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.

Sir Kevin William Colin Ellis (1908–1975)

by John Gascoigne

This article was published:

Kevin William Colin Ellis (1908-1975), by unknown photographer

Kevin William Colin Ellis (1908-1975), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 2 - 29245

Sir Kevin William Colin Ellis (1908-1975), solicitor and politician, was born on 15 May 1908 at Grenfell, New South Wales, third son of native-born parents James Palmer Ellis, farmer, and his wife Florence Mary, née Wyse. Kevin was educated at Fort Street Boys' High School and the University of Sydney (LL.B., 1931; B.Ec., 1939), graduating in law with first-class honours and the university medal. While president of the students' representative council, he was the first to represent undergraduates (1937-39) on the university senate. Admitted as a solicitor on 4 March 1932, he practised with D. Lynton Williams (1933-45), as Kevin Ellis & Co. (1946-54) and with David Price (until 1975). At St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point, he married Betty Mena Maunsell on 26 June 1941. He joined the Royal Australian Air Force next year, rose to temporary flight lieutenant and served in the administrative and special duties branch until 24 February 1945.

A 'small l' Liberal, Ellis narrowly won a by-election in May 1948 for the marginal Legislative Assembly seat of Coogee which he held (save for 1953-56 and 1962-65) until his retirement in 1973. While in Opposition he focussed on routine issues, such as ensuring closer parliamentary scrutiny of public accounts. Something of a 'maverick', he regarded the Legislative Council as an 'outmoded anachronism' and 'a burlesque of democracy'. In 1960 he supported the Labor government's measures aimed at abolishing the council. In the rough and tumble of State politics Ellis was a rather austere figure who secured his colleagues' respect, though he remained aloof from the more boisterous manifestations of parliamentary camaraderie.

When the Liberal-Country Party coalition was returned to office in 1965, Ellis was appointed Speaker. He tried to restore some decorum to a parliament long marred by vitriolic party debate and allegations of partiality against previous Speakers. As a symbol of his respect for his 'exalted' office, he reinstituted the wearing of the Speaker's wig; he emphasized the impartiality of his office by refraining from attending meetings of his own party. Over almost nine years his rulings and his ability to control the traditionally raucous proceedings of the assembly won praise from both sides. Neville Wran, leader of the Opposition, acclaimed him as 'one of the most distinguished and respected Speakers in the history of the House'.

Ellis was a director of James N. Kirby Holdings Pty Ltd (1964-75), and a member of the council (1965-75) and deputy-chancellor (1970-75) of the University of New South Wales. A director (1960-70) of the National Heart Foundation of Australia, he sat on the boards of Prince Henry (1962-75), Eastern Suburbs (1968-75) and Prince of Wales (1961-75) hospitals, and was president (1969-75) of the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association. In 1969 he was appointed K.B.E. He belonged to the Imperial Service Club, and enjoyed fishing and playing bowls. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, Ellis died of myocardial infarction on 22 November 1975 at his Point Piper home; he was accorded a state funeral and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 25 Nov 1975, p 3097
  • University of New South Wales, Uniken, Feb 1976
  • Legislative Studies, 7, 1992, p 13
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Mar 1931, 2 Apr 1935, 3 Apr 1936, 23 July 1937, 14 Aug 1959, 4, 5 Mar 1961, 1 Jan 1969, 24 Nov 1975
  • Sun (Sydney), 1 Apr 1960, 9 Mar 1961
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 7 June 1965
  • private information.

Citation details

John Gascoigne, 'Ellis, Sir Kevin William Colin (1908–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 May 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