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Francis Stewart Boyce (1872–1940)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

Francis Stewart Boyce (1872-1940), by unknown photographer, 1929

Francis Stewart Boyce (1872-1940), by unknown photographer, 1929

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 14504

Francis Stewart Boyce (1872-1940), barrister and politician, was born on 26 June 1872 at Rockley, New South Wales, elder son of Rev. Francis Bertie Boyce and his first wife Caroline, née Stewart. Known as Frank, he was educated at The King's School, Parramatta, Sydney Grammar School, and Rugby School, England, and the University of Sydney (B.A., 1893; LL.B., 1896). He played football for the university and was president of the union in 1894; he was admitted to the Bar on 19 February 1897. Fascinated by politics, he was honorary secretary of (Sir) Edmund Barton's New South Wales Federal Association and in 1904 was defeated as a Liberal for the Legislative Assembly seat of Phillip. On 9 January 1901 at Christ Church, Blayney, he had married Norah Leslie Glasson.

Boyce was attached to the Western Circuit for many years. In 1900 he made his name as counsel for the Aboriginal murderer Jimmy Governor: he argued that as Governor had already been attainted, he could not be tried for the same crime and the case had to go to the Full Court. An outstanding and 'vigorous' advocate, he soon built up a large practice and in 1916 was an acting District Court judge; King's Counsel from 1924, he spent nearly three months at Rabaul, New Guinea, in 1927 appearing for the lessees before the royal commission on the Edie Creek gold-mining leases.

A member of the finance committee of the Universal Service League in 1916, Boyce later became active in the National Association of New South Wales; on 3 August 1923 he was nominated to the Legislative Council. In 1924-25 he was an honorary minister in Sir George Fuller's coalition government. In the matrimonial causes (amendment) bill, he tried unsuccessfully to get incurable insanity included as a ground for divorce, and to tighten the use of restitution of conjugal rights to get a quick decree 'virtually by mutual consent'. He also introduced the controversial marriage amendment (ne temere) bill; he took a lawyer's view that civil law should prevail over ecclesiastical law. He was attorney-general, vice-president of the Executive Council and leader of the government in the Legislative Council in (Sir) Thomas Bavin's 1927-30 ministry. In 1931 he led the Opposition in the council and was an architect of its reform in 1934. There were persistent reports in the press that he would replace Bavin as leader of the National Party.

Boyce was appointed to the Supreme Court bench in June 1932 and became judge in divorce, showing 'conspicuous ability' and 'a deep sense of human sympathy'. He also occasionally sat in equity cases. In England in 1938 he was invited to sit on the Divorce Court bench.

A temperance advocate, Boyce shared his father's reformist activities: he was a member of the executive of the New South Wales Alliance for the Suppression of Intemperance, honorary secretary, then president of the Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society, foundation chairman of Barker College Council until 1934, chancellor of the diocese of Grafton and advocate for the diocese of Sydney. A leading Freemason, he was grand registrar of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales in 1917-25 and deputy grand master in 1926-27.

Survived by his wife, two sons and three daughters, Boyce died of coronary vascular disease on 27 June 1940 at his home at Pymble. After a memorial service at St Andrew's Cathedral he was buried at Blackheath. His estate was valued for probate at £20,489.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • T. R. Bavin (ed), The Jubilee Book of the Law School of the University of Sydney (Syd, 1940)
  • New South Wales Law Reports, 21 (1900), 40 (1940)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Mar 1924, 30 June 1926, 27 June 1927, 15 Oct 1928, 5 Mar 1931, 26 Mar, 17 June 1932, 16 Mar, 15 Nov 1938, 5, 6 Jan, 15, 23 Feb 1939, 28 June 1940
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 5 May 1929
  • Bulletin, 1 July 1931.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Boyce, Francis Stewart (1872–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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