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Pring, Robert Darlow (1853–1922)

by W. G. McMinn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Robert Darlow Pring (1853-1922), judge, was born on 29 January 1853 at Mangoplah near Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, second son of John Pring, squatter, and his wife Elizabeth Newnham, née Tooth. He was educated under Rev. G. F. Macarthur in 1866-70, first at Macquarie Fields, then transferring with him in 1868 to The King's School, Parramatta, where Pring was dux, school captain and colour sergeant. After attending the University of Sydney (B.A., 1873; M.A., 1875), he read in the chambers of (Sir) M. Henry Stephen and was called to the Bar on 15 December 1874. He rapidly developed a reputation for legal learning and skill in pleading, and built up a large common-law practice, becoming expert in the labyrinthine New South Wales land laws. At Ashfield on 11 July 1882 he married Mary Jane King, a great-granddaughter of Governor King.

After a brief term as an acting justice, Pring was appointed to the Supreme Court bench in 1902. As a judge he was impatient of legal technicalities, and his willingness to cut through them to expedite hearings led, during his early years on the bench, to some of his judgments being upset on appeal. Utterly humourless, given to ex cathedra moralizing, he was occasionally baited by the more lively barristers: he once threatened to commit for contempt the leader of the Federal Opposition, (Sir) George Reid, who delighted in upsetting his solemnity. By 1912, however, he was generally considered to be one of the calmest and best lawyers on the bench.

Pring was judge in 1916 when twelve members of the Industrial Workers of the World were prosecuted for conspiracy. Although probably 'biased by education and training and social environment' against the accused, he conducted the trial with scrupulous propriety. However he imposed heavy sentences, and his references to the need for 'strong and drastic steps' against the I.W.W. led to the passing of the stringent Crimes Prevention Act (1916). Pring also presided over conspiracy hearings in connexion with the railway strike next year. He was acting chief justice in 1918-19, declining the additional salary as a gesture to wartime economy.

Completely detached from politics, Pring five times acted as sole royal commissioner into political scandals. In 1914 he inquired into the State government's purchase of the Boorabil estate and exposed the danger of politicians acting as paid agents. In 1916 he investigated allegations of corruption in connexion with the proposed state monopoly of the petrol industry and substantially exculpated the responsible minister A. H. Griffith. In 1919, with two lay assessors, he conducted three inquiries into the administration of the State Wheat Office and allegations of bribery implicating another minister, W. C. Grahame. He was unable to reach definite conclusions but was sceptical of Grahame's evidence that large sums of money he had acquired had come from betting: the minister was forced to resign. However next year he exonerated J. Dooley and T. D. Mutch from accusations of having accepted bribes to attempt to terminate the royal commission.

Although of 'retiring disposition', Pring was prominent in sundry charities, including the Queen Victoria Homes for Consumptives and the Bush Brotherhood of the Good Shepherd, and was for twenty-three years a churchwarden of the Anglican parish of Summer Hill. He was a governor of The King's School in 1915-22 and president of the Old Boy's Union in 1906-21. He retired in June 1922 and died of cancer in hospital at Leura on 14 August; he was buried in Rookwood cemetery. His wife, three sons and a daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • W. Blacket, May it Please Your Honour (Syd, 1927)
  • A. B. Piddington, Worshipful Masters (Syd, 1929)
  • I. Turner, Sydney's Burning (Melb, 1967)
  • The King's School Magazine, Sept 1922
  • Sydney Mail, 13 Nov 1912
  • Town and Country Journal, 8 July 1914
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27, 29 Mar 1916, 19, 23 Apr 1918, 15, 23 Sept 1919, 15, 16 Aug 1922.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

W. G. McMinn, 'Pring, Robert Darlow (1853–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pring-robert-darlow-8118/text14177, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 26 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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