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Wanliss, David Sydney (1864–1943)

by Bill Gammage

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

David Sydney Wanliss (1864-1943), army officer and judge, was born on 20 February 1864 at Perth, Scotland, second son of Thomas Drummond Wanliss, a newspaper proprietor at Ballarat, Victoria, and his wife Eliza, née Henderson, both Scottish born. David attended Ballarat College and Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A., LL.B., 1887). Called to the Bar at the Inner Temple, London, on 19 November 1888, he returned to Victoria in 1890 and practised at Ballarat and in Melbourne. On 25 April 1895 at Scots Church, Melbourne, he married with Presbyterian forms Jessie Guthrie (d.1922). He helped to write a second edition of his brother-in-law (Sir) William Irvine's Justices of the Peace (1899).

On 12 January 1901 Wanliss joined the militia as a lieutenant in the Victorian Scottish Regiment; he became its commanding officer in February 1911 and was promoted lieutenant-colonel in February 1913. By then the regiment had been reorganized as the 52nd Battalion, yet Wanliss continued to call it the Victorian Scottish. Like his father he was proud of having been born in Scotland, and when on 18 August 1914 he was appointed commanding officer of the 5th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, he tried to fill it with men of Scottish ancestry. He succeeded in recruiting about a quarter of the battalion from Victorian Scottish veterans and men with Scottish surnames. In addition, he filled one of the battalion's eight companies with former pupils from private schools. Battle was to obliterate these distinctions, but in 1921 Wanliss's photograph, as the frontispiece of the 5th Battalion's history, showed him in the tartan of the Victorian Scottish.

Wanliss led his battalion at the landing on Anzac and through the hectic days that followed, and in the terrible battle of Krithia, on Helles, on 8 May 1915. From that month he acted intermittently as commanding officer of the 2nd Brigade, but in late July was evacuated with typhoid, and after time in a hospital on Malta was repatriated in January 1916. He had proved a competent but not outstanding leader: aged 51 in 1915, he was a little old for the trials of Gallipoli, yet the 5th Battalion remembered him as 'the father of the regiment', and he was appointed C.M.G. and mentioned in dispatches in November 1916. Wanliss Gully on Anzac was named after him.

In mid-1916 Wanliss returned to A.I.F. service as officer commanding the 1st Australian Divisional Base Depot at Etaples, France, and then various A.I.F. depots in England. In March 1917 he was appointed officer commanding the 65th Battalion of the proposed 6th Division; when the division was disbanded, he returned to depot service. His A.I.F. appointment was terminated in July 1918. From November he served for thirteen months as commandant of the 6th Military District (Tasmania).

In April 1921 Wanliss was appointed chief judge of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea where he served with several old comrades from the 5th Battalion until August 1937. He was considered a humane judge who showed concern for the welfare of New Guineans. Retiring to Brighton, Melbourne, Wanliss died there on 25 September 1943 and was buried in Eltham cemetery. He was remembered as a warm-hearted and generous man. On 22 May 1923 at Christ Church, South Yarra, he had married with Anglican rites Evelyn Muriel Bryant. She survived him, as did the only son of his first marriage, John Guthrie, who had served with him in the A.I.F.

Wanliss's brothers also earned distinction. The eldest was John Newton Wellesley. Another, Cecil (1866-1933), was born at Ballarat on 19 October 1866, graduated from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, England, in 1886, and joined the South Lancashire Regiment as a lieutenant. By August 1914 he was lieutenant-colonel commanding the regiment's 2nd Battalion at the battle of Mons. There he became the first Australian officer in World War I to lead a battalion into battle, the first to be wounded and the commander of the first battalion to mount a bayonet charge against the Germans. Following the retreat from Mons, he was one of several commanders who were suspended. Later exonerated, he served out the war commanding training battalions in England and was appointed O.B.E. in 1919. After post-war service in Germany, he retired in September 1920. From 1925 he lived in Switzerland; he died suddenly at Kensington of coronary vascular disease on 3 October 1933 while visiting London.

A third brother, Ewen (1873-1966), was a good district cricketer and served as a private and lieutenant with the 4th Imperial Bushmen in the South African War. In 1903-10 and 1922-58 he was an associate to judges in the Supreme Court of Victoria, in 1910-20 a grazier, and in 1920-22 private secretary to Irvine, then lieutenant-governor of Victoria. A fourth brother Neville (1876-1962) was in turn a Queensland jackeroo and a clerk in New Zealand. In January 1915, aged 38, he enlisted as a private in the 21st Battalion, A.I.F. He served at Gallipoli, but was discharged in August 1917. He became a clerk in Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • A. W. Keown, Forward with the Fifth (Melb, 1921)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, vols 1, 2 (Syd, 1921, 1924)
  • Historical Committee of the Women's Centenary Council (compiler), Records of the Pioneer Women of Victoria 1835-1860 (Melb, 1937)
  • W. G. Mein, History of Ballarat College, 1864-1964 (Ballarat, Vic, 1964?)
  • Reveille (Sydney), Oct 1933
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Bill Gammage, 'Wanliss, David Sydney (1864–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wanliss-david-sydney-8977/text15797, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 27 May 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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