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Panton, Joseph Anderson

Son of John Panton of the Hudson's Bay Company service, was born at Knockiemil, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, on 2 June 1831. He had a high school education at Aberdeen and afterwards studied geology and other subjects at the university of Edinburgh, but left without taking a degree. He arrived in Australia in 1851 intending to go on the land, but in May 1852 was appointed a commissioner of crown lands and assistant commissioner of goldfields at Bendigo, Victoria. William Howitt, in his Land, Labour and Gold; or Two Years in Victoria, mentions Panton and suggests that he was not a success in this position (vol. I, pp. 402-3), but when trouble arose between the Chinese and other diggers Panton prevented a collision, and subsequently was selected to advise on a scheme of management of the Chinese. The royal commission appointed after the Eureka rebellion also commended Panton for his work in the Bendigo district. From 1854 to 1858 he was resident commissioner of the Bendigo and Sandhurst goldfields, and he then paid a visit to Europe. After his return he did some exploring in the Kimberley district in Western Australia, and in 1862 rejoined the Victorian public service as warden and police magistrate for the Wood's Point, Heidelberg and Yarra districts. He then became police magistrate for Geelong and the Western District, and in 1874 was appointed to Melbourne. For 33 years he conducted the Melbourne police court with great ability and became a Victorian institution. He had had no training as a lawyer, but he understood human nature. It has been said of him that the most fluent and resourceful liar was never quite sure of himself when facing the steely eyes and unyielding features of the magistrate. It was equally useless for any lawyer to try to throw dust in the magistrate's eyes. There would be a sharp reminder from the bench that it was useless to pursue that line of argument any further. The very offenders brought before him developed a kind of respect for him not far removed from pride, for here they realized was a man who knew his work. Everyone might not agree that his method of conducting cases was an ideal one, or that his decisions were always correct, but his integrity and insight were universally recognized and prevented complaint. He retired at the age of 76 on 30 June 1907, afterwards paid a visit to the Solomon Islands and Papua, and lived in retirement at Melbourne until his death on 25 October 1913. He was almost blind for the last three years of his life, but retained his other faculties and his interests to the end. He married in 1869 Eleanor, daughter of Colonel John Fulton, who predeceased him. He was survived by two daughters. He was created C.M.G. in 1895.

Panton was an upright man of over six feet, with a good presence. His early study of geology led to his being associated in 1856 with McCoy (q.v.) and Selwyn (q.v.) on a royal commission appointed to examine the geological and mineral characteristics of Victoria. He was a good amateur artist, was connected with the foundation of the Victorian academy of arts in 1870, and in 1888, when this society became the Victorian Artists' Society, Panton was elected president. He was also president of the Victorian branch of the Royal Geographical Society at the time of his death. He was much interested in music, and was a good raconteur.

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