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Elias Godfrey Coppel (1896–1978)

by Zelman Cowen

This article was published:

Elias Godfrey Coppel (1896-1978), barrister, was born on 7 October 1896 at South Yarra, Melbourne, eldest of four children of Albert Coppel, financier, and his wife Alice, née Abraham, both Victorian born. Educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, in 1914 he began law at the University of Melbourne (LL.B., 1921; LL.M., 1925; LL.D., 1937) before enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 9 June 1915. After nine months in Egypt, he was sent in August 1916 to the Western Front where he served with the 5th Field Ambulance and (as a medical detail) with the 2nd Divisional Ammunition Column. He was discharged in Melbourne on 22 June 1919.

Admitted to the Victorian Bar on 2 May 1922, 'Bill' Coppel established a good practice, notably in commercial and constitutional matters. On 18 December 1925 at the registrar's office, Collins Street, Melbourne, he married Marjorie Jean Service (1900-1970), a graduate from the university (B.A., 1922; LL.B., 1925) who had made a name as an actress and as a speaker on public affairs.

In 1935 Coppel published The Law Relating to Bills of Sale, Liens on Crops, Liens on Wool, Stock Mortgages and the Assignment or Transfer of Book Debts which earned him his doctorate. He subsequently wrote a number of articles on legal subjects. In 1945 he took silk. He was admitted to the Tasmanian Bar in 1956. His practice took him into the highest courts, and he appeared before the Privy Council in 1948, 1949 and 1950. He was appointed to conduct several inquiries, including investigations of companies (1949 and 1962), and was a royal commissioner who examined third-party insurance (1959) and the Queen Victoria Market (1960). He also served as an acting-justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria (1950-52) and of Tasmania (1956 and 1958).

Following a sharp illness, Coppel retired from the Bar in 1965 and thereafter acted as consultant to Phillips, Fox & Masel, a leading firm of Melbourne solicitors. In 1950-59 he was warden of convocation of the University of Melbourne; in 1959-67 he was a member of its council and of its faculty of law. He was, as well, a vice-president of the Medico-Legal Society of Victoria and a music-lover.

Marjorie Coppel had long been active in the Council for Civil Liberties. After World War II she campaigned for day-care centres for children of working mothers. She published a study of nutrition, Food and Health (1941), and, with Mary Lazarus, a textbook, The Making of the Modern World (1960). Marjorie also wrote radio plays. She died on 18 August 1970.

A leading member of the Victorian Bar, Coppel proved an able and learned lawyer. In style and character he was a man of contrasts: at times courteous, gracious and urbane, at others sharp, relentless, wounding and abrasive. Particularly on the bench, he seemed on occasions to show antagonism and hostility to counsel and to others who appeared before him. He was appointed C.M.G. in 1965. Survived by two of his three sons, he died on 4 October 1978 at his East Malvern home. His body was willed to the anatomy department, University of Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Anderson, Fossils in the Sandstone (Melb, 1986)
  • Australian Gazette, 1, no 5, July 1965
  • MCEGGS Magazine, Dec 1970
  • Herald (Melbourne), 13 Feb 1953, 24 June 1957
  • Mercury (Hobart), 24 Oct 1956
  • Age (Melbourne), 8 May 1957, 5 Jan, 26 July 1960
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 5 June 1957, 20 Apr, 19 June 1959, 7 Feb 1962.

Citation details

Zelman Cowen, 'Coppel, Elias Godfrey (1896–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 21 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

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