Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Gordon Hayes-Williams (1862–1934)

by Jack Watson

This article was published:

William Gordon Hayes-Williams (1862-1934), registrar-general, was born on 4 November 1862 at Otahuhu, near Auckland, New Zealand, son of John Radcliffe Hayes-Williams, schoolteacher, and his wife Maria Eliza, née Garty. He arrived in Sydney in 1868 with his mother, who opened a 'ladies school' at Newtown and whose self-sacrifice and determination enabled her son to be prepared for his future career. Educated privately and at St Stephen's Denominational School, Newtown, William entered a mercantile office. On 16 October 1883 at the Wesleyan parsonage, Forest Lodge, he married Annie Glover, daughter of James Lister Laurence, chief clerk of the District Court. He was soon bound to William Cope, solicitor. While still articled he became managing clerk for his brother-in-law Charles Laurence and, on being admitted to practice on 7 June 1890, became a partner in Laurence, (J. C.) McLachlan & Williams. At the end of 1894 he joined E. W. Perkins.

Hayes-Williams was appointed registrar-general on 18 October 1898. The office was one of heavy responsibility in the field of registration: patents and trade marks (transferred to the Commonwealth in 1904 and 1906 respectively), births, deaths and marriages, companies, firms, stock mortgages, liens on crops and wool, deeds affecting land and titles to land. Hayes-Williams reorganized the department and diligently set about providing premises and practices appropriate to the needs of the twentieth century. A site near Queen's Square was provided and he witnessed the erection of a substantial building for the department—it had been hampered by the occupation of separate and inadequate premises. In 1904 the Deeds Registry and the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registry occupied part of the west wing and eventually all branches were located in the new building.

A man of outstanding ability with sound legal knowledge, Hayes-Williams was a wise and firm administrator and his advice was a significant factor in the drafting and implementation of many new Acts, administered by the department, which simplified practices and were to public advantage. As registrar of joint stock companies, he dealt with the steady increase in the number of limited companies and firm names. He retired on 3 November 1927 after a term as yet unequalled. A memorial plaque in the departmental building aptly records: Si monumentum requiris circumspice.

A tall and stately man, with a flowing moustache, very reserved, Hayes-Williams nevertheless was a sociable person within the family circle. A lover of gadgets and inventions, he always had some novelty to show his grandchildren. His diverse interests included motoring, tennis, rifle-shooting, art, philately, Freemasonry, Esperanto and the construction of crystal sets in the early days of wireless.

Upon retirement Hayes-Williams resumed practice as a solicitor. He died in his office on 13 March 1934 of cerebro-vascular disease and was cremated after a service at St Thomas Anglican Church, North Sydney. He was survived by his wife and two sons. His intestate estate was sworn for letters of administration at £447.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Mar 1934
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Jack Watson, 'Hayes-Williams, William Gordon (1862–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 19 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]


4 November, 1862
Otahuhu, New Zealand


13 March, 1934 (aged 71)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


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