Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Schutt, William John (1868–1933)

by Geoffrey Serle

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

William John Schutt (1868-1933), judge, was born on 16 May 1868 at Richmond, Melbourne, son of English-born John Schutt, librarian for some fifty years of the Supreme Court of Victoria, and his wife Sarah Jane, née Kenney, from Ireland. Growing up in a bluestone house at Spotswood, he attended a local state school and, from 1884, Scotch College from which he matriculated next year; in 1886 he was dux in classics, was awarded a first-class honour in the public examinations and won a scholarship to Ormond College, University of Melbourne (B.A., LL.B., 1891; M.A., LL.M., 1901). Solidly built, between 1889 and 1895 he was a prominent Australian Rules footballer for Essendon.

Schutt was admitted to the Bar on 1 April 1892, read with (Sir) Isaac Isaacs and was sometimes employed as junior to James Purves. On 11 December 1901 he married Helen Macpherson, daughter of Robert Smith, pastoralist, and henceforth lived in Clendon Road, Toorak. He developed a large practice, mainly in Equity, 'but like the leading men of his time he never took silk'. A quiet but persuasive advocate, he was sometimes, after appearing before the High Court of Australia, most unusually, complimented by the court.

Late in World War I Schutt was legal adviser to and on the Intelligence staff of the Navy Office as honorary lieutenant-commander. On 18 July 1919 he was appointed to the Supreme Court. He was a most serious and proper judge (though unwilling to restrain an occasional shaft of wit), learned, patient, practical, courteous but direct and brief in manner. Early in 1922 he tried Colin Ross and sentenced him to death for the notorious 'Gun Alley' murder. Some of his friends believed this had a direct connexion with his early resignation in December 1926. Henceforth he devoted himself to overseas travel.

Schutt was a council-member of the University of Melbourne in 1923-27. Gregarious and humane, generally known as Billy, he was enormously popular with the Bar and had innumerable friends. A good raconteur and after-dinner speaker, he was president of the Savage Club from 1918, a member of the Melbourne, Old Scotch Collegians' (president, 1916) and Bohemians' clubs, and sometime president of the Victorian Amateur Billiards Association. Sir Arthur Dean remembered that 'he radiated goodwill and geniality, the merry look rarely left his face'. 'He was tremendously in love with life', (Sir) Robert Menzies recalled. He was a golfer and tennis player.

Schutt died, childless, on board ship on or about 29 November 1933 from concussion after a fall, and was buried in the Red Sea. His estate was sworn for probate at £53,620. His wife (d.1952) left more than £400,000 of which about seven-eighths was willed to charities.

Select Bibliography

  • History of Scotch College Melbourne, 1851-1925 (Melb, 1926)
  • D. M. Dow, Melbourne Savages (Melb, 1947)
  • A. Dean, A Multitude of Counsellors (Melb, 1968)
  • Australian Law Journal, 15 Dec 1933
  • Herald (Melbourne), 9 Feb 1922, 3, 18 Dec 1926, 13 Feb 1928, 1 Dec 1933
  • Argus (Melbourne), 1 Dec 1933, 11 Mar 1952
  • J. H. Dalrymple, Mr Justice W. J. Schutt (LL.B. essay, University of Melbourne).

Citation details

Geoffrey Serle, 'Schutt, William John (1868–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/schutt-william-john-8362/text14673, 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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