War and order at the barracks
At the outbreak of World War I, there was a strong response from the NSW legal fraternity, many of whom were based at the Queens Square courts at the barracks. While eminent silks and law students rushed to enlist to fight, many judges and court staff had to remain here to maintain law and order on the home front.
The instability created by the war, and its impact on the local economy, meant that special government agencies were set up to manage the home front. The Wheat Acquisition Board and the Necessary Commodities Control Commission were accommodated at the barracks. These were set up to fix the price of everyday goods at affordable prices. The wartime price of wheat was five shillings per bushel. However allegations of corruption and profiteering soon compromised the integrity of these agencies.
One newly appointed judge, Justice Sir David Gilbert Ferguson, familiar with the Queens Square courts, was tasked with inquiring into the corruption allegations. As a former barrister, who specialised in evidence, his inquiries quickly disproved them.
During Ferguson’s inquiry, his own sons were fighting on the battle fronts at Gallipoli and France.
Ferguson’s eldest son, Arthur Gardere Ferguson (1892 – 1916), enlisted as a lieutenant in the 20th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in June 1915. Arthur wrote to his father regularly, providing first-hand accounts of training camps in Egypt, his landing at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli and trench warfare against the Turkish and German forces. Arthur’s letters were so detailed that Ferguson even constructed a scale model of the Dardanelles coastline, which was later used by historian C.E.W. Bean to illustrate the terrain at Anzac Cove. On 14 June 1916, Arthur was killed when a shell struck his dugout in Bois Grenier, France.
Justice Ferguson’s second son, Keith Aubrey (1895 – 1978) was sailing to France with the 3rd Divisional Cyclists Corps when his father informed him by telegram of Arthur’s death. Keith survived the war, despite being wounded in France, and went on to become a District Court judge (presiding here in the Metropolitan court at Queen’s Square, Hyde Park Barracks), and a Supreme Court judge in 1941. Both Fergusons were eventually awarded knighthoods for their service to the law in NSW, which spanned two world wars.