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Norman Kirkwood Ewing (1870–1928)

by Scott Bennett

This article was published:

Norman Kirkwood Ewing (1870-1928), by Swiss Studios, 1900s

Norman Kirkwood Ewing (1870-1928), by Swiss Studios, 1900s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23398242

Norman Kirkwood Ewing (1870-1928), politician and judge, was born on 26 December 1870 at Wollongong, New South Wales, tenth child of Rev. Thomas Campbell Ewing, Anglican clergyman and rural dean, and his wife Elizabeth, née Thomson. His uncle R. K. Ewing was an early moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Tasmania. Educated at Illawarra College (Wollongong), Oaklands (Mittagong) and later at night-school in Sydney, Ewing was articled to M. A. H. Fitzhardinge, and was admitted a solicitor in 1894. After practising at Murwillumbah he moved to Perth where, admitted to the Bar in 1897, he established the firm of Ewing & Downing.

Like his older brothers (Sir) Thomas and John, Ewing was attracted by politics. An unsuccessful Protectionist candidate for the Tweed in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly elections of 1895, he was Independent member for Swan in the Western Australian parliament from 1897 to 1901 when he became a Free Trade senator. However, a dwindling practice necessitated his resignation two years later. In 1904 he unsuccessfully contested the State seat of Canning.

On 15 October 1897 at St George's Cathedral, Perth, Ewing married Maude Louisa, daughter of (Sir) Edward Stone. About 1905, in a search for climatic conditions to ease her asthma, they moved to Hobart. Admitted to practice in March 1906 Ewing became a partner in Ewing & Seager, and made a name as a forceful barrister. He was narrowly defeated for the Senate in 1906, helped establish the Progressive League next year, and in April 1909 won the House of Assembly seat of Franklin as an anti-socialist. In October he led a successful revolt against the Lewis government although, after John Earle's Labor government failed, a re-fusion of the Liberal factions secured Lewis's return to power. In October 1914 Ewing's political flair earned him the leadership of the Opposition following the sudden death of Albert Solomon. But Ewing was not in politics long enough to make a lasting mark. Next year he was made King's Counsel and in September was elevated to the bench as the third judge. Cynics suggested that the Earle ministry made the appointment to prevent Ewing from becoming premier, but the legal profession made no protest. It was the crowning achievement of his distinguished legal career. In 1919 he moved to Launceston where it was considered one of the judges should reside. From November 1923 until June 1924 he was administrator of Tasmania.

A distinguished-looking, bespectacled man, with marked aquiline features, Ewing was author of The Practice of the Local Courts of Western Australia (Perth, 1897) and as chairman of a committee appointed by the government was associated with the drafting of the Tasmanian Criminal Code, 1924. Within Tasmania he sat on royal commissions into the public debts sinking fund (1915), the Hobart Licensing Bench (1916), the charges made against Victor Ratten (1918), and the Tasmanian Institution for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb (1925). However he is best remembered for work performed outside the State. In 1919-20 he investigated the administration of the Northern Territory, and in 1920 conducted the royal commission into the case of the imprisonment of Industrial Workers of the World members in Sydney. His decisions in these controversial matters earned him some notoriety, especially his liberal findings on the I.W.W. 'twelve'.

In 1924 Ewing suffered a stroke. With his son acting as amanuensis he continued his work spasmodically until his death on 19 July 1928 at Launceston. Survived by his wife, his son and one of his two daughters, he was buried in Carr Villa cemetery. Ironically, poor legal management by others of his considerable land holdings left his wife in straitened circumstances: his estate was valued for probate at £2761.

Select Bibliography

  • Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), 18 (1971), no 4, p 137
  • Examiner (Launceston), 20 July 1928
  • Mercury (Hobart), 20 July 1928
  • Morning Herald (Perth), 2 Apr 1901
  • Australian Worker, 25 July 1928
  • Alfred Deakin papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Scott Bennett, 'Ewing, Norman Kirkwood (1870–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 27 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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