Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cassidy, Sir Jack Evelyn (1893–1975)

by John Kennedy McLaughlin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Sir Jack Evelyn Cassidy (1893-1975), barrister, was born on 12 June 1893 at Hargraves, New South Wales, eldest of ten children of native-born parents John Wilson Cassidy, schoolteacher, and his wife Mary Catherine, née Smith, both of Northern Irish stock. John died when Jack was 15. Mary, who had been only 16 when married, became a schoolteacher at Newcastle. She was to die, aged 99, at Muswellbrook, outliving Jack and six of her other children. Jack went to Mudgee District Public School, passed the senior public examination in 1911 and in February 1912 became a cadet draftsman in the Department of Lands. An evening student at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1917; LL.B., 1920), he paid his way by teaching at Abbotsholme College, Killara, where his pupils included Harold Holt. Cassidy served articles of clerkship with the Sydney solicitors Sly & Russell before being admitted to the Bar on 23 February 1922.

He established himself on the first floor of old Selborne Chambers, Phillip Street, which, as he wrote, 'provided a collection of practitioners . . . able and colourful'. Cassidy augmented that colour by his own energetic style. On 19 December 1928 at St Martin's Anglican Church, Killara, he married Gwynneth (Gwen) Jeannie, daughter of G. A. Waterhouse.

A 'born trial lawyer', with 'an amazing record of forensic successes' and outstanding skill as a cross-examiner in all jurisdictions, Cassidy was one of the great advocates of his generation and took silk on 24 October 1938. He appeared in many causes célèbres and represented the defendant in appeals (1945-47) in the notable medical negligence proceedings, Hocking v. Bell, before the High Court of Australia and the Privy Council. In London for that purpose, he visited Germany to observe the trials of war criminals by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. Back in Sydney, in the 1940s and 1950s Cassidy held retainers for the respective proprietors of the Daily Telegraph, Truth and the Daily Mirror, and accordingly appeared in many defamation trials. He was senior counsel for the defendant in the protracted 'American Flange-Rheem' litigation (1962-63), in which his closing address occupied seventy-two days. His practice demanded most of his time, but he often surprised colleagues 'by the wide range of his interests and contacts . . . in particular with leading overseas scholars'.

Closely involved in the corporate organization of the Bar, Cassidy was a founder and chairman of Counsel's Chambers Ltd, and arranged for the construction of Wentworth and Selborne chambers as principal buildings to house the Bar. He and his wife were active in establishing the Liberal Party of Australia. Gwen was a member of its provisional executive, while Jack was vice-president (1945-56) of the New South Wales division. In 1945 he was founding chairman of the Political Research Society Ltd, set up to investigate any organization or party (especially the Communist Party of Australia) 'which appears to be deceiving the public'. He was also a founder of the Woollahra Action Committee, then influential in the selection of candidates for Woollahra Municipal Council.

A director of David Lynn Ltd, Industrial Steels Ltd, Mainguard (Australia) Ltd and other companies, Cassidy lived in the Eastern Suburbs, played golf and tennis, and belonged to the Australian, University and Royal Sydney Golf clubs. He was knighted in 1968. Gwen had been appointed M.B.E. in 1964 for her work in community services. Sir Jack retired in December 1974. Survived by his wife and son, he died on 11 June 1975 in St Luke's Hospital, Darlinghurst, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Law Journal, Oct 1975, p 600
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 12 June 1975
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 June 1975
  • J. Cassidy, Selborne Chambers (typescript, privately held)
  • Cassidy papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

John Kennedy McLaughlin, 'Cassidy, Sir Jack Evelyn (1893–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cassidy-sir-jack-evelyn-9709/text17141, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 26 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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