Biography of William Johnston Ritchie, Chief Justice

William Johnston Ritchie, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Dominion, is a son of the Hon. Justice Ritchie, of Nova Scotia, and was born at Annapolis, in that Province, in October, 1813. His paternal grandfather came from Scotland and settled in Nova Scotia, prior to the American Revolution. The mother of our subject was Eliza Wildman Johnston, a descendant of a distinguished U. E. Loyalist family, her grandfather being a Scotchman of the Annandale line. He married a Miss Peyton, a lady of French Huguenot extraction. He was Governor of the Province of Georgia, in the troubled times that preceded the Revolution, and when war commenced his sons all took up arms for “King George and the United Empire,” and three of them fell in action. On one occasion, one of them was saved from the fury of the rebels by taking refuge in a coffin, and being mourned over by sympathetic friends.

“They wept the living Hector as the dead.”

The mother of Chief Justice Ritchie was a sister of the late Hon. James W. Johnston, Judge in Equity of the Province of Nova Scotia, who died in November, 1873, at the age of eighty-one years. His father was a Captain in a Regiment of Norfolk Volunteers, raised by a grandfather of the late Judge Haliburton, Major Alexander Grant, a well known Scotch officer, who fell mortally wounded at the storming of Fort Stanwix, and died in the arms of Captain Johnston. The latter married the only daughter of Captain Leichenstein, of Austrian extraction, and sent all his children to Scotland for their education.

The subject of this memoir was educated at Pictou College; studied law at Halifax with his father, Hon. John William Ritchie, the present Chief Judge in Equity for Nova Scotia; was called to the Bar of New Brunswick in 1838; practiced in the City of St. John from .1836 to 1855, and was created a Queen’s Counsel in 185V When this honor was proffered to him, Justice Ritchie refused to accept it, unless on condition that it should not trammel him in his political views, he being at that time in opposition to the Government. Governor-General Head had some correspondence with him, and with the Secretary of State for the Colonies, before the appointment came. The following extract from a dispatch of Sir Edmund Head to the Secretary of State, dated November 11, 1853, will explain itself:

“Mr. Ritchie is politically opposed to the existing Council. Your Grace will therefore understand that this gentleman’s appointment, if made by Her Most Gracious Majesty, is to be considered as offered and accepted, without reference to party or political considerations of any kind. His professional claims are amply sufficient to justify my recommendation.”

The appointment came two months afterwards, and few barristers in the Province of New Brunswick, ever created a Queen’s Counsel, had the honor more worthily bestowed.
Judge Ritchie sat for the City and County of St. John, in the New Brunswick Assembly, from 1848 to 1851, when he retired, and from 1854, till he was placed on the Bench. He was a member of the Executive Council of New Brunswick from October, 1854, until appointed a Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of that Province, on the 17th of August, 1855, remaining in that position until he succeeded Hon. Robert Parker, as Chief Justice of New Brunswick November 30, 1865. His appointment as a Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of the Dominion, is dated October 8, 1875; that of Chief Justice, January, 1879. Both as a lawyer and a jurist, his career is brilliant, and now, holding the most excellent position in the judiciary department of the Dominion, he adorns his office.

Judge Ritchie has been twice married, first in 184:3, to Miss Martha Strang, of St. Andrew’s, New Brunswick, she dying in 1847; second time in 1854, to Grace Vernon, daughter of the late Thomas L. Nicholson, Esq., of St. John, N. B., and step-daughter of the late Admiral W. F. W. Owen, R. N., of Campobello. The Judge has one child, a daughter living by the first wife, and nine children by the second, and lost a son by his first wife.

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