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Martin Charles Boniwell (1883–1967)

by Cameron Hazlehurst and Margot Kerley

This article was published:

Martin Charles Boniwell (1883-1967), by unknown photographer, 1968

Martin Charles Boniwell (1883-1967), by unknown photographer, 1968

National Archives of Australia, A1200:L78939

Martin Charles Boniwell (1883-1967), public servant, was born on 25 February 1883 at Surbiton, Surrey, England, son of Charles Edmund Boniwell, builder's foreman, and his wife Martha Ann, née Bewers. The family migrated to Hobart where Charles established himself as a builder. Educated at The Hutchins School, in May 1899 Martin entered the Tasmanian Public Service as a clerk. He studied part time at the University of Tasmania (LL.B., 1911) and became a prominent oarsman. In May 1912 he transferred to the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department, Melbourne. On 19 September that year he married Ruby Mary Okines with Anglican rites at All Saints Church, Hobart.

Designated chief clerk and legal assistant in 1921, Boniwell was admitted in 1924 as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Tasmania and of the High Court of Australia. In 1926 he went to Geneva as adviser to the Australian delegation to the seventh session of the League of Nations. Moved with his department to Canberra in 1927, he was promoted assistant-secretary and assistant parliamentary draftsman in February 1932. A shortage of qualified officers ensured that his skills in the wording of legislation were much in demand. Seconded to the Treasury for two weeks in 1934, he drafted amendments to the Income Tax Assessment Act necessitated by the recommendations of the 1933-34 royal commission on taxation. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1936.

During the absence of (Sir) George Knowles at the 1937 Imperial Conference, Boniwell acted as Commonwealth solicitor-general. He formulated the Empire Air Service (England to Australia) Act (1938) which ratified agreements between the British and Australian governments and their respective national carriers for the provision of a flying-boat service. Following criticism over the disastrous crash of the airliner Kyeema at Mount Dandenong, Victoria, on 25 October 1938, Boniwell was chosen in December to be a member of the departmental committee which investigated civil aviation administration, criticized existing shortcomings and proposed organizational arrangements for the new Department of Civil Aviation.

In February 1939 he succeeded J. C. Westhoven as public service arbitrator and returned to Melbourne to take up the post. Boniwell's appointment was opposed by the staff associations and his early determinations confirmed their members' fears that he would 'lean towards the official side' in making remuneration awards. The National Security (Economic Organization) Regulations circumscribed his powers during World War II, but he continued to anger the associations in peacetime by behaving more like a judge than an arbitrator. Insisting on his independence, he refused routinely to endorse agreements which they had made with the public service commissioner. Boniwell was relieved in 1946 and transferred to Canberra as acting parliamentary draftsman. Confirmed in the position in 1948, he retired next year.

Boniwell's recreations included golf and gardening. He died on 6 January 1967 at Caulfield, Melbourne, and was cremated; his wife and four daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • G. E. Caiden, Career Service (Melb, 1965)
  • H. E. Renfree, History of the Crown Solicitor's Office (Canb, 1970)
  • J. Gunn, The Defeat of Distance (Brisb, 1985)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 June 1936, 11 Mar, 2 Apr 1937, 10, 30 Dec 1938, 9 Feb 1939
  • ANGAM CP 162, Summary note, and CP 402/1, and A 432, and MP 1353/3 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Cameron Hazlehurst and Margot Kerley, 'Boniwell, Martin Charles (1883–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 26 May 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Martin Charles Boniwell (1883-1967), by unknown photographer, 1968

Martin Charles Boniwell (1883-1967), by unknown photographer, 1968

National Archives of Australia, A1200:L78939

Life Summary [details]


25 February, 1883
London, Middlesex, England


6 January, 1967 (aged 83)
Caulfield, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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