9845410-0-3

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
George Smith
Chief Judge of Trinidad
Succeeded by
Ashton Warner