Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Macrossan, Neal William (1889–1955)

by P. D. Connolly

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Neal William Macrossan (1889-1955), judge, was born on 27 April 1889 at Lutwyche, Brisbane, eighth and youngest child of Irish-born parents John Murtagh Macrossan, politician, and his wife Bridget, née Queely. Hugh Denis Macrossan was his elder brother. Educated at the Normal School, Brisbane, and St Joseph's College, Nudgee, Neal played in the first XI and first XV, and won prizes for swimming, handball and rifle-shooting. At the junior public examinations conducted by the University of Sydney in 1904, he was awarded the T. J. Byrnes medal for obtaining the highest pass in Queensland; at the senior in 1906, he again topped the State. He gained the university's silver medal for Greek at both public examinations. In 1907 he was Rhodes scholar for Queensland.

Macrossan read law at Magdalen College, Oxford (B.A., 1910; M.A., 1914). On his return to Queensland, he obtained a temporary post in the office of Thomas William McCawley, the crown solicitor. Macrossan passed the Barristers' Board examinations and was admitted to the Bar on 27 August 1912. He contested (1915) the Legislative Assembly seat of Cairns for the Liberal Party, but was defeated by William McCormack. In Brisbane on 14 December 1921 he married with Catholic rites Eileen Elizabeth (d.1954), the 25-year-old daughter of T. C. Beirne.

Building up a strong civil practice, Macrossan acted for McCormack in the Mungana case which was heard in the Supreme Court of Queensland in 1931. McCormack's fellow defendants E. G. Theodore and two others were separately represented, but Macrossan led the overall argument for the defence. Following an unusually long 21-day-trial, the jury found in favour of the defendants. In 1932-33 Macrossan appeared in the High Court of Australia for the appellant in Peanut Board v. Rockhampton Harbour Board; under section 92 of the Australian Constitution, the court ruled in favour of freedom of trade for peanut-growers.

On 29 June 1940 Macrossan was sworn in as a judge of the Supreme Court. The appointment was warmly received, the Courier-Mail describing him as an eminent scholar and a profound lawyer, and referring to his industry and to his tenacity in cross-examination. He was immediately appointed senior puisne judge, thus overtaking a number of his fellows who had been on the court for many years, notably Edward Douglas. During World War II Macrossan twice acted as chief justice. When Sir William Webb moved to the High Court, Macrossan became chief justice on 25 April 1946—the second of the sons of the redoubtable John Murtagh to be so appointed, the first having been his brother Hugh. Neal Macrossan was to die in office.

From 1940 Macrossan had served as warden of the council of the University of Queensland. Concerned for young children, he was president (1931-55) of the Playground (and Recreation) Association of Queensland. He was also president of the Twelfth Night Theatre Company, and patron of the Queensland Authors and Artists Association. In addition, he served in an honorary capacity as official visitor to the internment camp at Enoggera.

Macrossan was by nature a reserved man. Some even thought that his temperament was austere. He made the transition from the rough and tumble of jury advocacy to the stricter values required of him on the bench. The years of his chief justiceship saw the emergence of Queensland's modern legal profession which is almost entirely a product of university law schools. Survived by his son and four daughters, Macrossan died of complications arising from emphysema and asthma on 30 December 1955 in South Brisbane; he was accorded a state funeral, at which Archbishop (Sir) James Duhig officiated, and was buried in Nudgee cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Bryan, John Murtagh Macrossan (Brisb, 1958)
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 28 June 1940, 25 Apr 1946, 31 Dec 1955
  • private information.

Citation details

P. D. Connolly, 'Macrossan, Neal William (1889–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/macrossan-neal-william-11028/text19619, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 22 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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