Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

George Ian Ogilvie Duncan (1930–1972)

by Tim Reeves

This article was published:

George Duncan, n.d.

George Duncan, n.d.

George Ian Ogilvie Duncan (1930-1972), university lecturer, was born on 20 July 1930 at Golders Green, London, only child of New Zealand-born parents Ronald Ogilvie Duncan (d.1952), company manager, and his second wife Hazel Kerr, née Martell (d.1944). Ronald had a daughter from his first marriage. The family came to Victoria in 1937. Ian attended Melbourne Church of England Grammar School where he won prizes and scholarships, and was dux in 1947. His study towards an honours degree in classical philology at the University of Melbourne was interrupted in 1950 by a prolonged bout of tuberculosis.

Seven years later Duncan entered St John's College, Cambridge (B.A., 1960; LL.B., 1961; M.A., 1963; Ph.D., 1964). In 1966-71 he taught law part time at the University of Bristol where his colleagues described him as 'a mystery'. Tall and slim, with fair hair and blue eyes, he wore thick-framed glasses and possessed the demeanour of a dedicated, self-effacing scholar, but he was intensely shy and taciturn, and found it difficult to communicate with students and fellow academics. He was a devout Anglican and a regular churchgoer. About 1970 he joined the Gaytime Friendship Society, a London club.

In 1971 Duncan's doctoral thesis was published as The High Court of Delegates (London). The book was generally well received and he continued his research in legal history, preparing an edition of the notebook of a seventeenth-century lawyer. The deaths of his parents and half-sister (1970) had left him relatively wealthy. He returned to Australia on 25 March 1972 to take up a lectureship in law at the University of Adelaide and moved into Lincoln College, North Adelaide. About 11.00 p.m. on 10 May that year he was thrown into the River Torrens from the southern bank, near Kintore Avenue, and drowned. The area was a known meeting-place for homosexuals and rumours spread that Duncan had been killed by police engaged in 'poofter-bashing'. Following a service at St George's Church, Goodwood, he was buried in Centennial Park cemetery.

An inquest began on 7 June. Based on questionable evidence, Dr C. H. Manock testified that his autopsy had indicated that Duncan had been a practising homosexual. On 29 June two members of the vice squad refused to answer questions put to them. Three officers were suspended from the police force and eventually resigned. When the coroner returned an open finding on 5 July, public concern was so great that Premier D. A. Dunstan permitted his police commissioner, Harold Salisbury, to call in detectives from the Metropolitan Police, New Scotland Yard, London. On the basis of their report, which has never been made public, it was announced on 24 October that the crown solicitor had decided against proceeding with any prosecution.

The case gained nationwide publicity because it involved 'the broader issue of homosexuality and attitudes towards it'. On 26 July 1972 Murray Hill introduced a bill in the Legislative Council to decriminalize homosexual acts between consenting males over the age of 21; after two months of debate the bill was passed, but with an amendment that weakened its original intentions. In 1975 South Australia became the first State in Australia to legislate for full decriminalization. To members of the gay movement in Adelaide, Duncan was a symbol of the persecution of a sexual minority by an intolerant society; they called for a memorial to be erected near his place of death.

On 30 September 1988 two ex-members of the vice squad were acquitted of Duncan's manslaughter. A police task force interviewed eighty-one people and reported to parliament in April 1990 that there was 'insufficient evidence to charge any other person'.

Select Bibliography

  • T. Reeves, 'The 1972 Debate on Male Homosexuality in South Australia', in R. Aldrich (ed), Gay Perspectives no 2 (Syd, 1993)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 12, 29 May, 5, 8, 13, 30 June, 6, 7, 28 July, 25 Oct 1972, 6 Feb 1986, 1 Oct 1988, 4 Apr 1990
  • News (Adelaide), 20 May 1972
  • Review (Melbourne), 27 May-2 June 1972
  • Times (London), 7 July 1972
  • Age (Melbourne), 22 Feb 1986, 7 Apr 1990
  • R. G. Lean et al, Duncan Task Force Final Report (typescript, 1990, Parliamentary Library, Adelaide)
  • coroner's report on G. I. O. Duncan and coronial inquiry re Duncan and inquest (GRG 1/44/1972/841, State Records of South Australia)
  • information from Coroner's Office, Adelaide.

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Tim Reeves, 'Duncan, George Ian Ogilvie (1930–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 16 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

George Duncan, n.d.

George Duncan, n.d.

Life Summary [details]


20 July, 1930
London, Middlesex, England


10 May, 1972 (aged 41)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Key Events