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Jeffries, Sir Shirley Williams (1886–1963)

by Arnold D. Hunt

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Shirley Williams Jeffries (1886-1963), by unknown photographer, c1934

Shirley Williams Jeffries (1886-1963), by unknown photographer, c1934

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 6406

Sir Shirley Williams Jeffries (1886-1963), lawyer and politician, was born on 28 February 1886 at Crompton, Lancashire, England, son of William Jeffries, Wesleyan minister, and his wife Mercy, née Wibmer. The family emigrated to Queensland in 1890, moving to South Australia eight years later. William held major appointments in the Methodist Church and was president (1904) of the South Australian Methodist Conference. Shirley was sent to schools at Toowoomba, Queensland, and Kadina, South Australia; he attended (1900-04) Prince Alfred College, Adelaide, like his elder brother Lewis, and was later president of Prince Alfred Old Collegians' Association. Proceeding to the University of Adelaide (LL.B., 1909), he competed in tennis and Australian Rules football at intervarsity level, and also played football for Norwood and Sturt in the State's senior league.

Jeffries served his articles with Bakewell, Stow & Piper and was admitted to the Bar on 23 April 1910. He practised in Adelaide, eventually as senior partner in Fisher, Jeffries, Brebner & Taylor. At the Methodist Church, Kent Town, on 15 April 1914 he married Catherine Emma Padman (d.1933); their only child, a son, died at the age of 16. On 21 May 1935 at the Methodist Church, Rosefield, Jeffries married 25-year-old Berta Marion Saint. He served on the boards of several companies and colleges, and in 1939 became the first president of the National Fitness Council of South Australia.

His parliamentary career had begun in 1927 with his election to the House of Assembly as the Liberal Federation member for North Adelaide. Defeated in 1930, he was returned for the same seat in 1933; he won Torrens in 1938, lost it in 1944 and held it again in 1947-53. From 18 April 1933 to 6 May 1944 Jeffries was attorney-general, minister of education, and minister of industry and employment. He was passed over as leader of the party in favour of (Sir) Thomas Playford in 1938. During much of Jeffries' early period in cabinet, the State had been suffering from the effects of the Depression. Economies, especially in the field of education, were necessary but unpopular. Jeffries advocated religious instruction in state schools, a measure which was enacted in 1940; he also introduced area schools to replace scattered, small primary schools, a reform with educational and financial benefits. Acting on (Sir) Archibald Price's report, he introduced legislation to create separate boards for the Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery of South Australia.

On social issues, such as restrictions on the sale of liquor and facilities for gambling, Jeffries could be relied upon to support the campaigns of the Protestant churches. He was respected for his moral rectitude, even by those who were not sympathetic to the causes he espoused. During his last term in parliament he was stricken with cancer of the vocal cords. After surgery, he taught himself to speak again in a husky whisper and resumed public life. The courage and persistence with which he triumphed over his affliction won him added respect. He was knighted in 1953 and retired from parliament that year.

Sir Shirley often spoke warmly of the debt that he owed to his father and remained committed to the Methodist Church, both at the State and national levels. He was the most influential Methodist layman of his generation in South Australia and sat on numerous boards, councils and committees of the Church. Two new institutions established by the Methodists owed much to his support: Lincoln College (1952) at the University of Adelaide and Westminster School (1961) at Marion. Having been elected to the General Conference of the Methodist Church at the age of 31, Jeffries continued to be a representative until 1960. He was also a trustee of the Savings Bank of South Australia and a member (from 1934) of the Adelaide Club.

Tall and good-looking, Jeffries was an impressive debater, both in parliament and at the Methodist Conference. Some found him austere, but those closely associated with him knew his many acts of kindness to the needy. Survived by his wife and their son and daughter, he died of a coronary occlusion on 13 September 1963 at his Leabrook home and was cremated; his ashes were placed in his parents' grave at Payneham cemetery. The chapel at Westminster School commemorates him.

Select Bibliography

  • A. D. Hunt, This Side of Heaven (Adel, 1985)
  • S. Cockburn, Playford (Adel, 1991)
  • Parliamenary Debates (South Australia), 1 Oct 1963
  • Methodist Church of Australasia (South Australia), Minutes of Conference, 1963
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 16 Sept 1963
  • South Australia Methodist, 27 Sept 1963
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Arnold D. Hunt, 'Jeffries, Sir Shirley Williams (1886–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jeffries-sir-shirley-williams-10619/text18873, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 3 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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