Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Maurice Emanuel Henry Cantor (1887–1960)

by John Kennedy McLaughlin

This article was published:

Maurice Emanuel Henry Cantor (1887-1960), industrial commissioner, was born on 17 June 1887 in South Melbourne, eldest child of Henry Cantor, a Victorian-born clothier, and his wife Hannah, née Fisher, from the Cape of Good Hope. Maurice was educated at various schools in Perth before the family moved to Sydney about 1900. He attended Glenmore Road Public School and was coached by L. F. Meagher in 1903. Articled to H. E. Fulton (of Fulton & Lowe) in August 1907, Cantor was admitted as a solicitor on 30 August 1912 and joined the firm, C. A. Coghlan & Co. On 22 October that year at the Great Synagogue, Sydney, he married Beatrice Ida Langley (d.1924). Admitted to the Bar on 2 June 1919, he soon developed a large practice in industrial law. In 1920 he became an original shareholder in Denman Chambers Ltd, a company of barristers which bought the building in Phillip Street that housed their chambers.

The Industrial Commission of New South Wales was established in December 1927 under the presidency of A. B. Piddington; Cantor and (Sir) Kenneth Street were the other original members. The functions of the commission were to create law—by making industrial awards—and to enforce that law. During the Depression a number of Cantor's cost-of-living inquiries gained considerable publicity. He formulated many of the fundamental principles involved in industrial matters: the steel industry award that he announced in 1939 (after a hearing of more than twelve months) was still relied upon more than twenty years later.

In February 1939 Cantor had declined appointment as chief judge of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration; in December 1942 he was passed over for the vacant position of president of the Industrial Commission (of which he was the senior member and had been acting-president on several occasions). After his junior colleague (Sir) John Ferguson declined the position, the State government let it be known that it was determined not to appoint Cantor.

During World War II Prime Minister Curtin often conferred with Cantor on the troubled steel industry. In the turbulent industrial disputes of the postwar period Cantor presided over many highly publicized hearings, including those relating to strikes in the steel industry at Newcastle and at Port Kembla in 1945 and 1946 (he was burnt in effigy by striking ironworkers at Wollongong in January 1946). On the bench he was tolerant and patient, his judgements steeped in principle. Long before he retired from the Industrial Commission in June 1957, he enjoyed the confidence of employers and employees.

On 14 October 1939 at the district registrar's office, North Sydney, Cantor had married Lilian May Ginn, née Gill, a widow with two children. He belonged to the University Club and spent his spare time gardening and fishing. In the 1950s he moved from Wahroonga to Castlecrag. Survived by his wife, and by the son and daughter of his first marriage, he died there on 1 June 1960 and was cremated with Jewish rites; his estate was sworn for probate at £134,085. Cantor's son Henry was a judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales.

Select Bibliography

  • J. M. Bennett (ed), A History of the New South Wales Bar (Syd, 1969)
  • Australian Law Journal, 23 June 1960, p 57
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5, 14, 17 Dec 1927, 3 Mar 1939, 25 Dec 1942, 5 Jan 1946, 22 June 1957, 2, 3, 8 June 1960
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 14 June 1957
  • private information.

Citation details

John Kennedy McLaughlin, 'Cantor, Maurice Emanuel Henry (1887–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 17 April 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

Life Summary [details]


17 June, 1887
South Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


1 June, 1960 (aged 72)
Castlecrag, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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