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Mant, John Francis (1897–1985)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

John Francis Mant (1897-1985), solicitor, was born on 8 February 1897 at Darling Point, Sydney, eldest of three sons of Queensland-born William Hall Mant (d.1911), solicitor, and his New Zealand-born wife Frances Gordon, née McCrae, a granddaughter of Georgiana McCrae. A. B. (‘Banjo’) Paterson was his godfather. John was educated at Sydney Grammar School where, small and slight, he coxed its VIII. From 1914 he worked as a station hand in Queensland. When he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 11 April 1916 he was five ft 5¾ ins (167 cm) tall, with grey eyes and dark brown hair. In May he sailed for England and was attached to the Cyclist Training Battalion.

In France from December with the 3rd Divisional Cyclist Company, then, from January 1917, the 1st Infantry Battalion, Mant was commissioned in June. After attending various courses in England, including the Divisional Pigeon School, he was promoted to lieutenant in February 1918, and mentioned in despatches next year. Mant studied law at the University of Edinburgh in 1919 and returned to Sydney after visiting India. He enjoyed the comradeship of army life and would have stayed on, but believed his mother needed his support. His AIF appointment was terminated on 23 July 1920.

A keen sportsman, Mant belonged to Royal Sydney Golf Club (1920) and was an early member of the Palm Beach Surf Life Saving Club and the Kosciusko Alpine Club. While continuing his legal studies at the University of Sydney (LL.B, 1924), he coxed the famous Law School VIII in 1921 and the university VIII in 1921 and 1922.

Having served his articles in the Crown Solicitor’s Office, Mant was admitted as a solicitor by the Supreme Court of New South Wales on 30 October 1924. For two years he worked for Ellison Rich & Son before becoming a partner in Frank A. Davenport & Mant in 1927. He regularly acted pro bono for ex-battalion friends. His firm had a substantial practice in insurance and liquor licensing matters. On 29 October 1931 at St Mark’s Church of England, Darling Point, Mant married a widowed clerk associate, Helen Musgrave Dalziel, daughter of (Sir) John Musgrave Harvey. Gregarious, Mant loved good food and wine and belonged to the Australian and Imperial Service clubs. He and Helen swam every morning until their mid-eighties.

From 17 March 1941 Mant served full time with the Citizen Military Forces and on 28 July 1942 transferred as a captain to the AIF. Promoted to major in September 1942 and lieutenant colonel in October 1943, he was chief legal officer at the headquarters of the First Australian Army in Queensland in 1942-43 and of the Second in New South Wales in 1944-45. He was placed on the Reserve of Officers on 14 February 1946.

An inaugural member of the Constitutional Association of New South Wales in 1925, Mant was an original member of the Liberal Party of Australia. He unsuccessfully contested the Federal seats of West Sydney (1946) and East Sydney (1949), and chaired the party’s Vaucluse branch from 1950 until 1976. For over twenty years (until retiring in 1973) he was chairman of the Wentworth district Boy Scouts’ Association. A founder of the Australian Outward Bound Memorial Foundation, he was its honorary legal adviser from 1958.

Mant attended Commonwealth and Empire Law conferences in London (1955) and Ottawa (1960). In 1965 he helped to establish the Commercial Law Association (Australia). When he retired from Smithers Warren Davenport Mant in 1984, he had been in practice for sixty years. He had been appointed OBE in 1978. On 19 November 1985 he died at his Vaucluse home; he was cremated. His wife, their daughter and son, and his stepson survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. M. Bennett, A History of Solicitors in New South Wales (1984)
  • Law Society Journal, vol 20, no 3, 1982, p 225
  • Australian Law Journal, vol 60, no 6, 1986, p 365
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Nov 1985, p 17
  • Sydneian, Mar 1986, p 369
  • B2455, item MANT J F, B883, item NX122979 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private and family information.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Mant, John Francis (1897–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mant-john-francis-14911/text26101, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 18 August 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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