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ESTEN, JAMES CHRISTIE PALMER, lawyer and judge; b. 7 Nov. 1805 at St George, Bermuda, the son of James Christie Esten, chief justice of Bermuda, and Ester Palmer; m. in 1832 at Exeter, England, Ann Frederica Hutchison, and they had several children; d. 24 Oct. 1864 at Toronto, Canada West.
James Christie Palmer Esten’s childhood was spent in Bermuda and Virginia. He was sent to England to be educated at the Charterhouse School, London, and then entered Lincoln’s Inn. He was called to the bar, and practised in London and at Exeter, becoming an expert in conveyancing and other aspects of land law.
In 1836 Esten immigrated to Upper Canada to pursue a career in retail merchandising. But when, in March of the following year, the Court of Chancery was established for the province, Esten had the opportunity of renewing his career as an equity lawyer, and with a reasonable expectation of success, since few lawyers in Upper Canada were expert in equity law. He was admitted as a barrister in 1838, and until 1849 enjoyed a growing practice.
In 1843 the Robert Baldwin*–Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine ministry established a commission to investigate the Court of Chancery in the hope of simplifying its practice and reducing costs to suitors. Among those appointed to the commission were three prominent equity lawyers – Robert Easton Burns, William Hume Blake, and Esten. The report of the commissioners was presented to the government in 1845; many of its recommendations were implemented in 1849. The major revision, however, the enlargement of the court from one to three judges, was not among the 1845 recommendations. William Blake, Baldwin’s solicitor general, became the chancellor, and Esten a vice-chancellor; Robert Sympson Jameson* remained a vice-chancellor. Esten sat as a judge in equity from the fall of 1849 until his death in 1864. Along with Blake, he was instrumental in further simplifying the operations of the court, and in promulgating new orders in May 1850. When Jameson retired late in 1850, the master in chancery, John Godfrey Spragge*, was appointed a vice-chancellor. Over the next decade he, Blake, and Esten largely settled the practice of the court.
Esten wrote the decisions in many of the cases before the Chancery Court, particularly those which dealt with the rights of parties to mortgages. He died at Toronto in 1864, a respected member of the legal profession and of the Chancery bench.
Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, Journals, 1844–45, 2, app.J.J.; 1850, app.O. Globe, 26 Oct. 1864. Journal of Education for U.C., XVII (1864), 171. Reports of cases adjudged in the Court of Chancery of Upper Canada . . . , comp. Alexander Grant (29v., Toronto, 18583), I–II. Upper Canada Law Journal (Toronto), X (1864), 281. Read, Lives of judges. W. R. Ridden, The bar and the courts of the province of Upper Canada, or Ontario (Toronto, 1928). H. C. Wilkinson, Bermuda from sail to steam; the history of the island from 1784 to 1901 (2v., London, 1973).