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Wilbur Lincoln Ham (1883–1948)

by Peter Balmford

This article was published:

Wilbur Lincoln Ham (1883-1948), barrister, was born on 14 November 1883 at Armadale, Melbourne, third son and tenth child of Cornelius Job Ham and his wife Hattie White, née Latham. He was brought up in the beliefs of the Baptist Church and attended Melbourne Church of England Grammar School (1895-96) and Toorak Grammar School. From 1901 he studied law at the University of Melbourne, residing in Ormond College. He was awarded a university scholarship and the Supreme Court prize, graduating LL.B. in 1905 and LL.M. in 1906. In June 1905 he was articled to James Cooper Stewart of Malleson, England & Stewart, solicitors of Melbourne; and on 1 August 1906 was admitted to practise as a barrister and solicitor. He signed the roll of the Victorian Bar on 11 February 1907, thus joining about ninety others who practised exclusively as barristers.

After enlisting, in March 1915 Ham was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 13th Australian Light Horse Regiment, Australian Imperial Force. He served in Egypt from July, at Gallipoli from September until the evacuation, and in France from June 1916. For six months in 1917 he was adjutant of the 1st Anzac Mounted Regiment. On 1 November he was promoted from captain to major but on 9 November his horse slipped on ice and the resulting injury to his kneecap left him with a permanent limp. He was mentioned in dispatches in 1917. He returned to Australia in May 1918 and on 30 November married Aileen Marjorie, only child of Charles William Wren, general manager for Australasia of the English, Scottish and Australian Bank.

Ham resumed legal practice; he was appointed K.C. in February 1927, and is said to have refused appointment to the Supreme Court in 1934. He was active in the affairs of the Bar, being chairman of the Committee of Counsel in 1930-32, 1933-34, 1937-38 and 1939-46. He was president of the Medico-Legal Society of Victoria in 1933-34. He gave up practice because of ill health in 1947, when according to the Law List there were 116 barristers in practice in Victoria of whom five were his seniors by date of admission.

Ham was troubled by poor eyesight for many years before an operation restored his vision, and suffered from pernicious anaemia. He spoke with a 'highly cultured accent' and his manner, according to Sir Arthur Dean, was rather patrician. Yet he was the 'kindest of men' and a most industrious worker. He had a fund of Rabelaisian stories and Sir Robert Menzies remembered him as 'a master of polished profanity'. A very able lawyer, Ham enjoyed an enormous practice in the Supreme Court and the High Court in the 1930s and 1940s. Of the cases reported in twelve of the twenty-five volumes of the Commonwealth Law Reports between 1933 and 1945, over a hundred (nearly 30 per cent) of them emanated from Victoria. Ham was engaged in over a third of these and occasionally in one from elsewhere; about half of them were concerned with taxation or constitutional law. Well-known cases in which he appeared were Clements v. Ellis (1934) (Torrens system), Grant v. Australian Knitting Mills Ltd (1936) (negligence) and South Australia v. Commonwealth (1942) (constitutional law).

Ham had three sons and a daughter. The children were enrolled at school with the surname 'Wilbur-Ham' and retained it subsequently. Predeceased by his wife (1946) and a son (1939) Ham died from broncho-pneumonia on 30 January 1948 and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. B. Kiddle (ed), War Services of Old Melburnians (Melb, 1923)
  • A. Dean, A Multitude of Counsellors (Melb, 1968)
  • R. G. Menzies, The Measure of the Years (Melb, 1970)
  • Victorian Law Journal, July 1932, p 131
  • Argus (Melbourne), 14 Nov 1934, 31 Jan 1948.

Citation details

Peter Balmford, 'Ham, Wilbur Lincoln (1883–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Wilbur-Ham, Lincoln

14 November, 1883
Armadale, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


30 January, 1948 (aged 64)

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.