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Rogers, Sir Percival Halse (1883–1945)

by J. M. Bennett

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

Sir Percival Halse Rogers (1883-1945), judge, was born on 1 August 1883 at Gunnedah, New South Wales, second son of Rev. William Halse Rogers, Methodist minister, and his wife Elizabeth, née Widger, both from Devonport, Devon, England. He was educated at Newington College and, as a member of St Andrew's College, at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1905). He recalled those years as 'a very good time with good companionship in very pleasant surroundings'. Outstanding as a student and sportsman he was second Rhodes scholar for New South Wales, going in 1905 to Worcester College, Oxford (B.C.L., 1908). While he delighted in England, he complained of being treated as a 'colonial' and that 'in all the three years I did not get on very friendly terms with any Englishman'. He reproached himself for becoming lazy, for excessively patronizing the theatre and for abandoning regular religious observance. He played football until injured, then found leisure in reading and putting on weight. He was pleased to spend time in London where 'loneliness did not make me any the less in love with the great city'.

Returning to Sydney almost penniless, Halse Rogers felt sure that his mother 'did not think that Oxford had done me any good'. He became a temporary clerk in the Crown Law Office at £2 per week, then associate to Chief Justice (Sir) William Cullen and was admitted to the New South Wales Bar on 9 March 1911. He married Mabel Mary Trevor Jones at Randwick on 22 December.

At the Bar he soon held a large common law practice and a respected position. In 1920 he was a foundation subscriber to, and director of, the company of barristers operating Denman Chambers, Phillip Street. He had lectured part-time on legal interpretation at the university from 1919 and in 1926 was commissioned K.C.

On 7 June 1928 Rogers was elevated as a judge of the Supreme Court; he sat in the common law jurisdiction, presiding in the Commercial Causes Court. C. E. Weigall, as solicitor-general, observed that 'only those persons to have appeared as counsel in his court can fully appreciate the quickness of his intelligence and his capacity to grasp at the outset the salient points in a complicated case'. Chief Justice Sir Frederick Jordan considered Rogers 'a judge of great learning and distinction'. He served four times as a royal commissioner, conducting celebrated inquiries into greyhound-racing licences and fruit machines (1932) and Commonwealth secret funds (1941).

With interests ranging beyond the law, Rogers was a director of Sydney Hospital (1930-45), chairman of the Metropolitan Hospitals Contribution Fund, a member of the executive committee of the Fairbridge Farm Schools of New South Wales and chairman of directors of the University Club. He was of medium height, portly, with a fair complexion and blue eyes. A fellow of the university senate (1929-41), he was deputy chancellor (1934) until elected chancellor (1936), and represented the university at the 1937 Congress of the Universities of the British Empire held at Cambridge. He was appointed K.B.E. in 1939. Placed in an embarrassing position as chancellor when promised senate support was withheld, Sir Percival, according to the Bulletin, 'showed moral courage in 1941 in resigning when soldier candidates for two law professorships were rejected in favour of Julius Stone and another'. He belonged to the Union and Royal Sydney Golf clubs, and the Oxford and Cambridge in London.

On Sunday 7 October 1945 Halse Rogers died suddenly of a heart attack, having presided in court on Friday and spent Saturday at Randwick races without any signs of failing. He was cremated after a large gathering and a guard of honour of Newington College pupils attended his funeral service at St Mark's Church of England, Darling Point, the eulogy being delivered by the president of the State Methodist Conference. Lady Halse Rogers, who had been an Australian champion golfer (1904), and two daughters survived him. His posthumous portrait by Brian Dunlop is held by the University of Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • T. R. Bavin (ed), The Jubilee Book of the Law School of the University of Sydney (Syd, 1940)
  • J. M. Bennett, A History of the Bar of New South Wales (Syd, 1969)
  • New South Wales State Reports, 45 (1945)
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 20 July 1932
  • Bulletin, 10 Oct 1945
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8, 9 Oct 1945
  • Lindsay family papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • University of Sydney Archives
  • family papers (privately held)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

J. M. Bennett, 'Rogers, Sir Percival Halse (1883–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rogers-sir-percival-halse-8258/text14463, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 31 October 2014.

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

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