James Dowling succeeded Sir Francis Forbes in 1837 as Chief Justice of New South Wales and like his predecessor, he worked himself to death, a "victim to scrupulous anxiety and excessive toil in the discharge of his judicial duties". He kept meticulous records of the cases tried before him and these survive today in State Records New South Wales. An urbane and mild-mannered man, he survived several attempts by other judges to overthrow him on account of his lack of leadership and his inadequate knowledge of the law. He was much liked by the legal profession and was renowned for his support and encouragement of younger members of the Bar.
James Dowling was born on 25 November 1787. After schooling in London, he was admitted to the Middle Temple on 21 April 1810 and was called to the Bar on 5 May 1815. He practised his profession but his livelihood depended much on legal journalism and law reporting. In 1814 he married Maria Sheen. He applied in 1827 to the Colonial Office which offered him the Chief Justiceship of Dominica. Discouraged by the climate there, he refused, but asked to be considered for the new judicial seat being created in the Supreme Court of New South Wales. He reached Sydney on 24 February 1828.
He was the only robust member of the bench, carrying an immense burden. His first son, James Sheen Dowling, who became a District Court Judge, concluded that his father "must have been a most painstaking, industrious, indefatigable man. He was methodical in all he did. He wrote shorthand perfectly, which was of great assistance to him on the bench; he wrote the ordinary hand almost like copper plate. He left upwards of two hundred books, containing notes of cases tried before him, exclusive of books wherein he had copied all letters of an official character". Those books still survive.
The Colonial Office confirmed Dowling as Chief Justice on 30 August 1837. In the following year he was knighted. He died on 27 September 1844.