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Sir Edgar Layton Bean (1893–1977)

by Patricia Sumerling

This article was published:

Edgar Layton Bean (1893-1977), by Hammer & Co.

Edgar Layton Bean (1893-1977), by Hammer & Co.

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 7052

Sir Edgar Layton Bean (1893-1977), parliamentary draftsman, was born on 15 October 1893 at Moonee Ponds, Melbourne, son of George Alfred Bean, accountant, and his wife Amelia Florence, née Davey, both Victorian born. Educated at Scotch College, Perth (1906-10), Ted enrolled at the University of Adelaide (B.A., 1913) where he had a brilliant career: he won the Barr Smith prize for Greek (1911) and a David Murray scholarship (1913). Having obtained through the university a free passage to travel to England, in 1914 he entered Merton College, Oxford, to read classics (B.A., 1919; M.A., 1922). World War I interrupted his studies: he enlisted in the British Army in August 1915, served in France with the Royal Field Artillery and was wounded in action.

After the war Bean returned to Adelaide. In 1920 he joined the Crown Solicitor's Department as a clerk and began a degree in law at his old university (LL.B., 1922); he was admitted to the South Australian Bar on 21 April 1923. From 1922 he had been an associate of Justice Poole of the Supreme Court of South Australia. On 8 April 1926 at Chalmers Congregational Church, Adelaide, Bean married Constance Mary Greenlees. Appointed that year as the State's parliamentary draftsman, he was to hold the post until 1959 and to frame some 1500 bills.

Although he was reputedly South Australia's finest parliamentary draftsman and possibly the best in the country, his greatest achievement was in editing, with J. P. Cartledge, the nine volumes of The Public General Acts of South Australia, 1837-1936 (1937-40). Bean was appointed C.M.G. in 1937. In addition to being a member of the South Australian Government Superannuation Fund Board (1928-62) and of the State Public Service Board (1942-51), he chaired the local government commission (1930-34), the Insurance Premiums Committee, the education inquiry committee (1942-49) and the Teachers' Salaries Board (1946-64); he was also a director of Southern Television Corporation Ltd (1960-70) and of News Ltd. A member of the board (1960-71) of the Minda Home for Weak-Minded Children, he had become involved when his eldest son John went to live there.

On 25 March 1942 Bean was mobilized in the Australian Military Forces; promoted lieutenant in July, he served in the 3rd Battalion of the Volunteer Defence Corps before resigning in November 1944. He was knighted in 1955. Few people knew him intimately. Shy, well organized and neatly dressed, he was regarded as a 'workaholic'. Gilbert Seaman thought that Bean had the best and the clearest brain of all of his colleagues: 'he was not a harsh realist . . . he had the personal touch'. As (Sir) Thomas Playford's unofficial 'right-hand man', Bean exercised an extraordinary influence on the premier and was one of the few who were with Playford throughout his political career. They talked issues over and went fishing together; because Playford was largely self-educated, their friendship resembled that of pupil and teacher, with Playford the pupil.

Bean liked reading and walking. He belonged to the Pickwick, the Adelaide, and the Naval, Military and Air Force clubs, and joined the Eucalypts, an exclusive club of twelve members whose objectives were to promote truth, good fellowship, brotherly love and wisdom. The group met monthly in one another's homes for a ceremonious pipe and coffee, and to hear and discuss papers about literature, history or philosophy. Those read by Bean show his liberal ideals. Survived by his wife and two sons, Sir Edgar died at Leabrook on 28 July 1977 and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Crocker, Sir Thomas Playford (Melb, 1983)
  • S. Cockburn, Playford (Adel, 1991)
  • Register (Adelaide), 23 Nov 1915
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 11 May 1937, 1 Jan 1955, 2 Aug 1977
  • private information.

Citation details

Patricia Sumerling, 'Bean, Sir Edgar Layton (1893–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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