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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


ARNEY, Sir George Alfred


Chief Justice of New Zealand. Member of the Legislative Council.

Arney was born in 1810 in Salisbury, England, the seventh son of William Arney, barrister, of The Close, Salisbury, and Maria Charlotte, daughter of T. G. White, of Kew, London. He was educated at Winchester and Brasenose College, Oxford, where he read classics, graduating B.A. in 1832 and M.A. in the following year. He was admitted to Lincoln's Inn in 1829, and was called to the Bar in the Easter term of 1837. In 1835 he had married Harriet, daughter of Captain Thomas Parr, RN, but he was a widower seven years later. He was knighted in 1862 while Chief Justice of New Zealand, and retired to England in 1875. He died at Torquay on 7 April 1883. For nearly 20 years Arney was a well known but hardly a leading barrister on the Western Circuit where he gained a reputation as a cautious, painstaking practitioner, wedded to detail and the strict principles of the law. These were the attributes that were to distinguish his Chief Justiceship in New Zealand for 17 years, a post to which he was appointed on the recommendation of Mr Justice Coleridge on 2 September 1857. For a time before his appointment by the Colonial Office to the New Zealand judiciary, he served an unspectacular term as Recorder of Winchester. As an old circuiteer with a considerable though unremarkable experience of practice, he infused into judicial life in the new colony more of the traditions of the English Bench and Bar than lay within the capabilities and inclinations of his cultured, retiring, and somewhat bookish predecessor, Sir William Martin. Arney arrived in New Zealand in the ship Gertrude in 1858 and was immediately appointed to the Legislative Council. He resigned his judgeship in 1875 and returned to England where he lived in retirement at Torquay with the benefit of substantial means bequeathed to him by his brother, Colonel Arney, who met his death while serving with the 58th Regiment in New Zealand. Even in retirement, Arney retained a close association with colonial affairs.

Although an accomplished and well trained lawyer, Arney was no mere practitioner, and to the consideration of the varied and intricate cases he was called upon to consider, he brought the mind of a scholar and a wide humanity, illuminating his determinations with a singular, if sometimes prolix, lucidity. He possessed a felicity and elegance of expression in which bright gleams of penetrating and charming wit could sometimes be discerned. His judgments, only one of which was ever reversed by the Court of Appeal, and that only on a majority decision, were characterised by this fastidiousness of language, but always they were complete and exhaustive, frequently almost to a fault. There was a mathematical precision about both his summings up and decisions which suggested a safe rather than a strong Judge. Another sphere in which he left his mark was as an administrator. His quiet dignity and unobstrusive influence in the Legislative Council, where he served for eight years, and his outstanding speeches, made a profound impression on his contemporaries. He never became world-hardened as a Judge or a legislator, as was shown by the warm liberalism he brought to the question of social justice and equity in relation to the Maori people and the Maori Wars. In the Council he identified himself closely with the movement in the sixties for the fusion of law and equity, and it was largely as a result of his quiet but firm suasion that the Council in 1861 reaffirmed the resolution of 1856 whereby Judges held their commissions during the pleasure of Her Majesty or on an address from both Houses of Parliament.

by Ronald Jones, Journalist and Script Writer, New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, Wellington.

  • Colonial Law Journal (1875)
  • New Zealand Jurist (New Series), Vol II (1876).


Ronald Jones, Journalist and Script Writer, New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, Wellington.