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Decisions of the Nineteenth Century Tasmanian Superior Courts

In re Wells [1829]

insolvency - imprisonment for debt

Supreme Court of Van Diemen's Land
Pedder C.J., March 1829
Source: Colonial Times, 6 March 1829 [1]

Insolvent Debtors.

The cases of the Insolvent Debtors who have already been brought up and declared by the Supreme Court of Van Diemen's Land, passed the Court this day. In two of the cases the parties have been suffering confinement, one three years, and the other still longer, wish a short interval outside. If any thing farther were wanting to shew the necessity of some enactment to encourage honest embarrassed debtors to come before a Court upon their own first conviction of insolvency, and to prevent them from languishing in prison a large portion of the best period of life, which has never been contemplated by the British Legislature, it will be found in those cases, each of the parties having families of eight or ten children. In the case of Mr. WELLS, (whose approved official services will be associated with the recollection of the popular administration of Lieutenant Governor SORRELL), it comes within our knowledge, that since his first embarrassment, from the change of circumstances in the Colony previously to the existence of the Supreme Court in Van Diemen's Land, he has satisfied upwards of £10,000, a great portion arising from heavy returned bills, which had deen charged upon wool consignments to England, with the attendant heavy expences of premium, &c. That there is not above £2,000 more to satisfy, chiefly old balances created by heavy costs and interests, with assets of £1100 to £1600, notwithstanding the depreciated value of Colonial property, and that he has for a long time been literally an unpaid Steward to his Estate, which during his long imprisonment he has relieved by the appropriation of the produce of his abilities and practice as an Accountant, after the maintenance of himself and family to a considerable amount. When we recollect the heavy losses by repeated sheep robberies sustained by this Gentleman, and expences in pursuing measures for detecting and bringing to trial many sheep-stealers and sheep receivers who were removed to penal settlements on conviction; -- when we recollect the spirited encouragement given by him to every description of Colonial improvements whilst possessing extensive means and no small influence; when we recollect, also, that in his office there was a dispatch of public business and a facility afforded to applicants of all classes, which had the general approving voice, and when we recollect that it is on rec[o]rd in no less important a public document than Mr. Commissioner BIGGE'S Report upon these Colonies to His Majesty's Government, that "in this person, this channel through which the Government favors were dispensed, he could find no instance of corruption." We cannot but regret the heavy visitation which has for four years befallen this Insolvent, nor withhold our opinion that the case merits every consideratiou, and the exercise of every liberal feeling towards his future endeavours.


[1] In 1816 Thomas Wells was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to 14 years transportation. He became Governor Sorell's clerk and received a conditional pardon in 1818, see P.R. Eldershaw, 'Thomas Wells (1782-1833)', ADB, vol. 2, pp. 576-7. On 29 May 1829, the Colonial Times published an editorial, noting that the Solicitor General, Alfred Stephen, had said that nothing could be done to pass a colonial insolvency Act until a warrant, nominating a Council, arrived under the King's Sign Manual. In the meantime, theColonial Times argued, the Lieutenant Governor could declare that the old insolvency Act, 4 Geo. 4, still continued, or that the insolvency laws were of England were in force. Its editor was concerned about the evil effects that could follow when a debtor was placed in the hands of an obdurate creditor when there was no insolvency law to mitigate the effects of imprisonment for debt.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University and the School of History and Classics, University of Tasmania