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G. F. B. St. John

Frederick Berkley St John was born in 1797 in Wiltshire, England. He was born into a life of privilege as the grandson of the 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke and the son of a General in the army. St John himself served in Her Majesty's 52nd Regiment of Foot for upward of 25 years and reached the rank of Major.

He was appointed as Police Magistrate in 1842 and was subsequently Town Magistrate for Melbourne, Licensing Magistrate (with the responsibility for the licensing establishments which sold alcohol) and Commissioner of Crown Land for the County of Bourke (responsible for the resolution of disputes over crown land grants and permitted uses of crown land). Unfortunately he did not serve in these positions with distinction.

He was reportedly often in dispute with the members of the press who would report the proceedings in the court room where he was presiding. He threatened reporters who failed to show what he considered was sufficient respect to his court or some supposed contempt, with being thrown out of the courtroom and / or into jail. He was also on a number of occasions sued by reporters or editors for wrongful imprisonment.

He was most notorious for using his position of authority to his own best advantage. While he would not hesitate to sack a policeman for so much as accepting a glass of beer he was not adverse to accepting and soliciting bribes for himself. His position as Licensing Magistrate and Commissioner of Crown Lands gave him plenty of scope for this corruption. He used to regularly receive "gifts" such as whisky, food, money, loads of wood etc. from people fronting his court or seeking a favourable ruling from him. It is reported that he had a back room at his house in Brunswick Street Fitzroy where the favors could be left overnight.

Eventually his misdemeanors caught up with him as he was caught in the crossfire of a political dispute between John Pascoe Fawkner and the Superintendent of Port Phillip, Mr. C. J. Latrobe. Fawkner was not a supporter of the Superintendent of the Port Phillip District. At a public meeting in 1848 he accused Latrobe of not looking after the interests of the Port Phillip District and being generally incompetent. As part of this he accused Latrobe of knowingly tolerating corruption (referring to, but not at this stage naming, St John). When challenged by Latrobe, Fawkner followed up these verbal accusations with letters to Latrobe and also to the newspapers naming St John with details of several instances of St John's corruption. St John was forced by Latrobe to sue Fawkner for libel in the Supreme Court. In the case the jury was unable to reach an agreement in favour of either St John or Fawkner. However despite this result St John was forced to accept it as a defeat and was never able to work in the colony again. He submitted his resignation in June, 1849. He later left the colonies and returned to England. He died in 1866.

In the case of the Strathmore North land purchase it is interesting that a person holding the position of Commissioner of Crown Lands was able to participate so successfully in land speculation as St John did with the Crown Grant purchase of Section 23, Parish of Doutta Galla, nearly doubling his money in a few months.

Main Sources:
(1) "Chronicles of Early Melbourne", GarryOwen, 1888.
(2) Essendon Historical Society Newsletter, Oct- Nov 1998, Article by Lenore Frost.